Heritage Magazine: Real Life Experience And Civic Engagement
July 13, 2023
SHSU Media Contact: Mikah Boyd
Learning Through Real Life Experience
For students at Sam Houston State University, community engagement is more than volunteerism, but a way of learning. The Center for Community Engagement works with professors who wish to incorporate community engagement into their classes.
Brandon Strubberg, assistant professor of technical communication and graduate coordinator, has worked with the CCE since starting his role at SHSU in 2018. Inspired by his mentor, a fellow ACE course instructor, Strubberg decided to provide his students with a way to turn their assignments into work experience.
With a background working with outside business clients to produce technical documents from his time as a doctoral student, Strubberg understood the benefit.
“I felt like I learned more in that class from working with an external client than I had in any of my other classes before that,” Strubberg said. “When I got here and saw how much support there is for community engagement at the university and how much faculty are encouraged to do it, it was a no-brainer.”
The undergraduate technical writing course Strubberg teaches is required by numerous degree plans, including criminal justice. With many students in his class majoring outside of English or language studies, he decided to select partnerships connected to their areas of interest to better their overall learning.
“I have some classes where 90 percent of the students are CJ majors and I want them to get as much out of this English class as they can,” Strubberg said. “I want to show them how the skills that we’re going to work on in this class can actually be applicable to their potential careers.”
Part of this initiative included partnering with the Houston Police Department to develop key organizational documents for their Geographic Information Systems Unit in its fledgling months. His students were able to write the standard operating procedures and a report on the unit’s successes and services.
The graduate students were later granted access to the system’s applications and produced instructional documents for officers who were new to the system. In 2020, their work was recognized by the HPD Chief of Police for their collaborative efforts.
“Collaborative partnerships create greater transparency on what police agencies are doing,” HPD Lieutenant Fredrick Croft said. “One of my favorite aspects of doing these projects is being able to act as a resource for the students in the classes, answering questions they may have about HPD or law enforcement. In the future, I’d like to see the partnership expanded to other units in our department and other educational departments at SHSU.”
The Impact of Civic Engagement
The Center for Law, Engagement, And Politics (LEAP) at Sam Houston State University is designed to enrich students’ academic experience through various educational opportunities, including internships, volunteerism, guest lectures and educational field trips.
Partnering with cities, LEAP’s City Fellows program places students in paid internships.
“Through the City of Huntsville and area non-profits, we partner to offer a citizenship preparatory course for local immigrants,” Mike Yawn, LEAP program director, said. “LEAP students are also often found working with the Huntsville Main Street program, the Wynne Home Arts Center and Huntsville Parks and Recreation. These interns help host big public events such as Christmas on the Square, Scare on the Square, the community Easter egg hunt and the city’s Fourth of July activities.”
With an emphasis on meaningful public service, LEAP students also regularly volunteer for the city. Most service involves hands-on activities that include initiating and implementing projects.
“The LEAP Ambassadors do hundreds of volunteer hours a year, often helping the interns run events with the city. They’ve also done a lot of standalone projects, such as beautification projects for the Wynne Home and downtown area,” Yawn said.
Ambassadors are expected to not only perform public services while enhancing and developing their skills, but also learn the principles, processes and structures of public organizations.
For many students, the experience is a trajectory for a future career in civic service. LEAP alumni have gone on to secure city jobs in economic development, city management and governmental affairs. LEAP alumni are also currently working for major law firms, or attending the top law schools and graduate schools, and in diverse jobs in the non-profit field, business fields and in all levels of government.
For Zachary Goodlander (’14, ’16), joining the LEAP program provided a network of like-minded students, practitioners in the field and connections to crucial internship opportunities. After earning a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s in public administration at SHSU, he now serves as assistant city manager for the City of Fulshear, Texas.
“In many ways it was LEAP which laid the foundation for my whole career,” Goodlander said. “Through LEAP I was able to intern with the City of Huntsville, and now ten years later I’m the assistant city manager of a dynamic city of over 30,000. I’ll always be thankful for the LEAP program in not only the opportunities it provided me, but also for its promotion of the value and responsibility of public service.”
To view the full Spring 2023 edition of Heritage Magazine, follow this link.
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