NACOGDOCHES, Texas — The Research Advancing Identities and Student Experiences Center at Stephen F. Austin State University will host its inaugural conference from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Feb. 22 in the Baker Pattillo Student Center with keynote speaker Mercedes Franks, Nacogdoches Public Library manager.

The conference’s theme in its first year will be “The Research Odyssey: Charting New Waters in Identities, Experiences and Community Engagement.”

“Mercedes Franks navigates advancing identities on a daily basis through her work at the Nacogdoches Public Library,” said Dr. Sarah Straub, SFA associate professor of education studies and a conference coordinator. “She is aware of her community and works to coordinate programming and resource procurement that provides windows, mirrors and doors for our community.”

Franks is a San Antonio native and a 1993 graduate of SFA. She received her bachelor’s degree in sociology from SFA, her master’s degree in sociology from Texas Tech University, and a master’s degree in library and information studies from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in the City of Nacogdoches since 2005. Franks’ keynote address is titled “Celebrating the New Voices of Nacogdoches” and is meant to build upon the conference’s theme.

The RAISE Center was established in spring 2022 by faculty members in SFA’s James I. Perkins College of Education. Its mission is to support research and outreach related to the identity development of college students, emphasizing marginalized social identities and the formative role of higher education in the development of their identities.

The conference will provide a platform for undergraduate and graduate students as well as faculty and staff to share research on student identity development and experiences. The deadline to submit conference proposals was extended to Feb. 2.

Read more details on submissions or submit directly online. The projects may be completed independently or in collaboration with multiple stakeholders.

Conference organizers hope to increase research opportunities among students and faculty as well as to have them share their research to critically examine the factors that influence college student identity and development, engagement and success.

“In addition to encouraging research, we hope to foster collaboration beyond the SFA community since this conference is open to all who are interested,” said Dr. Gina Fe Causin, SFA associate professor of human sciences and RAISE Center co-director. 

For more information about the RAISE Conference, contact Dr. Michael Walker, SFA associate professor of psychology and RAISE Center co-director, at or Causin at

RAISE Journal

Following the conference, the RAISE Center will publish the top presentations in the new RAISE Center Journal, which will be an academic publication featuring peer-reviewed articles.

“We are seeking submissions of both original research or research supported topics that address college students’ development or would be of interest to college students,” Walker said. “We are looking for presentations that represent the diversity of our student population and that will either present current research findings or foster discussion for future research and hopefully collaboration. The best submissions that most closely align with the RAISE Center Journal will be published in the first issue.”

IMPACT Conference

Additionally, the inaugural RAISE Conference will be a partnership with and serve as a kick-off conference to the national IMPACT Conference, which will be hosted at SFA this year Feb. 22-24.

“The IMPACT Conference mission — to create a reflective learning space that centers student voices while challenging their understanding of service, action and advocacy in pursuit of social justice — aligns closely with RAISE Center topics of interest. We also wanted to keep a local community-based focus and believed Mercedes’ work in the community was a good match,” Walker said. “We also hope to build community ties with our students and the local community and build opportunities for our students to participate in more local activities and service projects.”

For more information about the IMPACT Conference, contact Dr. Lauren Burrow, professor of education studies at SFA and campus coordinator for the conference, at  

Stephen F. Austin State University, the newest member of The University of Texas System, began a century ago as a teachers’ college in Texas’ oldest town, Nacogdoches. Today, it has grown into a regional institution comprising six colleges — business, education, fine arts, forestry and agriculture, liberal and applied arts, and sciences and mathematics. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, SFA enrolls approximately 11,000 students while providing the academic breadth of a state university with the personalized attention of a private school. The main campus encompasses 421 acres that include 37 academic facilities, nine residence halls, and 68 acres of recreational trails that wind through its six gardens. The university offers more than 80 bachelor’s degrees, more than 40 master’s degrees and four doctoral degrees covering more than 120 areas of study. Learn more at the SFA website.