Engage Dallas, the place-based community engagement initiative via SMU’s Residential Commons, received the 2020 Division of Student Affairs Innovation Grant. In the announcement email, vice president for Student Affairs Dr. K.C. Mmeje believes Engage Dallas advances the division’s commitment to innovating our work.
The Division of Student Affairs awarded a $25,000 investment in the Engage Dallas initiative. Dr. Dustin Grabsch, a key partner from Residence Life and Student Housing, reflected on the grant application stating, “We considered the proposal to be innovative, as only six institutions of higher learning currently employ place-based community engagement to our knowledge. Of these institutions, none operationalizes the model via a residential college system.” Engage Dallas offers a unique combination and timing of the initiative with University prioritization that made the proposal a promising contender for the grant.
Melinda Carlson, assistant vice president of Student Affairs and dean of Residence Life and Student Housing, remarked at the incredible potential to solidify the connection between the campus and Dallas communities. “Engage Dallas will bring high impact community engagement opportunities to our Residential Commons communities. Our residential student communities will be able to grow their sense of place in the larger Dallas community.” Carlson believes in the importance of students feeling a sense of connection and belonging to the neighborhood and community in which they live. “Students will learn and experience the importance of engagement with the broader community, a skill that is critical to being a World Changer”
Mmeje continued in his announcement email that each of our eleven Residential Commons will choose a social issue to address a community need in west or south Dallas. “Throughout the academic year each Commons will engage in education and thoughtful dialogue around their issue and the systemic causes helping us to move beyond voluntourism and into true community engagement. While COVID may not allow us to directly serve in communities right away, it does provide us an opportunity to prepare our students to be more informed citizens when the time comes. There is much that can be done virtually and through educational opportunities to set a strong foundation for improving the communities around us.” Student Affairs’ Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement is a key partner facilitating training, educations, and opportunities for students to learn about and address community needs.
Camille McCallum shared, “What I really admire about the Innovation Grant provided to Engage Dallas is how it embodies a commitment both to our students and our community. As the Initiative Manger, I have the privilege of supervising 11 talented student leaders who receive funding for the meaningful work they will do in the Residential Commons and in Dallas.” McCallum closed with saying the grant funding for student staff wages “sends a clear message that direct service is worthy of both SMU’s resources and time.”
Engage Dallas will begin offering service opportunities for residential students in October 2020 and SMU undergraduate students will be able to receive credit toward their Community Engagement Proficiency if they choose.