Higher Ed

Houston Is Fertile Ground for a New Wave of Local Learning

University enrollment may be on the decline, but these Houston organizations offer ways to continue your education in a decidedly non-traditional manner.

By Danielle Fanfair August 21, 2017

Houston soil is rich; anyone and anything can grow here. And ours is a city is a known for innovation; conceive a novel idea—a domed stadium, for instance, or an artificial heart— and Houstonians will find a way to create it, bettering themselves in the process. Some of our city’s greatest institutions, in fact, began as revolutions in which Houstonians decided to courageously create the change they wanted to see.

When racist policies prevented enrollment in the city’s universities during the early 1900s, a group of local African-American educators decided to continue their education on their own, forming a learning community which met at night. 

On September 14, 1927, that community was formally recognized as a junior college. Twenty years later, it became Texas’s first state university in Houston, and in 1951 its name was officially changed to Texas Southern University. Notable alumni of the nationally-accredited school include Barbara Jordan, GMA host Michael Strahan, and Grammy Award-winner Yolanda Adams.

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Texas Southern University was founded by those creating the changed they wished to see.

Today’s cultural tide is shifting, however—away from institutions of higher learning. In June, Business Insider reported a sharp decline in university enrollment as potential college students are finding tuition rates increasingly expensive. And since 2013, a steadily improving economy has drawn older students into the workforce and out of schools, particularly community colleges. It’s becoming common once again to bypass academic institutions altogether and strike out on your own.

But none of this means that education itself is falling out of fashion. People are just finding more innovative ways to learn. And three Houston organizations are helping them do just that by offering learning environments to continue your education—albeit in a decidedly non-traditional manner.

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A HumanHQ small group meeting


It can be lonely starting up a new business, especially as a first-time entrepreneur. Dr. Beatriz Craven, a psychologist with her own private practice, knows this. So she borrowed from her own group therapy experiences to create HumanHQ, a support network for her fellow entrepreneurs. 

The specialty small group meetings at HumanHQ replace the often-rigorous workshop environment with a laid-back space for vulnerability and understanding. Members share stories, reflect together, and support each another through setting goals and forming accountability partnerships.

“It becomes existential angst later when we don’t honor those parts of us,” says Craven, referring to that inner tugging we sometimes feel—the inner tug, she says, that we’re better off listening to. Members become more comfortable showing up as their full selves at HumanHQ, and take more goal-oriented risks as they learn to work on that inner tug with others. 

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The New Space Leadership team

The New Space Leadership

For those who prefer the unbeaten path but need a little assistance carving their way through, there’s The New Space Leadership. This organization, founded by Big Power Yoga co-owner Nancy Perry, is focused on helping those “looking to chart their own course … who are ready to get clear on their vision, goals, and their life’s unique contribution and get to work.”

Participants develop and share their goals, set through in-person and digital, conversation-driven workshops. “The reason we started it is because it’s an operating system for my life and for everything we’ve created at Big Power Yoga,” says Perry. “We learn better together; through each other we make the invisible, visible.”

The colorful Meraki Make Sh*t Happen Planner and the launch of a new Big Power Yoga studio in Denver are just two of the projects developed by New Space participants. “One of the biggest results that we see is people stepping into entrepreneurship,” says Perry, who’ll soon be bringing the New Space curriculum into the Baylor hospital system as a “Residency Resiliency” initiative. 

What else is next? A digital ‘Personal Legacy Series’ is beginning in October, says Perry, plus a getaway for those who really want to get outside the box: “We’re hosting a New Year’s Vision and Goals retreat in Steamboat, Colorado.” 

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Liliana Segura, Chris Schoot and Rev. Dorothy Budd lead a lecture on "The Violence of Incarceration" at the Rothko Chapel

Rothko Chapel

Dominique de Menil believed the Rothko Chapel—which she commissioned in 1964—to have two vocations: contemplation and action. The chapel is well-known for its meditative atmosphere; fewer know about its programming dedicated to facilitate social change.

“Twelve Moments: Experiencing Spiritual and Faith Traditions” is a series that’s been devoted to action through events such as mid-day meditation practice and “The Concept of the Divine,” a lecture series through which professionals including Dr. Brené Brown explore how their concept of the divine informs their work. 

On November 12, the biennial Óscar Romero Award—which recognizes grassroots human rights advocacy—will celebrate activists Pierre Claver Mbonimpa from Burundi and Houstonian Kathryn Griffin Griñán. Leading up to this ceremony, the Chapel will offer human rights lectures and workshops in hopes of encouraging others to emulate the advocacy work performed by the honorees.

In this way and others, Rothko reminds us that it’s not enough to become grounded and aware. “There is this responsibility,” says Ashley Clemmer, director of programs and engagement. “So what are we going to do with this knowledge?”

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