UD’s College Citizens Program to serve first-gen DFW high school seniors


In July, the University of Dallas will  host the first session of its new College Citizens program. 12 rising high school seniors from the DFW area will spend three weeks at UD, taking a liberal arts interdisciplinary class and experiencing life on a college campus for free. 

Dr. Matthew Spring, affiliate professor of English and the director of academic success, has been working on developing a program for underserved high school students in the Dallas area since he began working at UD 12 years ago. 

Spring saw similar programs at other universities, such as the College of St. Benedict, where he worked as a residence coordinator for a couple of summers prior to attending graduate school. 

“It seems like a great fit for UD, especially when you look at the University of Dallas seal and how much of Texas is incorporated into the seal,” said Spring. 

“I thought this would be a wonderful way for UD to really kind of extend its outreach to the local community, especially since we have this great education program here.” 

In the summer of 2020, Spring began working on a grant proposal for the Teagle Foundation with Dr. Carmen Newstreet, associate professor of education, and Ms. Theresa Guin in the advancement office. 

Newstreet said, “Together we researched Martha Nussbaum’s concept of liberally educating a global citizen and brought together some of UD’s brightest minds to help us in determining a curricular outline that would align with UD’s Core — the sciences and math, modern foreign language, theology, philosophy, history/politics, fine arts, philosophy, and English.” 

In November 2020, they received a Teagle planning grant. In the spring of 2021, other faculty members joined to help design the curriculum, and Dr. José Espericueta, chair of the modern languages department and associate professor of Spanish, took over as co-writer on the implementation grant. 

In November 2021, they received the grant and Bryan De La Cruz, UD class of 2020 and new academic success specialist, was hired in January. 

“I’d really like to highlight how collaborative this has been, not just in the development of the curriculum, but in the participation of administrators from early on — advancement has been really helpful,” said Espericueta. 

The curriculum was designed to be interdisciplinary, touching on all aspects of UD’s Core, to introduce the students to a liberal arts education. 

“In our initial conversations, the team was united in its commitment to the universal value of liberal education and its desire to bring UD’s distinct approach to education to new groups of students in our surrounding community,” said Dr. Mark Petersen, associate professor of history and one of the professors who worked on the curriculum design with Espericueta. 

Espericueta will teach the course with the help of two UD graduate students who will assist with reviewing course material, leading workshops on reading, writing, listening and speaking, as well as conducting Socratic seminar discussions. 

In order to introduce students fully into a liberal arts education, the program will give students opportunities to volunteer in the DFW community and engage in extracurricular activities. 

“I think it’s important that they explore the relationship between liberal arts education and civic engagement and leadership,” said De La Cruz. 

“Right now we’re working with St. Vincent de Paul, and Dallas Refugee as two potential programs that we partner with this summer and possibly throughout this school year.”

De La Cruz will be in charge of the day-to-day programming. The students will go on excursions into the DFW area to museums and events, as well as participate in mentoring and residence life activities on campus. 

The whole program is free of charge to the students, which includes room and board, the course, excursions, extracurricular activities and guest speakers. The course credit that the students receive will count as General Studies credit and if students choose to apply to UD, De La Cruz is working on having available priority registration for the Constantin first-generation scholarship. 

After the program ends, De La Cruz will continue to be a resource for the students for college and scholarship applications and strategies for succeeding in college as first-gen students. 

According to Spring, the committee will review the curriculum each year to make sure that it continues to be the right fit for the course and for the students, as well as meets the Teagle Foundation’s requirements. 

Spring added that he hopes that the program will aid in the statewide effort to get more Texans college degrees, called 60 by 30 — 60% of all Texas residents having at least a bachelor’s degree by 2030. 

“We’re helping more students not only enter into college but graduate from college,” said Spring. “This, practically speaking, is good for the state, good for the country, good for [the students], the families.” 

The anticipated benefits of the program are manifold and all positive, according to Espericueta. His hope is to continue to improve the program each summer to better serve the DFW community, as well as the university. 

“For me, it’s more about inspiring students to continue this journey of education and through the lens of liberal arts, see what the impact is on our world today,” said De La Cruz. “That to know that this journey, it’s available and readily accessible … So that there is no knowledge gap when they do arrive on their first day that they’ve caught up with everyone else, that they’re on the same level, same playing field. And that, for me is the biggest opportunity for growth.”


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