Aaron Diggins: Honoring Women – Paying it Forward

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Aaron and his grandmother, Leona Robinson while he was serving in the Marine Corps

When Aaron Diggins crossed the stage in May 2015 at TWU Commencement, he realized that his degree in criminal justice simply would not have been possible if it weren’t for the strong women in his life.  Aaron, now enrolled in law school at Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law, credits his “granny,” mother, sister and his wife with supporting him throughout his life.  Shortly after completing his TWU degree, Aaron with his wife, Princess, set up the  Leona Robinson-Diggins Scholarship Endowment  Fund to keep the legacy of his caring grandmother, Leona Robinson, alive and to support the women of TWU who want to enter the legal field.  Aaron told TWU Alumni Connection the story of the decisions that shaped the 33 years of his life.

“In 2013, thirteen years after I had first enrolled in college, I decided to complete my bachelor’s degree requirements, which I achieved in May 2015.  The impetus came from my 2012 decision to become an attorney.  I learned that TWU administered a criminal justice program that would accommodate the life of a working professional and family man who sought to moonlight as a student,” said Aaron when asked how he came to enroll at TWU.  While completing his degree requirements, Aaron also got involved with the Barrister’s Club, a student-run legal-interest organization.  It was there he noticed that women were underrepresented in this field and learned that no scholarships currently existed at TWU for students interested in studying the law.

Aaron's mother and grandmother, known to him as Granny.

Aaron’s mother and grandmother, known to him as Granny.

Born in Los Angeles, CA and raised in the inner city, Aaron notes that in the communities where he grew up “gang activity and mistrust of the legal system by the Black community was ubiquitous.”  With the help of his “Granny” his single, working mother supported he and his sister.  His grandparents still lived in Cleveland, Ohio, and many summers were spent in their home.  “While there, I learned of Granny’s selfless habits and the consequences of those habits.  Often Granny’s house was visited by people who would help Granny run errands, clean house, entertain my sister and me or simply keep her company.”  As he grew older he realized that these were “strangers” that she had helped along the way.  “To her, everyone was a family member –the difference being whether they were known family members or not-yet-known family members.”  Granny, he says, opened her heart and home to those who needed spiritual guidance or a home until they were back on their feet.

Aaron in uniform with his mother

Aaron in uniform with his mother

After high school Aaron spent 8 years in the Marine Corps, then 6 years in the Air Force and during his service was deployed several times.  “In 2004, I moved to Dallas from New York after having returned to the U. S. from a deployment to Iraq.  I subsequently joined the Dallas Police Department.”  He recently moved from full-time to part-time service to focus on law school.  “I plan to use my law degree to build upon my professional experiences as a former military service member and police officer in order to cohere and advance America’s national-security and civil-justice interests.”

Aaron's sister, mother and grandmother.

Aaron’s sister, mother and grandmother.

Remembering the women in his life Aaron said, “My mother began her professional career over 30 years ago as a typist for the Department of Water and Power of the City of Los Angeles (DWP).  She rose thought the ranks and retired in 2015 as the Assistant Budget Director for DWP, a capacity in which she helped oversee a multi-billion dollar budget.”  Aaron’s sister is a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she served as an editor of UPenn’s law review and is an associate at a large law firm.  “My wife is a Sergeant of Police for the Dallas Police Department; she outranks me at the office and at home!” 

He summarizes, “Granny included, my life’s progress has been inspired by some incredibly intelligent, strong-willed, successful and powerful women who have mentored me along my journey; I was raised by these women, I served my country and my community with these women, and at TWU I had the privilege of learning alongside these women.”

Aaron's wife, Princess

Aaron’s wife, Princess

Aaron and his wife, parents to two children, believe in TWU’s mission to empower women.  “As long-standing members of our nation’s legal community, my wife and I have witnessed the positive impact women within that community have had on society.”  They feel that the fund they have established is a small gesture of support for these women.  They did so in the name of Granny to honor her and to perpetuate her idea of family.  “No one is a stranger, rather, we are all family members who are meant to support each other, the only difference being that some family members are already known to us while others are simply yet-to-be known to us.”

The TWU family thanks the Diggins family for their support of TWU students through the Leona Robinson-Diggins Scholarship Endowment Fund.

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TWU’s Innovative Summer Camps – 2015

TWU’S Innovative Summer Camps – 2015

The quest to educate is never on vacation at Texas Woman’s University.  Even in the summertime, the campus is alive.  Here is just a sampling of what happened this year,

Fashion_Camp_2014_Promo_Card_resize_20Fashion Design Camp More than 20 students from across north Texas, ages 10-13, showcased their creativity at a Junior Fashion Design Camp hosted by the TWU Department of Fashion and Textiles.

camp-abilitiesCamp Abilities“A Loss of Sight, Never a Loss of Vision” – Twenty-eight children, ages 9-18 who are blind, visually impaired or deaf-blind, attended Camp Abilities on the TWU campus.  Undergraduate and graduate students in the Department of Kinesiology serve as counselors for this camp designed to empower children with vision loss. More

06-27-15_050_perfect_lasagna_at_home_after_SNCCNutrition Culinary CampFor students 9-14 Summer Nutrition Culinary Camp (SNCC) at TWU is a fun-filled week with food science lab experiments, culinary nutrition cooking, exercise, healthy snacks, guest speaker, and creative activities. Sponsored by the department of Nutrition and Food Sciences  the camp ended with a Friday camper-led culinary presentation for the parents  Follow the campers day-by-day.

 cyber-campCyberCamp – Our society’s economic vitality and national security depend on a safe cyberspace and individual cybersecurity skills. TWU/AFA CyberCamp emphasizes fun, hands-on learning of cybersecurity principles that are relevant and applicable to everyday life. Developed by the Air Force Association (AFA), the camp curriculum covers new topics and hands-on activities each day, building up to an exciting, final team competition simulating real cybersecurity situations faced by industry professionals.  CyberCamp is sponsored by the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science.

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TWU’s Deaf Inaugural Education Forum

TWU’s Inaugural Deaf Education Forum – Saturday, July 18

Deaf Ed forum 3 Teachers of the deaf from across Texas meet every other year for a statewide conference. TWU is filling in the gap by providing a forum on the alternate year with the focus on teachers leading teachers. The first TWU Deaf Education forum was held in July on the Denton campus.  Teachers from throughout the state of Texas and as far away as Indiana gathered with friends, colleagues, TWU alumni, current students and faculty to share teacher experiences and innovative ideas.

Featured Deaf Ed speaker  Dr. Curt Radford, an award-winning instructor who developed the first interactive online ASL course for Utah State to effectively train teachers of the deaf, inspired teachers with his own personal experiences and practical advice as a deaf student in both a school for the deaf and in a regular education classroom.   His insights and concern for deaf children as a student, teacher and administrator brought a new understanding and new possibilities to attendees preparing for the new school year.

Deaf Ed forum 2  Practical teaching strategies were shared during afternoon break-out sessions led by experienced teachers and TWU alumni.  Sessions included strategies for using ASL literacy across the curriculum, technology that even Spiderman doesn’t know, tips for supporting students who are deaf or hard of hearing in general education settings and much, much more.

Gail Duck, a teacher of the year in Abilene, explained, “Our team from Abilene really enjoyed it and learned many wonderful strategies and great new resources that we plan to utilize for the coming school year. We enjoyed the honesty of Curt Radford and his message to educators to not hold back our students.”

Deaf Ed forum 1The inaugural TWU Deaf Education Forum was truly a team effort and supported by the Communication Sciences and Disorders department, Disabilities Support Services, the office of conference services, the office of alumni relations and the office of human resources.

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A Legacy of Leadership

Dr. Glenda Brock Simmons, Class of '61, and Neftali Gomez, leadership award recipient

Dr. Glenda Brock Simmons, Class of ’61, and Neftali Gomez, leadership award recipient

After a life-time career in higher education, Glenda Brock Simmons, Ph. D. Class of 1961, was inspired to establish funding to assist TWU students in building their leadership skills. As a faculty member and an administrator in several positions including the Vice President for Student Life, Glenda observed that students who were able to participate in valuable co-curricular experiences built their skill sets incrementally and were able to bring “something extra” to their work places once graduated.

The Glenda Brock Simmons Leadership Endowment provides monies so that students may maximize their leadership experiences through travel, university representation, and community service projects. Primary consideration is given to economically disadvantaged students to ensure that students with potential are not denied the opportunity to enhance their leadership skills because of a lack of financial resources. “The transformation of shy, introverted, non-participating students to graduates who have presence, self-confidence and great potential is the fulfillment of any educator’s dream for her students,” says Glenda. “Often there are no limitations to a person’s participation except financial resources.”

The recipient of the Glenda Brock Simmons Leadership Award for 2015-16 is Neftali Gomez, a junior student from Lake Dallas. Despite difficult family circumstances Neftali was an academically successful high school student with leadership potential. She came to TWU, embraced the opportunities to build her leadership skills and is now serving in the governor-appointed position as TWU Student Regent.

“Receiving this scholarship from Dr. Simmons encouraged me in my educational path because it shows me that there are other people who believe in me. It has motivated me to continue to strive for success,” said Neftali.   “Whenever I am having a difficult day or do poorly on an assignment, I will remind myself that Dr. Simmons’ scholarship cannot be taken for granted. Dr. Simmons has done everything she can to help me afford an education. Therefore, the only way I could ever thank her for her efforts is by, ultimately, receiving my degree.”

You can learn more about Neftali’s inspiring story and see her Student Regent speech to the newest students of TWU by clicking on this link for New Student Commencement. Neftali’s part of the video begins at the 36:48 time mark.

For information on how you might impact TWU and its students now or through your planned estate gift, contact Patrice Frisby at 940-898-3863 or at pfrisby@twu.edu

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Interpreting TWU

TWU Commencement with parents

TWU Commencement with parents

Michelle King, 2009, General Studies, is a third generation TWU graduate, so it seems very appropriate that she is on stage at significant university events.  Michelle interprets in sign language for those in the audience who may not hear.  Among other events, she has been the interpreter for numerous Commencement ceremonies, for the visit of Dr. Maya Angelou in 2013 and for the November 2014 Inauguration of TWU’s new Chancellor and President, Dr. Carine Feyten. 

When it came time to enroll in college Michelle never thought of any other university.  This decision is not surprising considering her historical family ties:  Mom, Betty Sue Grandey, Class of 1971, from Texas Woman’s University; maternal grandmother, Rudine Owens McAlister from Texas State College for Women; and paternal grandmother, Esther Ubben Grandey from College of Industrial Arts.  Michelle thought she might study education, as they had, or perhaps business.  “But like so many other 18 year olds, I was not focused on school at that time in my life.”  Instead, she joined the workforce.

While the decision to learn sign language interpreting is usually an emotional one for most people because of a person that they know, the decision for Michelle was more practical.  “I worked at Voertman’s Bookstore as the office manager and we had a number of deaf clients.  My boss thought it would be good for public relations if we could advertise someone fluent in sign language.  Little did I know you do not become fluent in a semester…”

At age 21 she enrolled at Collin College and after taking her first sign class, she realized that this would be her college goal.  With the encouragement and mentoring of one of her teachers, Henry Whalen, she realized that she had the skill to do interpreting and finished the program with high marks.  With confidence and a new-found love of learning, Michelle eventually did enroll at TWU to pursue a bachelor’s degree while continuing to be employed and raise a family.  Although she was a non-traditional student and took most of her classes online, she did come to campus from time to time and found it just as beautiful as she remembered from childhood visits.

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TWU Professor Dr. Stephen Souris

“I had fabulous professors,” shared Michelle.  “I can look back on my classes and say I never had a teacher that didn’t take the time to know my name or make time for me or was not passionate about teaching.  Dr. Stephen Souris (professor of English) comes to mind particularly, as it was through his classes I truly learned how much I enjoy reading and analyzing a piece of literature from every angle.  I thank him profusely for that.”

About her graduation day, Michelle remembers how exciting and hectic it was.  “I was so excited and going a million miles an hour in many different directions.  Would I be able to obtain enough tickets for my loved ones?  Would I trip crossing the stage?  In hindsight, I wish I had decorated my cap, worn fabulously fun shoes, paused a little longer for that picture my mom was taking, and signed ‘I love you’ up to the audience towards my husband, parents, kids and friends.

At Graduation with family

Michelle and family at Graduation

That family that is so special to her consists of husband Dan, an A&M grad, and three children, Haley 17, Alyssa (called Lulu) who is almost 8, and Derek, age 6.  They live in Aubrey, TX.  Michelle treasures all the sporting and extra curricular activities in which the children are involved as well as the annual family trip to College Station for an Aggie football game and the occasional trip to Disney World or the trips to great granddad’s place on the Gulf to fish.

Michelle with kidsMichelle and husband

Providing sign language interpreting services for universities and agencies on a free-lance basis has provided Michelle with experiences she would not have had otherwise.  ” I’ve been exposed to a wealth of information, information I would not have chosen myself.  I am a lifelong student and even though you only retain a small percentage of what you interpret, I do feel my brain was exposed to it and I’ve grown from that experience.”

But this is not her primary employment.  Each day Michelle goes to work at Lone Star Ag Credit in Denton as a Sr. Loan Administrator.  She highly values the team of people with whom she works and likes making the dream of being a part of the agriculture industry come true for her clients.

TWU wishes Michelle all the best and looks forward to seeing her interpreting the next big university event!

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The Lass-O Celebrates 100 Years

During the 2014-15 academic year, TWU celebrated the 100th Anniversary of the first publication of the student newspaper, the Lasso-O.  During the year, as a part of the celebration, a number of campus events and speakers focused on ‘Women in the Media.’  The celebration culminated in April of 2015 at the annual TWU Homecoming and Reunion events during a reception, library exhibit and tour of the current Lasso offices all planned and hosted by the current Lasso staff.  All former editors and staff members of the Lasso were invited to be the special reception guests.  Below are highlights of the alumni event.

Current Lasso staff welcome alumni to the reception

Current Lasso staff welcome alumni to the reception

Lasso staff members who planned the alumni reception

Lasso staff members who planned the alumni reception

Lasso memories from 1949 -2014 were shared by alumni

Lasso memories from 1949 -2014 were shared by alumni

Former Lasso editors and staff gather in the TWU library

Former Lasso editors and staff gather in the TWU library

Vintage Lasso photos in a special slide show

Vintage Lasso photos in a special slide show

Alums found friends and themselves in the library Anniversary Exhibits

Alums found friends and themselves in the library Anniversary Exhibits

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TWU College of Nursing – 60th Anniversary

Dr. Carolyn Gunning, former Dean visits with alumni in front of one of the historical displays.

Dr. Carolyn Gunning, former Dean visits with alumni in front of one of the historical displays.

Throughout the 2014-2015 academic year, the TWU College of Nursing celebrated the anniversary of its 60th year!   Celebrations were held in Houston and Dallas in the fall semester and in April at the traditional Homecoming and Reunion weekend.  Below are a few photos from the Anniversary Brunch held on April 19th, 2015 in Hubbard Hall on the Denton campus.  In addition, you can read the historical time-line of the College of Nursing as given by Dr. Carolyn Gunning, Professor and Dean Emerita.  Read remarks.

Dr. Gunning gave a wonderful historical review of the College.

Dr. Gunning gave a wonderful historical review of the College.

Dr. Anita Hufft presented her inspiring vision for the future of the College.

Dean. Anita Hufft presented her inspiring vision for the future of the College.

Graduates from the mid 1960s remember past times at TWU

Graduates from the mid 1960s remember past times at TWU

Nursing 12             Nursing 10          Nursing 2

Nursing 7      Nursing 13  Nursing 14   Nursing 15

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