Category Archives: Capstone

Finding Your Community in the Community: Sammi Hofstra’s Service Capstone Project

–  by Sammi Hofstra ’18

Look around you, your group of friends, your neighbors next door, your weekend activities, now tell me, what is your community? How are you involved in that community? Do we sometimes just stick with our close friends without reaching to others right next to us? Living in College Station, with a population overtaken by over 60,000 students, sometimes we assume that IS the community.  In the midst of this service project, I have learned so much about finding the steady community within College Station.

Knowing that I had a capstone project to plan, I knew right away I wanted to do a service project.  So many ideas popped to my head of thing I wanted to do and plans I had for the community.  But I learned that’s not what service is about; service is listening to the community and wanting to help with their wants and needs.  Going in to this project I had grand plans to build a community garden, inspiring a local neighborhood to eat affordable produce.  But after meeting with my mentor, Ann Boehm, and Community Parks and Recreation Director, David Schmitz, I had to be flexible an realize the community wanted a Monarch Garden and that many gardens had already died.  The community needed a sustainable garden that allowed the monarchs to have a place to stop in their migration as they are going extinct.

Two women smile and hug in front of a newly mulched garden.
Sammi Hofstra ’18 (right) with her mentor Amy Boehm. “One of the greatest pleasures of this capstone project was building a close relationship with a resident of the city.”

With the help of the city, providing water, mulch, and garden beds, the community gathered to plant a monarch garden in September at bee creek.  It had to be built it time in order for the monarch’s migration through college station in October.  The start to this project was one of my favorite college memories.  Starting with the generosity of the community to donate so many milkweeds and other specifics plants for the garden, I was overwhelmed.  It was wonderful to see the garden club, local people from ages 4-70, and students from a student organization, SAIL, all gather to complete this garden.  So often our service projects involve just the students doing something for the community, it was beautiful to see the community work with the students to achieve something for the community together.

See coverage of the planting at The Eagle

While there was so much inspiration in starting this garden, the next problem was sustaining it.  The upkeep of a garden is a lot of work, and the excitement dwindles.  Coordinating between the garden club and SAIL we were able to upkeep the watering and the mulching.  With encouragement and excitement, service can be fun.  SAIL (sophomores advancing in leadership) is the student organization that I am a part of.  While I will be graduating soon and no longer part of this organization, the leadership has been turned over to them and they will continue to take the responsibility of up keeping this garden.  So far we have enjoyed the mulching, weeding, and watering and meeting so much of the community.

A group of students poses in front of the garden.
The students of SAIL with the help of Aggie BELLES helped upkeep the garden by mulching, weeding, watering, and planting new plants!

Students dig in a garden bordered by large timbers.Three students smile while working on mulching the garden.

This project taught me so much more about service than I ever knew.  Service used to mean to me, saying yes to whatever project, but I did not realize how much is out there once you look.  While service takes so many shapes and forms, it was so special to work alongside other community members and to make our own project.  After doing this project, I would encourage others to seek out their community and find maybe a project within to really get to know the community.  It has been a blessing to meet so many people and build so many connections here in college station.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.

 

The Servant Heart: Lauren Canady Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

-By Lauren Canady ’17

What compels people to serve? This question lingered in my mind as I began the process of organizing and developing a year-long service project for my undergraduate capstone. Will the people I want to partner with come alongside me to serve in this project? The particular avenue of service I chose was in line with the Brazos Valley Food Bank’s mission: to strive to alleviate hunger in the Brazos Valley by distributing food and educational resources to our neighbors in need through a network of hunger relief partners (1).

Wherever you are, a persistent need of the community is food. This simple need can be addressed in a simple way: through food donations. I endeavored to bring together two familiar community agencies, the Brazos Valley Food Bank (BVFB) and Antioch Community Church, in an effort to address the need for food throughout our community. My project involved organizing several food drives and promoting community health by soliciting healthy food donations. As the project came together, I was excited to see what tangible results would come about – how would my project impact the community? Even more, I was interested to learn through interactions with the people involved, what is the heart of serving?

Fall 2016 Food Drive
Fall 2016 Food Drive

Since I’ve been at my church, there has never been a food drive conducted. With my project, I felt that I was pushing the bounds of what I knew was typically done in my church. I wasn’t sure how leaders and students in the college ministry would respond. I was also apprehensive about how helpful BVFB staff members would be, thinking that my project might be a nuisance to them. These ideas show how my mind wanted to think small, but my servant’s heart wanted to dream big. I pushed through doubts I had and communicated with BVFB and church leaders.

Since BVFB and my church uphold values of generosity, service, and love, it should’ve been no surprise to me that I was met with kind, helpful, and even joyful responses. People offered wisdom and helpful tips, and encouraged me in my efforts to pull off this service project. Ultimately, the project yielded successful food drives consisting of healthy food donations. In the spring, we conducted a large, one-night food drive in conjunction with the monthly college rally that the college ministry does. The donations amounted to 374 lbs of assorted groceries to distribute to the community! In the fall, we conducted multiple smaller food drives at college lifegroups throughout an entire week. This food drive yielded 611 lbs of food!

Certainly, the project impacted the community more than I ever imagined it would. What’s more, the students donating food were all motivated by love. Donations were always brought to me from the hands of joyful college students excited to serve the community through simple food donations.

The project results blew me away. I had never expected to be able to bless the community with such a large amount of healthy food. I also didn’t expect to be inspired to continue organizing simple service projects that yield meaningful results in the future. The people involved in this project showed me that a servant’s heart is a joyful one, compelled by love.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.

Reference:

  1. http://bvfb.org/about.html

Navigating Immigration Visas: Alex Luna Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

-By Alex Luna ’17

Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Alex Luna ’17

During my time at Texas A&M, I have had the opportunity to live and travel abroad. I have been able to witness first hand that the life we live, as Americans, is not normal but rather special. We live in a nation where we do not constantly fear the threat of Coup d’état or where to find clean water to drink. We live in a state that allows upward mobility, where anyone can do anything through hard work and dedication. This is not the case for most of the world. As a country founded by immigrants for immigrants, we must continue to allow the fair entrance and chance of prosperity to people from every part of the world. A just and fair immigration system is fundamental to this tenet. Inspired by a weekend service trip helping an immigrant family while living in Argentina, I decided to focus my University Service Scholars Capstone Project on helping the immigrant community in Texas.

In 2014, the Executive Director of Human Resources for the Garland Independent School District (GISD) was accused of a being a part of a scheme to exploit foreign teachers brought to the United States to work for GISD through H-1B visas. The H-1B Visa Program allows American employers to hire foreign skilled workers for hard-to-fill positions ranging from computer heavy industries to specialized teachers. The student population of the Garland Independent School District, over the past decade, has increasingly seen an influx of Spanish speaking students. To fill a much need gap in regards to the deficit of Spanish speaking teachers, the school district enlisted the aid of H-1B teachers. What started out as a program to meet the needs of GISD, turned into a lucrative business that exploited teachers from an overwhelmingly non Spanish-speaking countries to work in GISD to fill a gap for Spanish speaking teachers. Once the scheme was foiled by the school district, GISD worked hard to handle the mistreatment of these foreign teachers. Due to the negligence and abuse of the system, many of these teachers lost their legal right to work in the district and ended up in confusion with their formal U.S. immigration status.

Being born and raised in Garland, Texas and having attended Garland Independent School District schools throughout the entirety of my primary and secondary schooling, I felt a personal responsibility to give back to my home district and those who work there. My father has served as a member of the school board for eleven years and through his eyes, I have become intimately aware of this unfortunate occurrence. My high school Spanish teacher, Jacobo Luna, was one of the teachers affected by the mishap and was not able to stay employed with Garland ISD after the scandal came to fruition. This also inspired me to investigate the situation and motivated me to want to be a part of the solution to ensure this atrocity never occurred again.

As a way to help prevent another misuse of H-1B visas and to give the GISD teachers currently employed under H-1B visas a point of reference for information about the complicated visa process, I created the “GISD H-1B Visa/PERM Labor Certification Resource Database” service project. The project reads like an FAQ with two main sections entitled H1-B visas and PERM Labor Certifications. The resource contains extensive, detailed information about the visa and recruitment process for obtaining an H-1B visa and a PERM labor certification to obtain permanent residency. Both sections go into extensive detail about the logistics, definitions of terms, and application process. It is designed for someone to understand what a H-1B visa or PERM Labor Certification is without any prior knowledge. After reviewing the resource, a potential immigrant should be able to gain a general understanding of the H-1B visas or PERM Labor Certifications processes. The resource was designed to be user friendly and can also be used as a reference for specific questions regarding one specific part of the process.

Along with the general overview of the application processes, I created a detailed checklist for both H-1B visa and PERM Labor Certification applicants that will serve as an aid to the applicant. I also created a condensed pamphlet of information for both the H-1B Visa and PERM Labor Certification application processes. These will serve as an aid to the district when a H-1B teacher needs a quick reference to the process. The creation of these resources help to consolidate the information and clear up any ambiguity that the process currently holds in the eyes of both the employer and employee.

At the commencement of my research, I knew almost nothing about the immigration process and the strains that are put on those who are applying for visas. Much of my understanding of our immigration system was based off of rhetoric reported by our media. Needless to say, my opinion was very skewed to one side and lacking a clear understanding of the strenuous process. After conducting research and reading personal stories about the immigration process, I have become passionate about immigration reform. Our immigration system is broken and is in desperate need of repair. Our nation was founded by immigrants for immigrants and we must always honor this founding statute. My project focused specifically on H-1B visa holders and PERM labor certifications but the problem is much greater than just these two issues. Too many educated, innovative people are being turned away for US immigration that would benefit our economic prosperity. These potential immigrants are looking for opportunities and will make their new home elsewhere if we do not change and reform our system. Our immigration system is a confusing process that unjustly sets limits on people who would serve as a great asset to the American people.

Working with the Garland Independent School District to develop a resource for immigrant teachers has been an eye opening experience. I have learned more than I ever could have imagined.  The University Service Scholars program encouraged me to make a difference in my community and left me motivated to continue fighting for just immigration reform. As Americans, we are almost all decedents of immigrants. To continue American prosperity, a reliable and just immigration system is necessary.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact capstones@tamu.edu.

The Service Balance – Passion and Practicality: Ellen Wimmer Undergraduate Service Scholar Project

By Ellen Wimmer –

Undergraduate Service Scholar Ellen Wimmer '17
Undergraduate Service Scholar Ellen Wimmer ’17

After my first full semester as an A&M student, it became very clear that sexual assault and harassment was a prevailing issue on the A&M campus. I spoke to many women about this issue and decided to take an informal poll of 30 female friends. Out of these 30, each of these women had experienced at least 2 separate accounts of pervasive sexual harassment. From being yelled at while walking to class, to persistent stalking. 25 of the 30 women had experienced physical, sexual assault. This included groping, being slapped, and cornered into a room. 18 of the 30 women had been raped during their time at Texas A&M. This troubled me to my core, and I decided to do something about it.

My experience working with the Department of Student Life to improve sexual assault and harassment resources during my time here at A&M has been a long a winding endeavor. This experience did not turn out at all like I had imagined, but looking back I am so grateful for the complications and roadblocks that forced me to fine-tune my goals. This experience has opened my eyes to the collaborative nature of service work, and how one must balance their own passion with practicality to ensure that they are doing the most good possible.

Campus sexual assault and harassment is a complicated and intense problem. Often it is difficult to decide where to start. Whenever I asked women in the informal poll why they choose not to report many said that a. They did not believe that “it was bad enough” to merit a report, b. they “didn’t want to make a big deal out of it and just wanted to forget” and c. They did not know how to report and did not know what A&M could realistically do for them with the information they had. Responses A and B are directly related to rape culture; a culture that places responsibility of the assault on the victim and attempts to minimize the crime. However, response C is something I could help with.

During my past internship at SARC (Sexual Assault Resource Center, prev. Brazos Valley Rape Crisis Center), a colleague had told me about a new sexual assault/harassment reporting software called Callisto. Callisto is a program made by survivors for survivors, and is a reporting program that offers features that survivors wish that they had after their assault. It is a online software that college campuses can purchase and integrate into their own infrastructure. I pitched this to the Dean of Student Life, and was turned down due to “lack of funding”.

The words “lack of funding” rang in my ears as I walked home past the new $450 million dollar Kyle Field Stadium, and decided I needed a new plan. I decided to work with what A&M already has. I wanted to centralize, enhance, and advertise for a stronger, more student-friendly reporting system. One that students can submit reports on from their phones, as well as pictures and videos of bystander evidence. I created an easy-to-use website layout that would consolidate existing sexual assault and harassment resources on to one site, and include a new trauma-informed report form like the one utilized by Callisto.

I spent months meeting with involved parties (Student Life, Student Affairs, Marketing and Communications, University Police Department, Information Technology, Buetel Health, Risk and Compliance,) trying to get all to agree on one universally used, campus-wide website. No department was willing to change to a “new” system, despite that fact that their user experience would not change at all; it would only provide more resources for student users. It was turned down. Frustrated and tired, I stopped and thought about what it is I really wanted to do with my remaining time at Texas A&M. What can I realistically offer that will be used by staff to help the students? What can I offer?

I started writing; every day for at least three hours. Writing my own recommendations for a better sexual assault and harassment system. Everything from reporting form enhancements and advertising techniques to articles on trauma-informed language when dealing with survivors. I took every meeting, conversation, article, and idea I had over the past year and created one easy-to-use resource manual. This November, I will give this manual to my capstone supervisor at the Department of Student Life, the amazing Kristen Harrell. By having her reference this manual during administrative discussions, it allows my ideas and the input of my peers to have a voice in the future of sexual assault and harassment resources at Texas A&M.

Service is about passion, but also about practicality. You have to care about what you do. You have to feel attached to your cause. Passion is crucial, but too much can induce tunnel vision. My biggest take away from this capstone is something that I look forward to applying to my future in service. That is, balance. One must balance their passion with practicality. I poured my blood, sweat, and tears into solving campus rape culture at Texas A&M. I wanted to leave this school knowing that I had virtually erased sexual assault from the college culture. When you are this passionate about a cause, no goal seems too big. I learned that this issue cannot be solved in 1 year. This issue cannot be solved in 5 years.

Campus sexual assault and harassment is complicated and thus requires a complicated solution. It involves numerous people and departments with different ideas and goals, not just myself. This seems obvious now, but it was something I needed to learn through experience. By leaving A&M with a less-grand but more practical resource, I believe that I have done everything I can for this cause at this time. Perhaps in 10 years I will come back and work as Title IX director with a larger staff and more funding. Perhaps in 15 years of students speaking up with force the change that we need to see at A&M. I encourage future undergraduate service scholars to be flexible, to reflect often, and prioritize balance in their service, as well as their lives.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact Dr. Suma Datta (capstones@tamu.edu).

Adapting to Those Being Served: Barbara Banner Undergraduate Service Scholars Project

This story uses the gender-neutral pronoun “singular they” to refer to Barbara Banner. For more information on gender-neutral pronouns, please visit http://nonbinary.org/wiki/Pronouns.

As a University Honors student applying to medical school, Bobbie Banner ’15 knew that they were interested in including medicine in their capstone. As an individual who identifies as agender (a term for a person whose gender identity is neither male nor female), they also knew that they wanted to focus on transgender and nonbinary issues.  There are many ways that a biomedical science major can use the University Honors program to further their interests, from research to leadership, but Bobbie was convinced that the Undergraduate Service Scholars (USS) could help them to reach out beyond their own personal gain and help the transgender and nonbinary community of College Station. The USS inspired Bobbie to team up with the Pride Community Center to found a project that would give useful information to anybody in the Bryan and College Station area who are either within the transgender and nonbinary community or want to better understand the subject.

Bobbie started the project, now entitled Talking Transgender in B/CS, thinking that they would focus mainly on the hard medical facts about transitioning that Bobbie could not find when they had started researching their gender identity. They expected to only give out information about hormone therapy and reassignment surgery, but meeting people in the LGBT community through the Pride Community Center soon changed the scope of their project. Bobbie found that there was a lack of basic information and easy accessibility to that knowledge within their circle. So instead of just medical information, the project was expanded to include more general facts like the terminology that is the most appropriate to use when talking about transgender and nonbinary issues and ways to get access to transgender healthcare.

This information was quickly gathered into a presentation, which can be given to any interested party, and shown to the Pride Community Center board. Bobbie then turned their attention to putting the information they gathered online and printing pamphlets that could be given out at Pride Community Center events. Bobbie has also taken up a position on the Pride Community Center board, and has been attending as many of the organization’s events as possible. This has allowed Bobbie to meet and learn from other organizations such as the Sexual Assault Resource Center (SARC) and the   also to get input from transgender and nonbinary members, such as including insurance providers that would cover transitioning in Texas.

Bobbie has grown from the experiences they gained from their USS project. They have come to understand that the first iteration of a project may not be what will be the most helpful to those they want to serve. Before Bobbie changed their project, they had to learn how to incorporate the criticism that they got from the group they were trying to serve. And with those two lessons, Bobbie learned that adaptation and humility come hand in hand. Bobbie could not have adapted if they had not swallowed their pride and accepted that there are others that know better. Those that are being served know what would be the best service.

But that does not mean that Bobbie lost their self-confidence because of this project. In fact, the opposite is true. Seeing how much work they could do and gaining the support of individuals like them through the Pride Community center has made Bobbie feel more accomplishment in what they do than they have ever felt before. Seeing that they can spearhead their own efforts and work with others has been a positive experience they will never forget.

Now that their career as an undergraduate at Texas A&M is coming to a close, Bobbie plans on heading out to medical school. There they plan on working toward becoming an endocrinologist, with a special interest in hormone therapy for those members of the transgender and nonbinary community that wish to transition. Their experience with the Undergraduate Service Scholars has helped them solidify this goal, and Bobbie plans on continuing to spread transgender and nonbinary information wherever their medical career takes them.

For more information about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/capstones or contact Dr. Suma Datta (sumad@tamu.edu).

Transformational Leadership: Juli Ewell’s Capstone Project

The following is a reflection written by accounting major Juli Ewell ’15. Ewell was part of the first cohort of students in the newly-developed Undergraduate Leadership Scholars (ULS) program.

My ULS capstone project is best understood with some context. Aggie Habitat was founded at Texas A&M around the year 1992 and since then, it has established a good reputation among students and the cities of Bryan and College Station. I was acting Historian during the 2012-2013 school year and was able to see the group during its best year so far. That year’s officers were well organized, we had approximately 200 students as paying members, our key fundraisers were the most successful they had ever been, and the organization surpassed its goal of sponsoring one Habitat house each year by actually funding two houses. At the end of the 2012-2013 year, it was an honor to be an officer in such a successful group, and I chose to continue on as the new Treasurer.

However, the following year brought numerous challenges that significantly harmed the organization. Our membership count was obliterated at the very first informational meeting because of a conflict with room reservations, causing the most important and professional meeting of the year to be held outside with our frazzled officers shouting their haphazard speeches. The group tried to recover, but it severely lacked central leadership. Unfortunately, we were unable to raise the funds to sponsor even one house that year. By the final meeting of 2013-2014, less than 20 general members were in attendance. We encouraged those few to become the succeeding officers, even though nearly all had only become members in the spring semester so had little knowledge of the organization as a whole. All of the 2013-2014 officers were leaving the group, except myself, and I discovered our faculty advisor was stepping down as well. Therefore, with an army of brand-new officers and tenuous foundations from a difficult year, I assumed the role of President with the goal of helping Aggie Habitat thrive again.

My project was initially to increase Aggie Habitat’s general membership by using a Transformational Leadership approach. This leadership style helped me quickly realize the importance of first strengthening the incoming 2014-2015 officer group. Throughout the year, I experimented with different leadership aspects and initiated various activities in order to accomplish my project. I desired to train the officers in their roles and to develop them into strong leaders themselves, which would give the organization the best hopes of long-term continuity. I organized teambuilding activities such as a summer Officer Retreat and educational Habitour with the Bryan/College Station Habitat Affiliate office. I forced myself to practice effective delegation techniques. Despite wanting to micromanage everyone, that would certainly not be efficient and would not help the others grow into their positions. The method I used to attract new general members was inspired by a Simon Sinek TED Talk that preaches, “People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” I adopted a new approach at the first meeting of each semester; I explained to the audience that the problem of substandard housing exists, that Habitat for Humanity is shown to mitigate it, and that Aggie Habitat lets students contribute to this worthy cause. The officers then strove to retain our members during the school year by hosting exciting meetings and activities.

A female student with long brown hair pulled back, wearing a grey sweatshirt over a green polo speaks at a podium with several people in the background.
Undergraduate Leadership Scholar Juli Ewell ’15, speaking at a Habitat for Humanity dedication ceremony

The results of my ULS project appear successful. The 2014-2015 officers were a fantastic group, and their amazing dedication far exceeded my expectations at every turn. Each one is now extremely experienced in his or her role, and they grew into a cohesive team. I am proud to say that at our recent officer elections, nearly every position was filled by a prior officer. Thus, not only were the returnees qualified, they also wanted to stay involved. Aggie Habitat’s membership flourished, ending the spring semester with more than 175 paid members with decent continued attendance at our events. In April, we were on track to have raised the funds to fully sponsor a house, we won the Texas A&M Student Activities Organization of the Year Award, and one of our members received the Margaret Rudder Community Service Award. My four-year involvement with Aggie Habitat has been a fully rewarding experience, and the work of my ULS capstone project helped me achieve the goals I had set. I am so thankful for this organization’s amazing opportunities and the incredible people I have gotten to know through my journey.

For more information about the Undergraduate Leadership Scholars program, visit http://tx.ag/leadership or contact Antoine Jefferson at ajeffe5@tamu.edu. To find out about the capstone programs run by Honors and Undergraduate Research, please visit http://tx.ag/capstones.

Daniel Garcia’s Capstone: Medialabs – Unifying Design Professions

A capstone is a project that takes the knowledge and skills our undergraduates learn in their courses and brings these together in a practical experience. Honors and Undergraduate Research runs four capstone programs–Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, Undergraduate Service Scholars, and Undergraduate Leadership Scholars–that are open to all Texas A&M Undergraduates.

Students in the University Honors Program are expected to complete a capstone experience as part of the Honors Fellows distinction requirements but sometimes our existing programs do not fit a student’s career goals. Students who have an existing departmental capstone can modify that experience to fit our requirements and have the capstone count for both the department and the University Honors Program.

A photo mosaic of Daniel Garcia giving his presentation with some close-ups of his presentation posters.Environmental design major Daniel Garcia ’15, chose to pursue a departmental capstone to fulfill his Honors Fellows requirement. His project, an extension of a studio project completed for a class, examines how space can be designed to facilitate interdisciplinary collaboration and expand opportunities for lifelong learning. Below is an excerpt from Daniel’s presentation of his project:

The chance to complete a capstone project for me meant the opportunity to take what I have been learning the past four years in architecture and take a moment to step back to analyze how the architecture I design can begin to impact on a local, but more importantly, global scale.  Specifically, how Media Labs as a building type can begin to facilitate the spread of ideas and the evolution of technology while unifying design professions.

Through my research I have found that the common thread linking media labs around the world is that media labs are “A PLACE TO DO” and “A PLACE OF ACTION”.  What I mean by this is that Media Labs are the new platforms for design innovation and the advancement of technology.  They serve as a haven for different professionals to come together to conceptualize and create solutions that would be harder to solve in their separate working environments.

To read more about Daniel’s project, visit his blog at https://dangar1.wordpress.com.

To learn more about capstone opportunities at Texas A&M, visit http://tx.ag/capstones.