This past August, five Angelo State University students spent a couple of hours picking up trash blown off busy South Bryant Boulevard onto property owned by Mosaic, a nonprofit organization that serves people with intellectual disabilities. And they had fun.
“It’s not like someone is watching over you and bossing you around,” said ASU junior Rosie Guerra. “I didn’t know any of the students who were there. Some of them were freshmen, and I think it was a good start for them. It was a really good experience.”
The students were participating in Angelo Serves, an activity launched two years ago as part of Rambunctious Weekend, ASU’s fun-filled fall welcome for new and returning students. Whether they knew it or not, these students and others who painted equipment and repaired playgrounds were also part of the university’s larger commitment to “community engagement.”
That term is shorthand for ASU’s mission to provide opportunities for students to benefit from real-world experiences, such as volunteering, internships and community-based research projects, while also serving the communities in which the students, faculty and staff live, serve and lead.
For Guerra, a San Angelo native who graduated from Lake View High School, that benefit is clear.
“As a social work major, I have to do a certain amount of volunteer hours,” she said. “I do a lot of that on my own but with Angelo Serves, I got to do it with other Angelo State students and get to know them. Also, I’m getting to know local agencies, which will help me when I graduate.”
Earlier this month, ASU’s commitment to community engagement was recognized by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, making ASU one of 83 institutions out of 241 first-time applicants to receive the acknowledgement in 2015.
Dr. Doyle Carter, a kinesiology professor and director of ASU’s Center for Community Engagement, led the effort to earn the Carnegie recognition.
“When you use the word ‘partnership,’ there are formal contracts,” he said. “But then there are individuals—faculty, staff and students—who are doing it not because it’s required, but because it is what they are called to do, whether it is delivering meals to the elderly or serving on the board. Our students are doing things that I had no idea were going on, paid or volunteer. Their work is helping them develop skills that will help them in life.”
“It is truly a great feeling to engage in conversation about helping others less fortunate, while also having fun and making new friends.”
ASU faculty and staff are adding volunteer projects to study abroad trips, and nursing students are working with their counterparts in Africa. Other students are serving internships at local schools or the West Texas Rehabilitation Center or helping as research assistants at the Center for Community Wellness, Engagement and Development.
Jennifer Johnson of ASU’s Center for Student Involvement organizes Angelo Serves and other volunteer opportunities. She also makes sure the opportunities stretch beyond the Concho Valley with Project Spring Break, an annual trip to New Orleans to do volunteer work in the areas of the city still recovering from 2005’s Hurricane Katrina.
“I started that program in 2010 as a way for selected students to do something positive for a community away from San Angelo during their break,” Johnson said. “It is truly a great feeling to engage in conversation about helping others less fortunate, while also having fun and making new friends.”
Caitlyn Crumrine, a senior from New Braunfels, attended Project Spring Break last year as part of a group of 12 ASU students and three staff members. They had opportunities to explore New Orleans, but they were also assigned to gut an apartment building abandoned since the hurricane.
“Everyone just jumped right in,” Crumrine said. “They gave us sledgehammers and everyone was just beating down walls.”
“I went in with an open mind,” she added. “I didn’t know what to expect, and I came out with more than I could have thought possible. New Orleans, you think of the nightlife, but where we spent our time in the Lower Ninth Ward, there was just so much heartbreak from Hurricane Katrina.”
Community engagement is part of the Texas Tech University System’s priorities and it is making a difference, Carter said.
“Our community engagement commitment is in line with our mission,” he said. “It’s something we take seriously, not just because it’s a priority, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
For more information, visit ASU’s Center for Community Engagement.