Six hundred and fifty-six students from Dr. Leonard Moore’s two classes signed up for Engage Austin!—a community service event held October 21 that was facilitated by the Longhorn Center for Academic Excellence (LCAE)and the Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC). Moore, associate vice president for academic diversity initiatives and student engagement, knew he wanted his students enrolled in the “Race in the Age of Obama” and “Black Power” courses to become involved in the community and to learn about unmet needs and social problems within the greater Austin community.
Moore sees engagement as the first step to student awareness of larger social issues in society and of social entrepreneurship, which he defines as “self-sustaining business endeavors that aim to solve a social problem.” He said, “We want students to think about starting a business that can solve social problems.” Moore said those who participate in China Maymester this spring will get hands-on experience in working in a social entrepreneurial firm.”
Engage Austin! was essentially a student-run, student-led event. The VSLC provided a proven framework for the students which involved setting up teams in four areas: Leadership, Communications, Direct Service and Research/Education. Sixteen partner organizations were enlisted. Among these were the Austin Parks Foundation, Barton Creek Preserve, Christi Center, Downs Syndrome Association of Central Texas, Foundation Communities, Friends of Copperfield, Livestrong, Partners for Children, Urban Patch and area schools.
Students on the Leadership Team became familiar with the organizations and sites where they were working and as site leaders shared information for the volunteers performing direct service. Site leaders were also responsible for leading reflection sessions with the students and solve logistics problems, such as how to get all of the student volunteers to the site. The Research Team began gathering data and examining some of the needs closely to see how students might be able to address those needs in the future. The Communications Team members recorded events of the day.
Dezerea Williams was one of the students who participated in Engage Austin! She and a group of students helped the Down Syndrome Association of Central Texas prepare for an annual event called the Buddy Walk. Williams and crew arrived at 6 a.m. to help set up for the event. They were inspired by the event organizers and volunteers outside of UT Austin who were so dedicated to the Association’s work. She said, “The students around me felt as though the event was for a great cause. After it wasn’t too dark to see, it seemed as though every one’s spirits were uplifted and we had an amazing time. It made me think ‘Who knew that setting up an event early on a Sunday morning would be so fun, and truly touch my heart?’”