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Teaching for Change

Braniff Graduate Student Awarded Schweitzer Fellowship 

Date published: July 28, 2017

Sean Mixon“My mission is to give these students a voice,” said Braniff graduate student Sean Mixon, only a few weeks into the summer writing program he established at the Elsie Robertson Lancaster Middle School in Southern Dallas County. Last month, Mixon was announced one of 12 Albert Schweitzer Fellows in the Dallas-Fort Worth metro area for 2017-18, and one of approximately 240 fellows working around the United States. Schweitzer Fellows develop and implement service projects – like Mixon’s summer writing program – to address the root causes of health disparities in under-resourced communities, while also fulfilling their academic responsibilities.

“This is a talented and hard-working group of students who are passionate about access to healthcare, literacy, and meeting basic hygiene needs,” said Courtney Roy, program director of the Dallas-Fort Worth Schweitzer Fellowship.

The first UD recipient of the prestigious Schweitzer Fellowship, Mixon will continue developing the literacy skills of Lancaster middle schoolers who fall below their grade level throughout the next year, while also learning how to effectively address the lower socioeconomic factors that can negatively affect one’s health.

“Mixon is a model for all of us in giving back to the community around the University of Dallas,” said Dean of the Braniff Graduate School Joshua Parens.

“I have to get my education,” Mixon recalled suddenly realizing, before leaving Oak Cliff to attend Cedar Valley Community College, where he studied music composition and got a job as a college recruiter.

Mixon went on to study philosophy at the University of Texas at Arlington, and upon graduation in 2013, he applied to the University of Dallas Braniff Graduate School of Liberal Arts to continue his studies. The chairman of the philosophy department at UTA coined Mixon a modern day Socrates in his recommendation letter for UD; a stand-out in the classroom who was always asking questions and contributing to discussions.

In 2014, Mixon relocated his family to Lancaster, Texas, and began teaching English Language Arts and Reading at Lancaster Middle School. “I give more of myself in the classroom in order to motivate my students,” he said. “I wanted to do something that allowed these students to find their own humanity and overcome their own personal obstacles.”

“There are too many students who need one-on-one attention. You have to be more than a teacher,” Mixon continued. Many of the students in Southern Dallas County, and especially his students in the Lancaster Independent School District, suffer from domestic family issues in their homes, he explained.

To help foster creativity and self-expression, Mixon pushed his students to publish their own literary journal — appropriately titled “Live. Every. Voice.” — which he uses to help improve their writing and reading skills. He also teaches about the necessity of good nutrition, and only serves healthy snack choices to his students as they learn about issues of hunger.

“I want my students to walk away with something that they crafted on their own,” said Mixon, who hopes to see his students’ journal transform into other mediums (such as an inspirational documentary) and one day expand to other schools across the nation.

Only halfway through his first summer writing program, Mixon plans to continue mentoring students beyond the summer into the next academic year, as well as extend his program to high school students as he resumes teaching full-time in the fall.

Upon completion of his project at Lancaster Middle School, Mixon will formally become one of more than 3,400 Schweitzer Fellows for Life – skilled in, and committed to, addressing the needs of underserved people.

The Dallas-Fort Worth Schweitzer Fellowship Program helps Fellows design and execute projects that meet the health needs of underserved populations, improving the lives of vulnerable people. The program marks a unique collaboration between eight Dallas-Fort Worth universities. Housed at Southern Methodist University, supporting universities include the Baylor University Louise Herrington School of Nursing, Texas Christian University, Texas Woman’s University, the University of Dallas, University of Texas at Arlington, University of Texas at Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center.

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