NACOGDOCHES, Texas –– It was inevitable that José Rodrigo Uresti would become a teacher. As a child, he sat at a little desk he received for Christmas, where he pretended to teach his younger sister and cousin about the intricacies of math and history, and later graded the papers he assigned.
Now enrolled in Stephen F. Austin State University’s deaf and hard of hearing educator preparation program, Uresti, who is deaf, is taking the steps to make his calling a career. His goal is to become a U.S. government teacher for students who are deaf and hard of hearing. He transferred to SFA in spring 2021 to pursue a bachelor’s degree in deaf education.
“My ultimate goal is for all students who are deaf and hard of hearing to have a teacher who is a role model for them, who understands deaf culture, who communicates in American Sign Language and shows them that a deaf person is able to do anything while serving and representing the deaf community, and who shows them that every community can be united,” Uresti said.
A native of McAllen near the Texas and Mexico border, Uresti transferred to SFA instead of other institutions closer to the Rio Grande Valley because it is the only public university in Texas offering an undergraduate degree in deaf and hard of hearing education. The program equips candidates to teach students who are deaf and hard of hearing in prekindergarten through 12th grade settings.
“Their philosophy is for us to be ready to serve, educate and advocate for students who are deaf and hard of hearing; to ensure we are the best candidates to teach every student; to make sure their needs are met; to serve the diversity of all students and to be as inclusive as possible,” Uresti said.
The program offers coursework in ASL, as well as courses specific to the unique learning needs of students who are deaf and hard of hearing.
“SFA’s deaf education program has a 100% employment rate upon graduation,” said Dr. Lindsey Kennon, SFA assistant professor in the deaf and hard of hearing educator preparation program. “Deaf education is a high-needs teaching field, which means there are currently more vacancies than we can fill in Texas.”
Uresti’s interest in teaching government developed early in life. His father worked in municipal government for 15 years, which sparked an interest. He also credits U.S. President Joe Biden and Jim Darling, former mayor of McAllen, as influences, saying, “They are the most considerate influences because of how they demonstrate tireless service for citizens across their communities.”
Uresti’s passion for government led him to Washington D.C., where he served for three months as a congressional intern for Congressman Vicente Gonzalez, representative of the 15th Congressional District of Texas. During the internship, Uresti visited the U.S. Capitol and conversed with fellow interns about politics and matters regarding the deaf and hard of hearing community.
“I want to share my internship experience with my future students and tell them what I did and the functions of the governmental process — how it operates within the legislative, executive and judicial branches,” Uresti said. “I want to inspire them with firsthand accounts of the reality of our country's government.”
Uresti plans to graduate from SFA in spring 2023 and said he’ll likely continue his studies, working toward a master’s degree in public affairs with a concentration in public administration. In addition to teaching public school, he also desires to serve on the McAllen City Council.