Tag Archives: Undergraduate Service Scholars

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
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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).

It Takes a Village: Undergraduate Service Scholar Savannah Sublousky

What kind of capstone do you do as a Psychology major thinking of becoming an Occupational Therapist?   Savannah Sublousky ’15, a University Honors student and first generation Aggie from San Antonio, elected to try one of our new capstone options: the Undergraduate Service Scholars (USS) Program. The emphasis of the USS Program on community service and self-knowledge resonated with Sublousky’s personal values of love and giving, her Psychology major, and afforded her the opportunity to work closely with children to see if pediatric occupational therapy was a path she was interested in pursuing. Sublousky’s project involved developing projects with a group of preteens at the Boys and Girls club to encourage them to serve those who most need help, and hopefully to instill in them the desire to apply their knowledge in the future as leaders who give back to their community. What Sublousky created was a village of community effort that enriched the lives of many more than she expected.

Savannah Sublousky '15, with members of the Boys and Girls Club.
Savannah Sublousky ’15, with members of the Boys and Girls Club.

One way the preteens at the Boys and Girls club are learning about themselves as future leaders is by finding ways to give back to the community now. Sublousky’s conversations with the preteens as she taught them about what being homeless meant made the preteens realize that although they themselves have no one at home in the afternoons to care for them, there are people who have no place to call “home” at all, and that they could help by making “sock stuffers” of things the homeless need. As Sublousky looked for a way to obtain supplies for the preteens to create sock stuffers of personal hygiene items like ChapStick, soap, and shampoo, she realized that members of her church, Connecting Point Christian Church, might be willing to donate those items. And indeed, her church group came through with everything she and the preteens needed to make the sock stuffers.  Sublousky was then able to take the sock stuffers down to the Twin City Mission to support their efforts to help their clients. This reinforcing circle of community service from church to Boys and Girls Club to Twin City Mission, facilitated by Sublousky as a USS, has provided multiple groups with the opportunity to work together to make a difference.

And what has Sublousky herself learned from this experience thus far? Confidence in her ability to design and pull together a project that required coordination of multiple agencies, to communicate effectively with preteens, and to understand better where preteens are in their concerns and world view. She now understands better what it would be like to have an occupational therapy practice focused on children and preteens, and has found a way to channel her desire to help others and the values of her church to develop a whole cadre of community-minded people. Sublousky also says that working with the preteens has made her take a step back personally to appreciate the simple things she has and the joy of the moment as they do, rather than constantly stressing about every little thing.

What is Sublousky planning on having her preteens do next? She’s already finished the second project, where she and the preteens created Valentine’s Day cards for patients at one of our local hospitals to teach the preteens about the value of “unconventional” love that is not aimed at family or friends. Her next goal is to have the preteens make bracelets, not to keep for themselves, but to give to those they are glad to have in their lives in appreciation.

Savannah Sublousky and her students showing off the cards they have made.
Savannah Sublousky and her students showing off the cards they have made.

To learn more about the Undergraduate Service Scholars program, including contact and application information, please visit http://tx.ag/capstones

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HUR Staff Spotlight: Dr. Suma Datta

Honors and Undergraduate Research presents Dr. Suma Datta, our Executive Director. Dr. Datta coordinates with colleges, programs and centers across campus to improve existing HUR programming and develop new initiatives, she also serves as the HUR advisor for the Explorations journal and the coordinator for the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation Scholarship nomination process.

Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research

Dr. Suma Datta, Executive Director, Honors and Undergraduate Research

Dr. Datta grew up in Michigan and graduated from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor with Honors degrees in Chemistry and in Cell and Molecular Biology. She participated in undergraduate research all four of her undergraduate years, culminating in a senior honors thesis. While at Michigan Dr. Datta also took on leadership positions with a student organization and organized fund-raising activities for charity.

Dr. Datta was awarded an NSF Graduate Fellowship to support her graduate work at the University of California-San Diego in the Department of Biology. Her doctoral thesis focused on understanding how the genes that control the identities of cells are regulated at the molecular level and led to the publication of 5 articles and 3 reviews. Upon receipt of her doctorate, Dr. Datta was awarded a Life Sciences Research Fellowship and moved to Yale University to do postdoctoral research on brain development. During her time at UCSD and Yale, she became a science tutor for high school students and later a mentor and then coordinator of the Academic Mentorship Program in the Sciences.

In 1993 Dr. Datta accepted a position as an Assistant Professor in Biochemistry and Biophysics at Texas A&M with a joint appointment in Biology and was promoted to Associate Professor in 1999. She has been awarded an American Cancer Society Junior Faculty Fellowship, a Senior Ruth Kirschstein Fellowship and multiple grants from the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation and American Heart Association for her work in brain development, stem cell division and prostate cancer progression. She has traveled nationally and internationally to speak about her research, organized workshops and chaired sessions at national and international conferences and reviewed grant proposals for foundations and government agencies and manuscripts for prestigious journals. Dr. Datta has continued her interest in student development and mentoring through organizing alternative careers workshops, participating in TAMU Honors programming, teaching Honors classes, presenting at the Women in Science and Engineering conferences and mentoring over 50 undergraduate researchers in her laboratory.

In 2008 Dr. Datta became the Assistant Dean for Undergraduate Research, working closely with students and faculty from all across campus. In this capacity she organized the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program, coordinated events for REU directors during the summer, ran workshops and training sessions and published the first issue of Explorations: the Texas A&M Undergraduate Journal. She joined the Council on Undergraduate Research and was elected to a counselor position in the spring of 2010.

In the fall of 2010 Dr. Datta became the first Executive Director of the new Honors and Undergraduate Research unit, combining the former Honors Programs Office and the Office of Undergraduate Research. She and her staff have expanded the Undergraduate Research Scholars program to include Honors students and students from all colleges, established the Undergraduate Research Ambassadors and developed and launched three new Capstone programs (Undergraduate Teacher Scholar, Undergraduate Service Scholar and Undergraduate Leadership Scholar). A new distinction (Honors Fellows) and associated Honors program (University Honors) have been developed and implemented including an application process and a more robust Living Learning Community experience. She has continued to coordinate publication of Explorations, which just released its sixth issue.

In her spare time, Dr. Datta hangs out with her husband Scott and her two “house lions.” She loves to cook and eat food from different cultures, especially if it is spicy. Luckily she and her husband also love to dance. She is the faculty advisor for TAMBDA, the Texas A&M Ballroom Dance Association, and for AggieWesties, the Texas A&M West Coast Swing Dance Club. Most weekends and some week nights she and Scott can be found on a dance floor somewhere.

Piloting the Undergraduate Service Scholars Program

By Hayley Cox

“A capstone is a culminating experience that allows a student to bring the learning and experience of their undergraduate education together to address an issue or question that interests them. While capstone experiences are required for Honors Students, any undergraduate at Texas A&M may apply to these programs” (http://hur.tamu.edu/TAMU-Students/Capstones).

Currently, the capstone programs include Undergraduate Research Scholars, Undergraduate Teacher Scholars, and Undergraduate Service Scholars.  The mission of the Undergraduate Service Scholar Program (USSP) is “to give students an opportunity to integrate classroom education in their major with their career goals and gain a better understanding of the nature of service…” Each Undergraduate Service Scholar is required to develop a project to be carried out over the course of the academic year. Honors students Erica Cottingham and Lauren Simcic are piloting this capstone program with their service projects under the direction of Dr. Sumana Datta.

As Undergraduate Service Scholars, students first identify a need for service in Bryan-College Station and gather volunteers to address that need. Scholars also attend at least one social justice event per semester and write reflection papers on their experiences.

Lauren Simcic, a senior political science and Honors student from San Antonio, Texas, has been involved with Honors since her freshman year. She began her Honors career as secretary for the Lechner-McFadden Hall Council. The senior chose to participate in USSP because of her high school’s heavy emphasis on community service. She had missed volunteering regularly since entering college at Texas A&M.

Simcic’s parents were her inspiration to commit to service, as they always made time in their busy schedules to help those in need. Simcic said, “My father was a successful doctor, but he still made time to volunteer at church. Everyone was worth his time, and he never overlooked ‘the little guy’.” Another reason Simcic continues in service is to honor her father, who passed away six years ago.

The service scholar volunteers at a nursing home, which she has found to be very fulfilling. She said, “When I show up, people say hi to me and hug me. The residents wait eagerly for anyone unfamiliar to walk into the facility because it adds variety to their days.” Simcic hopes to plan a large service event for the end of the spring semester. In the future, she aims to obtain her Masters degree in the Texas A&M University Masters of Urban Planning program.

Simcic encourages students interested in service to choose a need that stimulates their personal interests. She found herself more likely to attend regularly if she loved the work that she was doing. On the other hand, the service scholar recommends that students try to stretch themselves every time they volunteer. Simcic said, “I find that when I encounter a really lonely, discouraged person, the things I used to find ‘gross’ or ‘not my job’ don’t [make me uncomfortable] anymore. I just want to help the person.”

Honors students are encouraged to apply for the Undergraduate Service Scholars Program. Applications will require a two-page proposal and a timeline of activities in late spring or early fall semester. Honors and Undergraduate Research is very excited to continue and expand this new capstone with the help of more students like Lauren!

Aggies Helping Elders

Lauren Simcic is one of several Honors Students who participated in the pilot of a new capstone called Undergraduate Service Scholars. To learn more about capstones, please visit https://honors.tamu.edu/Honors/Capstone.shtml.

By Lauren Simcic – On the Texas A&M campus, young adults predominate. Sometimes I forget that the world is not made up of people between the ages of 18 and 22. The “college bubble” could accidentally cause well meaning Aggies to ignore populations younger or older than themselves.

This semester, I founded a service organization called Adopt a Senior. Four volunteers and I regularly visited an assisted living facility and spent one-on-one quality time with the residents there. During that time period, I learned how to coordinate a group of volunteers, and we accomplished something really impactful.

First impressions
I am no stranger to the nursing home environment. My grandmother, who had Alzheimer’s Disease, lived in one briefly before moving in with my mother and me. I gathered from her experience that elderly residents are constantly bored, and their medical problems are ignored by staff.

Photo of the author with her grandmother
The author, Lauren Simcic (front, center) at age 10 with her grandmother (left).

Sadly, at the assisted living facility where Adopt a Senior is taking place, my assumption proved partially true. All around the building, seniors sit in chairs, staring without talking to anyone. The seniors have difficulty navigating in wheelchairs. Sometimes, when a person gets stuck, I give him or her a push. If I were handicapped and had little help moving around I would feel very trapped.

Getting to know each other
I was matched with Lois, a very cheerful woman whose husband, sister, and best friend passed away recently. We have both lost loved ones–for me it was my father and two grandparents–and our shared pain helped us to bond. I knew to listen quietly rather than say, “It’s going to be okay.”

Lois has given me an interesting perspective on living in a nursing home. When I ask her about the food, activities, etc., she always responds that they are “good enough.” At first, I was upset because I felt that Lois and the other residents deserved more. I still feel that way, but I am realizing that Lois’ commitment to being content regardless of her situation is quite admirable.

Christmas party
The Adopt a Senior team ended the semester with a crafting party. Half of us hosted bingo, and the rest taught five seniors to make wrapping paper Christmas trees. Things went better than I had ever expected! I think the program was properly tailored to participants’ energy levels and interests. It was great to the residents talking to one another, since socialization seems so rare at this facility. My only regret is that no one brought a camera!

Looking ahead
My hope for the coming semester is to retain the volunteers who have come together and to attract new ones. I can tell that Adopt a Senior is making a difference in individual lives. It would be wonderful to have enough people involved to influence a whole nursing home–maybe even expand to a second facility.
In the months ahead I want to continue visiting Lois, put on more programs, and get some snapshots of our good times!