Van Lac, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies, was elected chair of the American Educational Research Association’s (AERA) Grassroots Community and Youth Organizing for Education Reform Special Interest Group (SIG). Lac taught at UTSA for five years, primarily in the Research Methods and Socio-Cultural Foundations courses. She has been involved with this particular SIG for even longer, starting as a graduate student representative and most recently as the group’s communications chair.
As a researcher whose research interests focus on youth participatory action research and exploring how young people can make their voices heard, it is only natural that Lac would gravitate towards a group dedicated to young people and their active participation in social change. .
“I think a lot of people find their niche in certain special interest groups, and I really feel like this particular SIG is my academic home,” she said.
Lac says his years of experience with the group and his passion for its mission made running for president an easy decision.
“Because of my familiarity and history with GIS, I care deeply about it, and I want it to continue, to be strong, and to have a positive influence on scholars, practitioners, researchers and community members.
“Because of my familiarity and history with GIS, I care deeply about it, and I want it to continue, to be strong, and to have a positive influence on scholars, practitioners, researchers and community members,” she said.
Still, Lac said the news gave him a sense of gratitude and a deep sense of responsibility to nurture the relationships within the band and ensure it continues to grow and thrive. This objective is particularly important in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, says Lac, the group has seen a decline in membership and a growing distance between academics and communities. Even she hasn’t met her SIG members since 2019. As she steps into her new role, Lac says bolstering the group’s programming and bolstering its ranks will be among her top priorities. She would also like to see more support for graduate students within the group, such as opportunities for professional development and mentorship. Lac and his firm must also prepare for some of the group’s major events, such as the annual AERA conference and the offsite SIG event, a collaboration with community organizations that is held in the community and revolves around around a basic work within it.
As a scholarly organization dedicated to grassroots organizing, the SIG attempts to reconcile academic distance with community engagement. While Lac says those attracted to his group tend to value community knowledge over college knowledge, one of the group’s goals is to combine these sources of knowledge in productive ways.
“Our GIS is really an open space to building authentic relationships and making meaningful connections and really seeing how for many of us who are academics, we connect our work to the university and in the communities.”
“Our GIS is really an open space to building authentic relationships and making meaningful connections and really seeing how for many of us who are academics, we connect our work to the university and in the communities,” Lac said.
And while SIG, as a national group, is home to researchers from universities across the country, Lac sees the relationship between its goals and those of UTSA.
“UTSA and the College of Education have a very community-centric mission in what we value,” she said. “I think this particular SIG is a lot about valuing the communities that we live, work and collaborate with, and how we work collectively at the university and in the community to create social change.”
For more information on the grassroots community and youth organization for education reform, visit https://www.aera.net/SIG172/GCYO-SIG-Home.