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Gina Amatangelo: Developing good students – and even better citizens

October 21, 2021
Gina Amatangelo: Developing good students – and even better citizens

Profile photo of Gina Amatangelo

Every semester, students enrolled in Gina Amatangelo’s Civic Leadership Seminar head to local high schools to engage youth in policy solutions. In partnership with districts and community groups, these UTSA students work with high schoolers to produce recommendations to identify and prioritize policy solutions, and share their ideas with leaders.

An assistant professor of practice in the Department of Public Administration, Amatangelo has designed a series of service learning experiences born out of a desire to provide students with true immersion into their community. “When I ask students to plan and lead a workshop, they begin to see themselves as role models for younger students and they build marketable skills,” she said.

An example of this influence is clearly seen in alumnus Maverick Crawford. During his time at UTSA, he and his classmates mentored students from Lanier High school.

"I told them about my hardships growing up, and I felt a sense of fulfillment because, at that moment, I could give back to someone else what no one gave to me — encouragement," Crawford said. "I let them know that no matter what situation you find yourself in, never give up on your dreams and don’t let anyone tell you that you don’t have the aptitude to make something of yourself." After graduation, Crawford was appointed by Governor Greg Abbott to the Texas Council for Developmental Disabilities and went on to complete a Master of Social Work degree.

Amatangelo’s desire for students to forge real connections with people in their community is the purest example of civic engagement.

"Many universities have civic engagement classes that train students to ‘deliver’ civic engagement, but fall short of helping them to establish the crucial two-way relationship in which community members are not just the target but essential collaborators," said Francine Romero, chair of the Department of Public Administration. "Gina’s projects surmount that typical limitation, allowing the high school students to engage as citizens as well as to imagine themselves as scholars in college."

 

Amatangelo and her class preparing to lead workshops on policy issues for high school students at the Youth Voice Summit at UTSA in 2019
Amatangelo and her class preparing to lead workshops on policy issues for high school students at the Youth Voice Summit at UTSA in 2019

 

Amatangelo does not just aim for her students to earn high marks, but to become great citizens. Her class assignments incorporate activities such as attending City Council meetings, understanding how government agencies make decisions by reviewing case studies, and engaging in a budget simulation.

"These activities encourage students to think critically about government, not just from a textbook perspective but from how government actually functions in practice," Romero said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and instruction was forced online, Amatangelo pivoted seamlessly and still delivered a high-quality experience for her students – first by discussing leadership in times of crisis, and next by hosting 10 virtual community conversations: Compassion in the Time of COVID-19.

"I watched as my students led conversations about what people were observing in the community as we all rushed to find toilet paper and adapt our lives," Amatangelo said. "We had meaningful discussions about inequality in San Antonio…and how we might grow as a community from this experience."

Students frequently cite Amatangelo as not only their favorite instructor, but as a personal influence and someone who genuinely cares for their well-being. Alumna Andrea Ramos Fernandez recalls how, as an undocumented student in 2016, she felt alone and scared until Amatangelo came into her life.

"Professor Amatangelo was the first educator I shared my immigration status with," Ramos Fernandez said. "I credit her with encouraging me to follow my dreams and believing in my qualities as a leader. Professor Gina Amatangelo has profoundly impacted my trajectory, and her unending dedication to students is palpable in the UTSA community." Ramos Fernandez is now pursuing a Master of Public Administration at NYU.

Students also frequently talk about Amatangelo’s enthusiasm for fostering community connections. Students are trained as small group discussion leaders and have volunteered with Up Partnership, the City of San Antonio and other community groups.

"Our whole class came in on a Saturday and volunteered as facilitators and assisted with the event," recalled alumna Sara Morsi. "Her interest in students and our community is boundless."

This work continued throughout the pandemic as students partnered with SA2020 to support the organization’s community engagement process. Another group of students participated in a virtual international exchange designed to build skills in critical thinking and civil discourse.

It is clear that Amatangelo has a tremendous positive influence on many students who walk through her classroom doors. From mentoring students to becoming leaders in San Antonio to helping heal trauma, her passion and skills are unmatched.

"I work with a group of talented students who are committed to strengthening our communities. It brings me joy to connect them with opportunities and watch them succeed."

In recognition of her impact on UTSA’s undergraduate students, Amatangelo was honored with the 2021 Regents' Outstanding Teaching Award, the most prestigious teaching award for faculty in the UT System.

Visit the Faculty Awards website to learn more about this and other recognition opportunities.