Doctoral candidate in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education
Q&A: Alexa Yunes-Koch
Meet Alexa Yunes-Koch, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education. Alexa also the co-founder and president of the Racial Justice Alliance at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln. We recently connected with Alexa to get her thoughts on diversity in the CEHS community. Read what she had to say!
What are you studying in the college and what do you enjoy the most about being a part of CEHS?
I am a doctoral candidate in TLTE with Dr. Kara Viesca, and I am studying the neuroscience of emotion in teaching and learning, and its impact on cognition. My research interests center around interpersonal dynamics between teachers and students, aiming to reduce teacher stress from student behavior and to improve student motivation, engagement, and learning.
What I enjoy most about being a part of CEHS is getting to learn from so many amazing people with brilliant minds and hearts of gold. My professors are endlessly supportive and generous with their time, and they encourage me to forge my own path in the interdisciplinary work that I do, and my friends in CEHS are from all over the world, and they are also some of the brightest and kindest human beings I’ve ever known. As a Mexican immigrant living in the Midwest, it would be easy to feel unwelcome here, but everyone in CEHS makes me feel at home and I am so thankful for my TLTE family.
When you think about the diversity in our CEHS community, whose voices, in particular, do you think we need to hear more from?
I think the three groups we need to do a better job of centering when it comes to diverse voices in CEHS are professors of color, students of color from Nebraska’s own communities, and international students. Professors of color have an incredibly unique perspective about how to make positive changes that make students from all backgrounds feel seen and valued, and those professors are often made to feel like they have to fit in and not speak up in order to be considered team players. I think we should encourage those professors to share ideas for CEHS and their departments, and we should collectively do something with those ideas. International students face some of the biggest challenges at any university, and we need to do more to make UNL a supportive space for them. Finally, students of color from Nebraska’s own communities know the local opportunities and challenges better than anyone, particularly when it comes to education and issues of diversity and inclusion, so I think there needs to be a stronger effort to hear from their experiences and incorporate that wisdom into our programs.
How do you express your personal values as you go about your job?
My core values are humanizing and service, so everything I do in my job is about trying to help others, especially teachers and students in schools, and humanizing my students, peers, professors, and participants. I make a big effort to get to know those around me on a personal level, because we all have a story to tell and so much to learn from each other. I try to use my privilege as a graduate student to center traditionally marginalized voices to combat racial bias and racial injustice. So, whether I am working in a neuroscience lab or writing about teacher education, I am always guided by a critical perspective that reminds me to push against the norms.
What is one take-away message that you'd like to offer our CEHS community?
The take-away message I’d like to offer our CEHS community is thank you. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it weren’t for each individual friend and mentor I’ve had the privilege of working with and learning from throughout my PhD journey. The amount of support I’ve received in my time here is incredible, and I am an infinitely better person for being surrounded by so many great people. We are still fighting to change centuries of oppressive practices in higher education, but we are all doing the best we can with the tools and experiences we’ve got, and I think we could all take a little more time to appreciate what a great privilege it is to be here together.