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Watch Panel 2: Reimagine Learning: Education Solutions During a Pandemic

Reimagine Learning: Education Solutions During A Pandemic Recap

Success Through Technology Education (STTE) Foundation, along with The Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development (CREEED), created a series of panel discussions surrounding education, economic development, and entrepreneurship titled E-Series. 

These free virtual panels examine strategies to consider to achieve successful outcomes for students, employers, and our region’s economy. 

The second E-Series was held on September 17, 2020, and was moderated by John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director for Educate Texas. The panel included JJ Childress, Microsoft, Dr. José Espinoza, Socorro Independent District (SISD) Superintendent, and Dr. William Serrata, El Paso Community College (EPCC) President. Panelists addressed the daunting challenges and the required rapid innovation to educate students from pre-k to college. 

The following is a summary of the panel discussion.

Back when the state issued stay-at-home orders, students and teachers had to finish the year online and do what they could with the tools they had on hand at the moment. Six months later, schools and universities try to adapt to the new reality and develop different strategies, as the local authorities share further information to prevent the virus’s transmission.

To bridge the digital divide within rural communities, SISD distributed hotspots and electronic devices a few weeks in the pandemic. 

After labor day, once the El Paso country met the criteria to reopen schools, SISD decided to reopen for in-person instruction just for a few students. The main goal was to accommodate those students who were having trouble accessing the virtual classes. 

Dr. Espinoza emphasized that they gave priority to those students who didn’t have the resources at home. Dr. Espinoza was not the only one who touched upon this problem.

The digital divide is known as the inequality in access to the internet. As Dr. Espinoza mentioned, those without broadband are struggling to access schoolwork. For those on the wrong side of the digital divide, online education isn’t an option.

“The digital divide has been exposed in El Paso, Texas, and the country in the last six months,” said John Fitzpatrick.

 A preliminary report from Connected Nation Texas indicated that 94% of Texas’ households have access to at least a minimum broadband internet level.

About half-million Texans’ households do not have access to a minimum broadband level, and 440,000 of these households are in rural Texas, the Texas Tribune reported.

Despite parents’ mixed feelings about reopening schools, the districts appointed October 19th as the first day of in-person instruction. Additionally, some other concerns parents are that children are sitting in front of the screen for an extended period. 

A study found that since the pandemic, the screen time increased for children has increased by 500%. Hence, the district had to accommodate everyone else’s needs, including those who don’t want to send their children back to school. ”For parents and families who do not feel comfortable sending their child to any of our 49 schools, they have the [virtual learning] option all year long,” said Dr. Espinoza.

According to these panelists, this transition has had its peaks and valleys. Over the course of nearly seven months, school leaders have prepared for the school year. 

However, J.J Childress, who leads TechSpark, a civic program by Microsoft, recognized that academic institutions have excelled given the circumstances.  

Childress said, “at the end of the day, one of the primary missions of educators is to provide students with the skills to thrive in an economy of tomorrow. This has been accelerated.” 

Also, Childress recognized the pandemic has expanded opportunities for advancement. He further explained that companies aren’t spending money relocating so they can create more job opportunities.

“At the cost of having to relocate somebody…Those are going down, and so, there might actually be an increase in opportunities for students in the future,” Childress said. 

Childress expressed optimism by saying there could be some helpful outcomes getting down by capturing the challenges of the individual learner and adjusting the academic curriculum. 

Many tools are being built with accessibility in mind. They used to be a feature, now they are an expectation. John Fitzpatrick was excited to hear about small data and the possibilities of Artificial Intelligence strategy.

Dr. William Serrata, mentioned 92% courses are completely online, about 5 to 6% are hybrid and very small that are face-to-face. “This changes us for the future. We will continue to see a larger population that will stay online. When we [EPCC] were 8% totally online, when we come out of this I anticipate that number will be significantly higher at least double or triple that in the normal course going forward,” Serrata said.

Prior to the pandemic the number of Texas recent high school graduates matriculating in higher education was at 52%, those numbers have significantly decreased, according to data obtained by Dr. Serrata. 

“If they don’t matriculate immediately in our region, the likelihood they ever get a credential is 1%. Were probably going to fall below 50%,” Dr. Serrata said. 

During the panel Dr. Serrata continuously reminded the importance of encouraging recent high school graduates to pursue a higher level education and explained the benefits of enrolling in CTE programs.

Based on the last recession, data showed that people who had at least a certificate had a better chance of getting a job. Dr. Serrata said those who graduated from a college or 4-year-university had a better shot at getting a job than those who just graduated high school. 

About 12 million jobs were created from the depths of the recession to pre-pandemic “99% went to people with degrees and certificates, 80,000 went, nationally, to individuals with a high school diploma or less,’’ Dr. Serrata said. 

The implementation of digital tools will accelerate the shift from academic transfer programs to CTE programs to workforce-ready programs, Dr. Serrata contended. 

Nursing and allied health are CTE professions, and they are high wage, high skill jobs that could stay locally, Dr. Serrata stated.

The panelist then discussed unexpected positive outcomes that the quarantine has brought to students, particularly those looking for internships at big tech companies like Microsoft. Childress drew parallels between changing internships and professional jobs at corporations like Microsoft to an online format and the current situation of online learning. 

Additionally, Childress recognized that having to travel to a specific site for an internship is as important as taking classes in person, “but at the same time, as companies need to remain profitable and adapt.’’

Many internships were moved to a remote format throughout the summer, and Childress said the transition to an online format was accomplished with ”some success.”

Adding to Childress’ contend, Dr. Espinoza hoped students and the community overall would “come up stronger,” as he recognized everyone is learning as they go, from students to teachers. 

Dr. Espinoza said the knowledge everyone has obtained from this pandemic could benefit new generations’ future. “From lower grade, kinder, four, five-year-old[s], he is already exposed, she is already exposed. They know how to log on, type in their names.”

To conclude the conversation, the three panelists felt optimistic about the future of education now that students have been exposed to diverse platforms and online learning. 

“There might be an increase in opportunities for the students in the future, just because the cost associated with the programs go down,” Serrata said. 

As more students access the online learning world, the more students can realize it can have benefits, especially for those students who work and study. Students have more flexibility to complete their coursework and organize their tasks now that everything’s online, an academic specialist at Stanford University said.

“For students that we serve, it’s all about the job, and it’s all about using higher education…to go into a living wage career,” Dr. Serrata added.


JJ Childress


J.J. Childress is a born and raised El Pasoan and a serial entrepreneur. 
He currently leads Microsoft’s TechSpark Initiative in El Paso, an economic development and civic engagement program aimed at helping communities develop the talent for the opportunities of the 21st Century.  He values civic engagement and is involved with several non-profits and advisory boards in El Paso.

J.J. is a proud graduate from the University of Texas at El Paso with a BBA in Finance and Accounting, as well as an MBA.  He is also a graduate of Stanford University’s Latino Entrepreneurship Initiative program through the GSB, and the University of Washington’s Accelerating Social Transformation program through the Bothell School of Business and Evans School of Public Policy & Governance.

William Serrata, Ph.D.

President, El Paso Community College

Dr. William Serrata was named the President of the El Paso County Community College District effective August 1, 2012.  Dr. Serrata holds a Bachelor’s Degree from Texas A&M University – College Station, a Master’s Degree from the University of Texas at Brownsville, and a Doctorate of Philosophy in Educational Human Resource Development from Texas A&M University – College Station.


Dr. Serrata serves as Vice Chair of the Executive Committee for the Texas Association of Community Colleges, Chair of the Board of Directors of Excelencia in Education, Advisory Board Member of the Higher Education Research and Development Institute (HERDI), and is the Chair of the Board of Directors for the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC) after being elected to the Board in 2017.  Dr. Serrata was a member of the 2015 class of the Aspen Institute Ascend Fellows.  

Under Dr. Serrata’s leadership, the Aspen Institute announced that El Paso Community College (EPCC) was named one of 10 nation-wide finalists for the 2015 Aspen Prize for community college excellence which recognizes a college’s impact on student success. EPCC was selected from a pool of nearly 1,200 community colleges.  Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education and Community College Week Magazine continues to recognize EPCC as the national leader in awarding associate degrees to Hispanic students.    In 2016, EPCC was announced as the winner of the AACC Student Success award and as the Western Regional Equity award winner of the Association of Community College Trustees (ACCT).  Dr. Serrata received the Western Regional Chief Executive Officer award from ACCT and was named the 2019 Marie Y. Martin National Chief Executive Officer in October 2019.

José Espinoza, Ph.D.

Superintendent of Schools

His expectation from Day One has been “We must educate and treat our students as if they are our own children.” His tireless work to overcome obstacles, boost achievement levels, and raise the standard of excellence for Team SISD earned him the prestigious national 2017 $20,000 Escalante-Gradillas Prize for Best in Education and led to Socorro ISD being the first district in a non-HEB market to earn the coveted HEB Excellence in Education Award for Outstanding Large District.

In addition, through his leadership efforts, Team SISD passed a $448.5 million Bond in 2017 with the highest approval rating among large school districts in the region in recent bond elections. He is also one of the first superintendents in the country and the first superintendent in Texas to earn National Superintendent Certification through AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Dr. Espinoza’s “100%…No Excuses” vision of excellence to ensure no child is left behind has been enthusiastically embraced by our students, staff, board members, parents, and community evidenced by the countless local, state, and national awards the district has earned as a whole.

“Achieving Success as a Team” describes Dr. Espinoza’s leadership approach, which has inspired Socorro ISD stakeholders to work together as Team SISD and soar to new heights. Specifically, in May 2012, SISD was behind the state in 9 out of 17 STAAR exams for students in grades three through eight.  Under Dr. Espinoza’s leadership, Socorro ISD has outscored the Texas passing rates in ALL 17 STAAR exams in grades three through eight for five consecutive years. This is an accomplishment never achieved before at Socorro ISD. Among the largest 50 school districts in Texas, Socorro ISD is the only district with an over 90% minority and over 70% economically disadvantaged student population to surpass the state’s average in all STAAR exams in grades three through eight. Additionally, Socorro ISD became the largest school district in Texas and one of only three districts among the largest 50 in the state to earn the Postsecondary Readiness Distinction Designation awarded by the Texas Education Agency.


John Fitzpatrick

Executive Director
Educate Texas 

John Fitzpatrick, Executive Director, previously served as Executive Director of the Capital Area Training Foundation (now Skillpoint Alliance) where he worked to build relationships between the business sector, educational interest groups, and community partners for the benefit of Central Texans. Concurrently, he served on the Austin ISD Board of Trustees and as the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce’s Vice President for Education and Workforce Development. He spent four years on Capitol Hill working on education and workforce development policies for the US House of Representatives and Senate. John began his career in education as a middle school teacher and coach. He received a bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University and master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

Watch Panel 1

Noah Carp 

With over 20 years of experience in education, technology, and professional services firms, Noah’s successful career in finance, operations, and strategic planning leadership roles has spanned non-private, privately held, and public companies. Noah is passionate about addressing the gaps of inequity that continue to exist in our education systems.

Dean of Extended University, Beth Brunk-Chavez

University of Texas at El Paso

Beth Brunk-Chavez, Ph.D. is Professor of Rhetoric and Writing Studies and serves the Dean of Extended University which oversees UTEP’s Professional and Public Programs, UTEP Connect, the Center for Instructional Design, and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. She has been awarded the University of Texas Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award and named to the UT System Academy of Distinguished Teachers, serving as president for two years. Her teaching and research focuses on writing with technology, teaching with technology, writing program administration, and working with second language writers.

Sherry Kollmann, PhD | Vice Provost, Digital Learning Initiatives

New Mexico State University

Dr. Sherry Kollmann is the Vice Provost of Digital Learning Initiatives at New Mexico
State University. Prior to joining NMSU she served in multiple leadership roles,
including Senior Associate Dean of Business Programs at Southern New Hampshire
University. Prior to her transition to higher education, she served as a business leader
where she collaborated and consulted with small to Fortune 500 organizations on
workforce solutions. Her background designing, educating, and researching innovative
pedagogical approaches, in addition to her background in instructional psychology,
foster her drive to reimagine and redesign learning environments that create an equal
opportunity for every student to succeed.

Mara Matosic – Moderator

Mara is an angel investor, entrepreneur, actor and activist with vast experience in tech and community programs. Co-founder of Rokode, Legacy Director of Women Who Code, Chairwoman of Cuadrilla Digital and founder of the Beauty in Red Newsletter, Mara is passionate about the ever-growing role of women in technology and business, and believes that knowledge sharing is the base of humanity.

First Panel Discussion


Reimagine Learning: Education solutions in a remote learning environment

We are faced with critical decisions to make as we move forward in the midst of Covid-19. The pandemic has revealed pitfalls and presented new challenges facing our education system. Across the country there is significant difference in the quality of distance learning producing potentially significant inequity in terms of student learning. It has forced us to be creative and bring forward new education solutions to ensure students succeed. Please join our exciting panel as they discuss how we come together to reimagine learning.



Reimagine Learning: Education solutions in a remote learning environment. 


Education Panel II

Reimagine Learning: Education Solutions During a Pandemic



More info coming soon.

03: Entrepreneurship

More Info coming soon.


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