Service House at SMU

The SMU Service House (SMUSH) is a residence hall for 28 students dedicated to service and social change. The Office of Residence Life & Student Housing and the Community Engagement and Leadership Center jointly sponsor the Service House and its programs.
SMUSH is open to all students; learn more at

Mentoring young debaters

An update from Anthony, a senior majoring in political science and communication studies:

Throughout my time at SMU, I have been very involved in the Dallas Urban Debate Alliance (DUDA). DUDA is a nonprofit organization that sets up debate programs at schools in lower-income areas in Dallas ISD. The organization gives debate coaches the tools they need to run a successful debate program, while also giving college debate students an opportunity to help coach the students of these schools.

DUDA is needed because many schools have well-established and well-funded programs that many lower-income schools cannot compete with. The organization hosts tournaments between the DUDA schools so the students will be able to compete with other students at their level. Once DUDA students have learned how to debate, they can compete in tournaments outside of DUDA, and many have been highly successful in these tournaments.

One of the greatest parts of this organization is getting to encourage high school students to go to college. Many of the students who join DUDA debate teams may not believe college is an option for them. By having college students help out as coaches, high school students can get college advice and become interested in going to college. Furthermore, DUDA offers several college scholarships to students who participate. Finally, some DUDA students have been good enough to get debate scholarships for college, meaning it has opened an opportunity to them that they would not have previously had.

Being involved with DUDA has greatly improved my SMU experience. It is inspiring to see how we can easily help change the lives of high school students in the Dallas community. I have learned that it is such a privilege and honor to be at a school like SMU. Getting a college education is an opportunity that should not be wasted, so I have chosen to devote some of my time here to helping other students get to college. I have truly seen the power of debate and education and how it will shape the future of our country.

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Working to end human trafficking

An update from Jessica, who graduated with a degree in human rights in May:

During spring 2013, I completed the vast majority of my service hours at Mosaic Family Services. It’s a domestic violence and human trafficking shelter for women and children. I came to volunteer at the shelter through Dr. Halperin’s Human Rights class, where it is required that we do 20 hours of community service. I chose to volunteer at Mosaic because I am interested in working in women and children’s issues, in particular human trafficking with an emphasis on child sex trafficking.

I came to learn about these issues my freshman year of high school when I read a book about the horrors of child sex trafficking. This would go on to influence my chosen career path to work for nonprofits and NGOs in children’s issues. It would also influence my decision to come to SMU because it was the only school I looked at that had a human rights program that would tie in well with my chosen majors of political science and international studies.

My experience at Mosaic served to reinforce my conviction that I had chosen the right field to work in by having the opportunity to interact with some of these women and children. In regards to my career objectives, it personalizes just what it is I will be working to eradicate once and for all and puts a face on an issue that does not get enough attention, in my opinion.

My service at Mosaic has impacted my experience at SMU by personalizing what it means to serve your community. People can perform community service in a variety of ways, but it doesn’t necessarily have any meaning or connection for them. That was the exact opposite of my experience at Mosaic. Additionally, by serving at Mosaic, it reinforced a notion that SMU is striving to make an important part of the student’s experience: using service to connect students to the community. Serving at Mosaic and other agencies throughout Dallas localizes issues that we would like to think only happen everywhere else but here: “Out of sight, out of mind,” but injustice happens everywhere, even in our own back yards.

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Communicating across cultures

An update from Lisa, a junior studying elementary education:

During spring 2013 I spent a lot of time in SMU’s English as a Second Language class communicating with students whose first language is not English. I volunteered in two classes. One class was for learning pronunciation and one was for practicing communication skills. I met students from China, North Korea, Thailand, and Ukraine.

In the pronunciation class, I learned about the phonetic alphabet. This alphabet enables the teacher to show the students how to pronounce certain English words without knowing their native language. Because I am a native English speaker, I had taken for granted how easy pronunciation of the English language was for me. After watching the students who had not grown up using specific parts of the mouth for specific English sounds, I understood how difficult it is. I further understood when they taught me some words in their native language, or when I was trying to pronounce their names. It was hard for me to have the correct pronunciation, too!

I learned about the difficulties international students face when coming to America. For example, when they speak, they are not always understood and often have to repeat themselves. They also enter a different culture. I also learned about the countries the students came from. I learned the Chinese eat moon cakes on the day the moon is the fullest, which usually falls around September. I was exposed to new Chinese names and cities. I watched the Ukrainian version of “The Voice.”

Volunteering in the ESL classes confirmed my love of different cultures and of teaching, and showed me that even though we all grew up differently, we had many things in common. Being exposed to different cultures has allowed me to become an even more open-minded person.

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Growing a community

An update from Camille, a senior majoring in dance performance:

It’s amazing how community service really does grow a community of both the people serving together and those who are being served. The more I serve alongside my fellow SMUSHies, the more I get to know them, respect them, and appreciate their ambitions. I found that people really do enjoy serving others when they take the initiative to take care of others’ needs even at their own inconvenience. Through living with others who cheerfully serve other people, the positive energy and kind hearts of my fellow SMUSHies make me want to be a better person, serve, and grow in community with them more. This is the best way to bond with another person — serving with them.

Who knew by giving, you receive so much? Not that this should be the end goal, but it definitely inspires me to give more of myself; to know that myself, the person I’m serving with, and the person who’s being served all benefit.

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Advice for high schoolers

An update from Jennifer, who earned a degree in electrical engineering in May:

2012-13 was a roller-coaster ride of ups and downs. I have met some of the most amazing and inspiring people while living in the Service House as well as outside the house through my volunteer work. My schedule as a senior electrical engineer was kind of crazy, but I somehow managed to make time for what was important to me, service.

I really enjoyed volunteering at Woodrow Wilson High School. I wish that more engineers had lived in the house so that we could go as a group to tutor STEM projects once a week after school. The kids literally idolize college students and are just full of questions that half the time have nothing to do with their homework. We covered every subject from which college is best and what degree they should pursue all the way to what sports they play now and what they want to play later. I simply gave them my opinion in all of my wisdom and expertise 😉

I felt like I was really contributing to these high school kids’ lives in a very positive way and loved every single minute I spent with them. I will more than likely go back to volunteer there in the fall as well.

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To be heard and understood

An update from Essette, who earned a degree in human rights in May:

Living in the Service House has helped reinforce my commitment to community service because I’m constantly surrounded by people who have a drive to help others. When you are with people who desire to impact the world, it inspires your own dreams of making a difference, even in the smallest of ways. I’ve loved hearing about all of my housemates’ experiences; their passion for service is both moving and admirable.

During the spring 2013 semester, I spent a lot of time volunteering at a Dallas nursing home. While I initially assumed that this would not be the most exciting of services, after the first day I knew my initial judgments could not have been further from the truth. There are few things that have allowed me to appreciate the value of life, and its simplest of moments, than the conversations I’ve had with the nursing home residents. Many of the people suffer with Alzheimer’s, and watching the deterioration of their conditions has been both heartbreaking and enlightening. Through my experience I’ve learned that no matter how old a person is, everybody wants to feel as though they matter. To be noticed, heard, and understood are some of the most basic of human yearnings.

Watching the residents’ joy because someone is taking time out of their day to pay attention to them has taught me a lot about the value of service in all its forms. As I walk into the residents’ rooms and gaze at pictures from their youth, I feel as if I’m experiencing some of the most intimate moments of their past; life looked so different back then. But no matter what fashions and technologies come and go, the general human experience – the love stories, families, and friends – all look the same. The lessons I’ve learned from my time at the nursing home have been priceless; they’ve made me realize that service will always be an important part of my life.

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