Grad Spotlight: Angela Watts

Name: Angela Watts
Age: 42 

Course of Study (degree being earned): Ph.D. in Educational Leadership

Hometown: Reliance, TN 

I am from a rural mountain community in East Tennessee but have lived in San Antonio for the past 11 years. I am a first-generation college student. I chose to pursue a Ph.D. to further my career, but also because I am passionate about helping first-generation and rural students be successful in their educational pursuits. My degree affords me the opportunity to contribute to practical- and research-based support for those populations. I chose UTSA because it was local and affordable. As a part-time student working full-time, I needed a program that was accessible based on my income and work schedule. 

What was your favorite class and/or who was your favorite professor? Why?

Dr. Claudia García-Louis, my advisor, mentor, and dissertation chair. Dr. García-Louis is a phenomenal educator. She pushes you to challenge yourself, embrace the value of your experiences, and think more critically of every subject you discuss with her. She is one of those professors who changes your life simply by being her authentic self. She sees things in her students that we sometimes cannot see about ourselves, then challenges us to embrace those pieces of ourselves that make us who we are. I would not have made it through this program without her support, leadership, and encouragement. 

What would you say is the most important thing you’ve learned over the course of your studies?

It is difficult to choose one thing. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was to allow myself to be vulnerable in classroom settings and, most importantly, in conducting research. Vulnerability in the classroom allowed me become a better student, advisee, and friend to those in my program, while vulnerability in my research created space for conversations with study participants that otherwise may not have surfaced. These conversations provided perspective and insight into unique experiences that I would have missed had I not been open about my own experiences. 

Describe any professional experiences or internship opportunities you have had.

I worked full-time while pursuing my PhD. I learned to be a better advocate for the students I work with. Just as everyone comes to graduate school with different experiences and perspectives, all of which are equally valuable, each student has individual needs as well. The best thing we can do as educators is advocate for both the individual and collective needs of our students. 

What is your fondest memory of your time at UTSA?

Honestly, my dissertation defense! 

How has COVID impacted you, either personally or professionally?

COVID impacted my personal, professional, and academic life in so many ways. Shifting to remote work, remote classes, and then ultimately conducting remote research all created a variety of challenges. I had to learn to give myself grace and take care of my mental and physical health. I put a lot of pressure on myself to continue to be as productive as I was pre-COVID. That simply was not sustainable. I had to learn to rest. 

What are your plans for the future and/or your career?

I am continuing to work in higher education administration and look forward to continuing my research. 

What has brought you inspiration during this time? E.g., music, books, people, etc.

My husband, family, colleagues, friends, and professors. I have an amazing support system which consistently encouraged me through this entire process. I am very fortunate to have wonderful people supporting me in so many ways.