• July 8, 2024

UTRGV doctoral student named UT System’s Jess Hay Chancellor Fellow

UTRGV doctoral student named UT System’s Jess Hay Chancellor Fellow

RIO GRANDE VALLEY, TEXAS– Edinburg native Ashley Leal is the first UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration (CEP) student to receive the prestigious Jess Hay Endowment for Chancellor’s Graduate Student Research Fellowship, awarded by The University of Texas System.

She is the second UTRGV doctoral student in university history to earn the honor. In 2018, Hazel H. Dadanlar, then a doctoral candidate in the Robert C. Vackar College of Business & Entrepreneurship, was selected.

The fellowship, established by former UT System Regent Jess Hay, is designed to “tie graduate education to timely and high-quality research benefiting the State of Texas.” Two $15,000 awards are made annually to eligible UT System institutions. Recipients are known as “Jess Hay Chancellor’s Fellows.”

“I think it’s just amazing that UT System has acknowledged the research being done in the field of education but that is also done at UTRGV,” Leal said. “This recognition is a testament to the work we’re doing here at UTRGV that has not been done before.”

A 2011 legacy alumna, Leal holds a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from The University of Texas-Pan American. She then earned a master’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from UTRGV in 2016. She completed her doctorate in Teaching and Learning this summer and will officially graduate during the Fall 2024 Commencement in Edinburg.

As a student, she was involved in the university’s CHAPS – Community Historical Archaeology Project as well as Ancient Landscapes of South Texas, which piqued her interest in research.

She currently works for a nonprofit organization based in Arlington, Virginia, called TAPS – Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. TAPS provides bereavement care and resources to individuals grieving the loss of military or veteran loved ones. Part of her work includes conducting research and collecting survivor data within the organization, and conducting research is an aspect of both work and school she truly enjoys she said.


Leal was awarded Jess Hay fellowship because of the research conducted as part of her dissertation on the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, to which Leal belongs. The dissertation – “The Lipan Apache (Ndé) Tribe of Texas Powwow: A Curriculum of Culture(s) and Pedagogy of Place” – examines how identity and the powwow cultural gathering influence pedagogy and curriculum so that learning is performed, preserved, transmitted and transformed.

Dr. Alma Rodriguez, dean of the UTRGV College of Education and P-16 Integration, said Leal successfully defended her doctoral dissertation this summer.

“Ashley Leal is very deserving of this important fellowship,” Rodriguez said. “She has been an outstanding graduate student who has conducted cutting-edge research in our doctoral program. I am very happy and proud that Ashley has been named a Jess Hay Fellow.”

Leal said she is grateful to those who encouraged and supported her research, including Rodriguez; Dr. Laura M. Jewett, UTRGV professor of Teaching and Learning and chair of Leal’s dissertation committee; Dr. Pauli Badenhorst, UTRGV assistant professor of Teaching and Learning and committee member; and Dr. Ana Carolina Díaz Beltrán, UTRGV assistant professor of Teaching and Learning.

“I would also like to acknowledge my tribe, the Lipan Apache Tribe of Texas, and my husband, Reynaldo Leal Jr., for continuing to encourage me throughout this journey,” she said.

Leal receives $15,000 as part of the fellowship that will be used for conferences, for the submission fees for the American Educational Research Association (AERA), and for her continued research.

For more information on the College of Education and P-16 Integration, visit, www.utrgv.edu/cep/.

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