December 21, 2011

As a student in 1991, Chris Lake ’92, ’95 began tutoring a 9-year-old boy living in the crime-riddled East Dallas neighborhood where he rented a house. Despite Lake’s best efforts, his student usually dozed off during their sessions. Unable to sleep one night as he puzzled over the problem, the tutor took a 2 a.m. walk through the neighborhood and found an answer: He spotted the youngster helping his mother clean the local Laundromat.

SMU students volunteer with approximately 70 nonprofit organizations in the Dallas area.

“He told me, ‘I could not have known the issues that my student faced had I not lived in the neighborhood.’ It revolutionized his understanding, gave him a holistic sense of the lives of the young people he was coming into contact with that would not have been possible unless there was some kind of continuing connection, some kind of understanding of what their lives were like,” explains James K. Hopkins, professor of history in Dedman College and Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor.

With like-minded students and faculty, Lake, now a Dallas attorney, laid the foundation for the 20-year-old Academic-Community Engagement (ACE) program and its ACE house in the low-income East Garrett Park neighborhood. Under the program, students enroll in urban studies courses, tutor and mentor the neighborhood children, and work with nonprofits serving the area. Some students live full-time in the ACE house to become neighbors as well as volunteers.

The ACE program heralded a renewed emphasis on learning opportunities that reach beyond campus boundaries. Academic courses with a community service aspect are now incorporated into the curriculum of all seven of SMU’s degree-granting schools. In addition, the University’s new Quality Enhancement Plan, Engaged Learning, provides opportunities for SMU undergraduates to build on their classroom knowledge by participating in at least one extensive experiential learning activity before graduation.

The role of strong university-city alliances in addressing community challenges was explored in “The University and the City: Higher Education and the Common Good,” SMU’s inaugural Centennial Academic Symposium November 10-11. Panel discussions with national, local and SMU experts centered on topics such as educating tomorrow’s workforce, the impact of growing diversity, technology’s role in shaping the future and student perspectives on community engagement.

The symposium was a forerunner of an in-depth analysis and report on SMU’s economic and community impact that will be released in January. Following, SMU Magazine cites some of the University’s benefits to greater Dallas and offers a snapshot of SMU’s human and intellectual capital that will be enumerated in the study.

Work In Progress … next page