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Previous vitalvoices 2020-2021

The vitalvoices speaker series serves as a forum to bring scholars and practitioners alike to speak to students, faculty, alumni and community partners at UHD's College of Public Service. It is our hope that those we invite to speak will share, from the heart, their professional experiences, their knowledge, and how the work they do impacts society as a whole. We like to feature people whose work is interdisciplinary and touches upon the fields social work, criminal justice and urban education.

If a vitalvoices session was recorded, the titles below will link directly to its recorded presentation on our YouTube channel. Please enjoy.
Public Service at the CORE: Law Enforcement and Mental Health Providers Working Together in Crisis Response
October 1, 2020 from 1 - 2:30 p.m.

Please join us for a discussion about CORE, a joint project of the Harris County Sherriff s Office and The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD.
This innovative program partners law enforcement with mental health providers to offer assistance to people before they may become involved in the criminal justice system. Already successful, organizations around the country have asked for help to replicate the program in their local area.
Panelists include members of the Harris County Sherriff’s Office and the Harris Center who implemented the program as well as professors from the UHD's College of Public Service who are evaluating the project. Also joining us is Arnold Ventures who is funding the project. 

If you are interested in hearing about solutions to some of the problems we face as a society today, please join us to discuss this project. There will be time for questions and answers with the panelists.

Social and Emotional Learning in the Time of Covid-19
October 22, 2020 at 6:30 p.m.

Please join Dr. Laura Mitchell of UHD’s Urban Education department as she hosts alumna Stephanie Garza and Liz Montenegro who will describe their experience teaching in Houston area classrooms during COVID-19. Through the constructs of Social and Emotional Learning they will discuss how to take care of themselves so they are can better care for their students. Through self-awareness and self-management, safe learning environments are created for themselves and their students.

Mistakes Were Made

Opening the "Black Box" of Federal Illegal ReEntry Sentencing
November 10, 2020 from 3 - 4:30 p.m.
Please join Dr. Kevin Buckler of UHD’s Criminal Justice department as he discusses research findings from his study of the processes that produce sentencing outcomes in illegal reentry cases in federal district court in Houston.
These findings come from observations (sentencing hearings and records analysis) on 53 cases decided by 11 different U.S. District Court judges. The study discusses judicial decision-making within the framework of the federal sentencing guidelines. Emphasis will be on how judicial sentencing outcomes are influenced by both individual judicial preference and interactions with other courtroom participants (prosecutors, defense counsel, and probation officers).

Federal sentencing guidelines were created to address disparities in criminal sentences across similarly situated defendants. Some discussion will focus on the difficulty of identifying similarly situated defendants.

Grading in the Pandemic
November 17, 2020 from 6 - 8:30 p.m.
The Center for Public Service and Community Research is honored to host international grading expert, Dr. Thomas Guskey to our final vitalvoices session of the fall semester. Dr. Guskey, is professor Emeritus in the College of Education at the University of Kentucky a Fellow in the American Educational Research Association, and the author of 25 award-winning books.

Dr. Guskey will speak on how K-16 educators can deal effectively and equitable with grading students virtually and in hybrid formats during the pandemic. Not an easy task when learning has been turned upside down. As with our first responders, our educators have been heroic during this most challenging time. 

Trouble with Authorities: The Journey from Prisoner to Prisons Reporter

February 4, 2021 from 1 - 2:30 p.m.

Keri Blakinger is a journalist who started covering death row and prisons after doing time herself. Currently a reporter with the Marshall Project and formerly with the Houston Chronicle, she will talk about the journey from prisoner to prisons reporter, discuss what life is like behind bars, and talk about the value of reporting on mass incarceration.

How Damon West went from serving Life in a Texas maximum-security prison to teaching Prisons in America at UHD

March 4, 2021 from 3-4:30 pm

Damon West exchanged the American Dream for a dystopian nightmare. Far from the glory of quarterbacking his college football team, roaming the Halls of Congress or trading on Wall Street, his addiction to meth and subsequent multi-million-dollar crime spree delivered him a life-sentence in a Texas maximum-security prison. One day, a seasoned convict shared an allegory with him that changed his life. It taught him that, like a coffee bean, the power to change any situation comes from inside you, not the forces outside of you. Join our conversation to see how Damon went from serving Life in a Texas maximum-security prison to teaching Prisons in America at UHD.


How Covid-19 Highlights Aging Issues in America

April 8, 2021 from 1-2:30 pm


COVID-19 has highlighted devastating and long-standing disparities in the care of older adults. America's aging population is increasing, yet their needs are often marginalized, misunderstood, or missed entirely. Awareness is the first step toward advocacy. Even if you do not have an elder person in your life, the impact of older adult care in America affects us all.

What Color Are Your Emotions: Claiming the Power that is Within You
April 29 from 4:30-6 pm


Emotions and feelings are important in our daily lives. How can we identify our emotions and how do we name those feelings and emotions? In the age of COVID-19, our emotions are both high and low. Through our heart, we send messages to our brain to determine if we are safe or need to protect ourselves. Join me in this journey as we explore our emotions and feelings. This will be an active webinar of mindfulness movement, creative journaling and doodling, and thoughtful practice. We will determine colors that represent our emotions. These emotions will lead us to claim that power that is within us to better manage our lives.