Better Together: Growing with Community Giving and Teaching

Deakins photo

By Ethan Liu

Even beyond academics, people are always learning. This is a principle that Austin Deakins (ΦBK, Indiana University) has learned throughout his career. As early as his college days at Indiana University, Deakins gained exposure to teaching, with his first experience teaching students majoring in criminal justice. “It was a lot of fun, and it was also really nice to get to know students and their backgrounds,” recalled Deakins.

“As I was entering my senior year of undergrad, I was recruited by a university program called Freshman Interest Groups,” Deakins said. The program recruits high-achieving seniors to teach entry-level courses specifically for small groups of freshmen who are interested in focusing their early interests in a particular subject matter. As a political science major with an early emphasis in pre-law, he was chosen to teach a Freshman Interest Groups course in criminal justice.

From then on, Deakins was determined to serve as a support system for others to guide them in their learning and build meaningful relationships. Later, Deakins joined the Americorps program Teach For America as a corps member to teach at under-resourced public schools in Houston and provide support for economically disadvantaged students.

At first, Deakins was unsure of teaching children at the primary school level, as he had been accustomed to interacting with college students previously. However, as his relationships with the students grew stronger, he loved his job. “I could not get enough of it. It was like doing what I was doing in college but on a much deeper and more impactful level,” said Deakins with a smile. “You have such an ability to affect their outlook on life in a much shorter period of time.” Beyond assessing his students’ academic progress, he made an effort to work more intensively with them and understand their needs. As many target schools partnered with Teach For America are located in high-poverty density areas, Deakins realized that emotional support and empathy towards students in need were two of the greatest resources he could provide to students to further their education. He found the most rewarding moments of teaching to be seeing children finally break through in their studies in the midst of a challenging situation. 

Deakins’s passion for teaching and community giving eventually led him to another opportunity: Reasoning Mind. The company was focused on developing adaptive, interactive programs to help children learn mathematics. “I had always loved math and ended up being recruited by a local Houston elementary and then middle school to teach math once I passed the certification exams,” Deakins said, recalling his start with Teach For America.

With years of teaching experience, Deakins was recruited to help with implementing Reasoning Mind’s programs in public schools around Texas. Later, he took on the role of director of professional development to lead a newly formed department that would support math teachers in the classroom. With his team, Deakins created a variety of courses to provide targeted instructional support content for designated programs and presented his ideas to teachers. “We really saw a lot of mental shifts about technology in the classroom,” claimed Deakins. Later as executive director of strategic projects, he coordinated with board members involved with schools and districts nationwide, particularly private institutions in Texas that are harder to reach. These experiences strengthened his leadership and communication skills, as well as enriched his journey in educational development. The web-based
interactive math programs that were created by Reasoning Mind were eventually purchased by Imagine

Deakins was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at Indiana University in 2007, but it wasn’t until after his wife, Jean, graduated from Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and his family moved to Oregon that he became actively involved with a local association. After attending an (En)Lightning Talks event, Deakins was impressed by the expansive intellect and rich stories that filled the room. “I have never met any Phi Beta Kappa member who wasn’t both enjoyable to speak to and interesting.” From there, his role grew as he was invited to be president and co-founder of the Phi Beta Kappa Association of Oregon, where he led a newly formed board of directors that established the group’s mission, adopted governance documents, and dedicated much of its efforts to community outreach. In addition, he connected with Oregon colleges and universities to spur statewide engagement with the liberal arts and sciences. The association also focused on funding for scholarships for college students with high financial need while organizing networking events such as wine tasting and stargazing with the local ΦBK community. Deakins found his time as president gratifying, as he said he could “become a face of what Phi Beta Kappa membership looks like” and inspire students and alumni to immerse themselves in the association. “Liberal arts and sciences are all about freedom of thought,” Deakins conveyed. “There are few better concepts to promote to college students than the notion of freedom of thought and expression.”

Due to his outstanding contributions that galvanized the association in Oregon, Deakins was elected as secretary for the Phi Beta Kappa Conference of Association Delegates in 2021. In his new role, Deakins transitioned into advising policy-makers and high-level discussions at the national level to provide guidance and direction for ΦBK associations around the country. Although working at a slower pace, he thoroughly enjoys giving advice to different branches of ΦBK as well as collaborating with peers at the national level to promote the organization’s values and programs. 

When asked about what community giving means to him, Deakins stated, “You don’t build community without getting involved in it. One of the primary ways you get involved in your community is by volunteering.” His passion for helping others and seeing appreciative smiles on people’s faces is what makes his work so gratifying and enriching for him. By bringing the community together through direct participation, anyone can lead by example and build strong relationships to resolve challenging issues and push forward reforms. Even outside of work, Deakins is a devoted family man who takes care of his two young sons and spends time with his beloved wife. Ultimately, Deakins evokes a strong sense of responsibility and passion for helping others which drives his enjoyment of work for the betterment of the community. 

Deakins family photo
The Deakins family (L-R): Jameson, Austin, Jean, and Alexander Deakins.

Ethan Liu is a junior at University of California, Santa Barbara majoring in global studies. He was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa there in June 2022. The University of California, Santa Barbara is home to the Lambda of California chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.