Laura Rendón , Ph.D., a nationally recognized education theorist, activist, and researcher who specializes in college preparation, persistence, and graduation of low-income, first-generation students, recently visited Worcester State to deliver remarks on “Working with Student Assets and Ways of Knowing and Employing Contemplative Pedagogy as a Deep Learning Experience” before a standing-room-only crowd in the Student Center’s Blue Lounge.
Rendón was invited by Worcester State University for a two-day session to explore new ideas for more cross-racial interaction and inclusion as part of President Maloney’s Five Points of Action Toward a More Inclusive Campus Climate . Rendón, whose visit was sponsored by Student Affairs, the Center for Teaching and Learning, and the Student Involvement and Leadership Development Office, gave lectures to both students and administrators.
Sue Foo, Ph.D., director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, said that the faculty’s desire to sit down and discuss how to tackle this issue has been in the works for a long time. “This year, fifty-two percent of our freshmen are first-generation college students, so we certainly agree that we need a framework like Dr. Rendón’s,” she said. “Many faculty members are already focusing on the strengths of these students, but the question is, can we bring this into the culture of Worcester State?”
Isaac Tesfay, director of Diversity, Inclusion, Affirmative Action, and Equal Opportunity for WSU, introduced Rendón at the event. “I first came across one of Dr. Rendón’s books in grad school, and I was inspired by her insight,” he said.
Rendón is best known for her work with “validation theory,” which refers to positive affirmation of students both in- and out-of-class to validate students as valuable members of their college community and to foster their personal and social development. She cited studies that have shown that students from disadvantaged backgrounds or were first-generation college students found more success with applied learning and the guidance of a faculty or staff member who took the time to help them.
Another reason for more schools to adopt the validation theory is that the face of America is changing, and by 2044, people of color are projected to make up the majority demographic in the United States.
“It’s going to be a very interesting time, and it’s going to affect politics, the economy, higher education, and the way we live,” Rendón said, “because we’re going to have to learn to get along with each other and to entertain different perspectives.”
Rendón, who grew up in poverty in Texas during the 1960s, knows firsthand the hurdles that impoverished and culturally estranged students face in order to get to college. “I literally went from poverty to affluence,” she said, “but I am an exception, and so my passion in life is to see that more students can fulfill their hopes and their dreams.”
Part of that mission involves also encouraging faculty and staff of higher education institutions to challenge their preconceived notions of low-income students.
“Oftentimes, when faculty and staff get together, the discussion begins with ‘Oh my God, this is so overwhelming, these students are at risk…these students are going to drop out,’ and we need to change that dialogue,” Rendón said.
To help facilitate that dialogue and low-income students’ transition into college, Rendón created a Sentipensante (sensing/thinking) Pedagogy  that emphasizes intellectual, social, emotional, and spiritual student development along with social activism. While these students arrive with their own challenges, such as financial instability and cultural dissonance, they also have a number of gifts that could help them compete with the system.
“These students know things, these students are smart,” she said. “They have cultural intelligence that includes perseverance and high aspirations, of which they have many.”
She also noted they have the benefit of lingual intelligence, familial intelligence, and social intelligence, which helps them communicate in a variety of situations, shape their ethics, and form peer networks in order to navigate their multiple worlds.
“You can have all the book knowledge in the world,” she said during the conclusion, “but if you don’t have these things, you won’t make it.”