The 2023 Big iDeas Case Study Competition, hosted by the Housing Unification Board in collaboration with the Office of Engaged Learning and Engage Dallas, was a resounding success with four student projects receiving funding to support a community engagement event with one of their Commons’ Engage Dallas Community Partners. This year a total of $6,500 was allocated to the four winning Commons to implement their pitched events.
Cockrell-McIntosh Commons received $500 to create college preparation baskets for the students of LNESC who are planning to start college in the fall. SMU students dropped off baskets filled with dorm and basic school supplies as gifts to the students who were attending LNESC’s College Signing Day event.
Boaz Commons received $1,000 to support the planting of a fig orchard on site with their Community Partner, Our Saviour Community Garden. Boaz was able to purchase a tiller to help with preparing the plots to plant the trees. Nine students attended the planting event where they helped to plant the trees and set irrigation to ensure that the plants would flourish.
McElvaney Commons was awarded $2,000 to support Brother Bill’s Helping Hand (BBHH) with implementing their Neighbors Day event. McElvaney was able to sponsor the health and fitness stage where local neighbors were able to attend free Zumba and fitness classes during the event. SMU students served with BBHH staff to help manage the event and ensure that all neighbors had a fun and healthy experience.
Mary Hay, Peyton, Shuttles (MHPS) Commons took home the grand prize of $3,000 to implement their “Storytime!” event with their community partner, Heart House. MHPS residents led Heart House students in a lesson on one of four stories: Peter Pan, Alice in Wonderland, Coco, and The Little Mermaid. All students got to take home a copy of their book along with a craft that corresponded with their particular story. Manju Warrier, Director of Teaching Programs at Heart House, shared that their “students had so much fun touring the campus, participating in the activities, and interacting with SMU students. We are so grateful for our partnership with Engage Dallas and are excited for future partnership opportunities.”This was the second year that MHPS was able to partner with Heart House to bring students to campus and Student Director, Ruhani Ahluwalia, hopes that the partnership will continue next year.
Engage Dallas would like to, once again, extend their deepest thanks to the Housing Unification Board and the Office of Engaged Learning for a wonderful event. We cannot wait to see what amazing events are dreamed up for next year’s event!
The spring semester of 2022 took off with a bang and is ending with a sprint. Sliding into graduation season and the end of classes, it’s important to look back and remember all the things we’ve accomplished so far. Engage Dallas has connected to the community in dozens of ways this year, so here’s a run-down for what we’ve been up to in Dallas since the start of the semester.
In January, we announced 16 new community partners (that you can read about here). Starting off the year strong, our new and former partners collaborated with all eleven of SMU’s Commons to foster engagement between SMU students and South and West Dallas Communities.
Our first service day was with the Trinity River Audubon Center. Members of Kathy Crow Commons started the day learning about the environmental history of Dallas, particularly the prominence of illegal dump sites in minority communities. Afterwards students got to help propagate native Texas plants on the Trinity River grounds. Students walked away having learned about both the people and plants in the native Dallas community.
In late February, Groundwork Dallas provided all the tools and equipment for students to participate in a park clean up! Engage Dallas and Kathy Crow partnered with the nonprofit to clean up a South Dallas park. Students got to serve community needs by participating in different activities around the park based on their differing skill levels to help make the park a better place for South Dallas residents.
To kick off March, Ware Commons partnered with Rebuilding Together NTX through Engage Dallas to bring services to an elementary school in South Texas. Rebuilding Together NTX has been a longtime community partner with Engage Dallas, with a mission to help “repair homes, revitalize communities, and rebuild lives,” by providing health and safety repairs. For this service day, students got to assist in the building of a garden for Richard Lagow Elementary School.
On March 6th, Cockrell-McIntosh visited the STEM Center of Excellence at Camp Whispering Cedars and worked with the Girls Scouts of North Texas. SMU students volunteered helping 5th and 6th graders with science demonstrations and activities around the camp.
“I helped the girls with chemistry and I really loved to see their reaction to the experiments… it just warmed my heart,” said Cockrell-McIntosh Student Director, MacKenzie Thierry.
Another way to get involved on campus is through our general engagement events. In March, Kathy Crow hosted a Flowerpot Paint Night with Engage Dallas. These events are designed to bring students together in a way that encourages involvement and awareness of the prevalence of social problems and their intersectionality, much like our service days.
“Attendees painted flower pots and planted seeds for flowers! We talked about the importance of home gardens – did you know that having a home garden or a lawn full of indigenous plants helps combat the increase of temperatures from climate change? The concrete of modern cities and towns retains heat and the presence of home gardens can help combat that,” reflected Student Director Lilly Chapman.
On the last day of March, SMU’s Boaz and Kathy Crow Commons got to help Restorative Farms in their mission to “foster a vibrant and viable community-based urban farm system in South Dallas.” For this service event, titled “Smoothie Day” students got to participate directly in the activities that go into upkeeping sustainable community farms, and drink smoothies too!
“Everyone was able to help out at Restorative Farms with the jobs that needed to be accomplished. There were 4 distinct jobs that needed to be done: transplanting (moving younger plants to larger pots), making mini-hydroponics from plastic bottles for an upcoming middle group later in the afternoon, alternate planting which they alternate planting lettuce and radishes in their signature grow boxes and putting labels on bags for their CSA (community supplied agriculture) boxes to sell to their customers,” said Student Director Lilly Chapman.
Service events are about service, but they are also about connection. SMU students have the opportunity to connect with people and resources across Dallas, as well as with community leaders here at SMU. “Everyone had enjoyed the service event and would like to do more in the future. We were able to connect with the KCC’s FIRs, meet Dr. Lynch, and learn more about Restorative Farms,” said Chapman. Of course, no smoothie day is complete without a good smoothie! These tasty treats were offered to students as well as members of the community.
“Everyone enjoyed Lilly’s smoothies which were amazing. She used a lot of great ingredients including fresh fruits (bananas, strawberries, and blueberries)… I think everyone also had a good time as well learning about Restorative Farms,” said Boaz Student Director, Jonathan Liu.
McElvaney Commons also put on a General Engagement event on the final day of March. The Residential Community Director (RCD) for McElvaney, Maya Reeves, gave “a wonderful presentation on mental health and healthy alternatives to deal with stress”, remarked McElvaney Student Director, Sabeen Baledina. Students “drank boba, ate donuts, made sugar scrubs, and laughed all throughout the evening. It was truly a wonderful event and I can’t wait to plan more just like it!”, reflected Baledina.
In April, students from SMU’s Ware Commons worked with Empowering the Masses to provide resources for over 162 families. By packaging resources for transport, Ware students got to work towards their 400-hour community service goal.
“The picture of the ‘thermostat’ is a poster put up in Ware. Every service event this academic year in Ware is going to count toward our 400-hour goal. Everyone that participates in any of the service events will be invited to get treats as prizes when one of the goals is met (60% is an Ice Cream Party and 100% is a Pizza Party).” said Kirk Thomas. Ware was able to reach their 60% goal of a collective 240 hours of service.
Reflecting on the 2021-2022 year, Student Director Jonathan Liu said, “The most impactful experience with Engage Dallas was #1Day4Dallas back in the Fall semester. I was working with other Boazies that were also interested in service and at the time did not really know any of them, but I was able to build community with them as a Boazie and as a volunteer. I got to meet several Boazies that… include Sameet (my current commons council president) and good acquaintances of mine to this day.” In spring 2022, Jonathan took his involvement to the next level and became the student director for Boaz!
Engage Dallas’ community service events have continued to offer students the opportunity to serve the South and West Dallas communities. Service has a lasting impact…not just a day, but a lifetime. If you’re looking for opportunities to get involved, event lists and registration can be found on the Engage Dallas website. Be on the lookout for events in the fall. We hope to serve with you soon!
Kirk Thomas, who serves as the Student Director of Ware Commons, was a leader in the planning for #1Day4Dallas. He described the experience of seeing the event come together as a thrill.
“Seeing 1Day4Dallas come together for the first time in Engage Dallas’s history after weeks of planning was electric, like the feeling of weightlessness on a rollercoaster,” said Thomas. “Not only was it fulfilling being a part of meaningful community service work to help our neighbors in Dallas, but having that feeling amplified knowing that all across Dallas, SMU students were doing projects anywhere from home repairs to planting fresh vegetables in a community garden. Personally, I care because in doing these projects, we are able to create a sustainable cycle of people helping people. The more communities and neighbors we support and build up, the better off they will be not just today, but for tomorrow also.”
Kirk and his fellow Ware students served with Rebuilding Together North Texas for #1Day4Dallas, where they helped to remove carpet and place wood flooring in the home of a West Dallas resident.
A student participant shared, “It was a wonderful experience to finally volunteer and directly serve another community.” The impact service had on students was tangible throughout the day. Engage Dallas is excited to continue to serve our Dallas neighbors. Students who remained on campus served our community through The Not So Big Event, hosted by SMU Big Event in partnership with Tango Tab.
Engage Dallas is a place-based community engagement initiative via SMU’s Residential Commons to address community needs focusing on South and West Dallas. The initiative is a long-term, university-wide commitment led by students to partner with local residents, organizations, and other leaders to positively impact the community. There is equal emphasis on campus and community impact stemming from the initiative.
The Engage Dallas education and training team published 21 hours of new content for students on October 3. These supplemental online trainings aid SMU students in their understanding of the community-identified needs and are intended to increase their effectiveness when completing their community service in South and West Dallas.
Reed remarked, “Engage Dallas offers required and supplemental training courses to allow participants to better understand the Engage Dallas initiative and the diverse communities we serve. As we develop world changers, we think that it is important to provide direct and indirect learning opportunities for students, opportunities for students to identify the intersections between social problems, and intentional reflections to help students identify their role in creating sustainable solutions.”
One of the Engage Dallas initiative goals is to build capacity for social change in our local community. The education and training team intentionally curated and embedded diversity, equity, and inclusion resources from national leaders like the Smithsonian National Museum, state-level data, and materials publicly available from our Engage Dallas community partners.
Overall, these trainings build student capacity during their service through Engage Dallas. For instance, each Residential Commons has a social problem and now have a training to provide important foundational knowledge. These trainings, available to students in the Engage Dallas Canvas Course, help students understand the national impact of the social problem and utilize critical thinking skills to analyze how individuals, groups, non-profit organizations, and/or government entities can come together combat the social problem. These 11-Commons-specific trainings include:
Armstrong Commons- Homelessness
Boaz Commons- Food Insecurity
Cockrell McIntosh Commons- College Access & Preparation
Crum- Arts as Social Impact
Kathy Crow Commons- Environmental Injustice
LoydCommons- STEM Education
MHPS Commons-Immigration & Refugee Support
McElvaney Commons- Community Wellbeing
Morrison McGinnis Commons- Child Poverty
Virginia Snider Commons- Childhood Literacy
Ware- Community Rebuilding
In addition to the above social problem trainings, the education and training committee published trainings entitled:
Systems of Oppression
Community Building and Community Impact
Active Listening and Active Citizenship
Privilege and Social Identities
Race and Engage Dallas
Introduction to Community Engagement
Circle of Self
Students can always access these online supplemental trainings, but SMU students will also be able to attend in-person opportunities throughout the academic year to dialogue about topics like these. In-person training and education sessions are posted regularly on the Engage Dallas website.
Engage Dallas is excited to announce our community partners as we work to address community needs via the SMU Residential Commons (RC) and their 2,600+ residents. After an extensive research process by faculty, staff, and students to identify expressed community needs in South and West Dallas, each Residential Commons student leadership team adopted a long-term cause they were committed to addressing via Engage Dallas.
In Fall 2020, the Engage Dallas Offsite and Risk Management Committee began to identify community organizations already well-positioned, who are addressing the RC-chosen community needs. Throughout this intentional pairing process involving conversations with non-profit leaders, the committee focused on identifying community organizations whose missions aligns with the RC-chosen community need with which SMU could assist, and who — in the era of COVID-19 — offered virtual opportunities for our students.
Matt Nadler, Residential Community Director and Offsite and Risk Management co-chair, shared, “Getting to know the various Engage Dallas community organizations has been a highlight of my semester. I’m excited for our students to begin volunteering and getting involved with their various community needs.”
This semester, SMU students will put the online education and training they received into practice to begin volunteering remotely and may have direct-service opportunities as early as March. The Engage Dallas Student Director for each Residential Commons met with their partner organization liaison to organize virtual service opportunities for the spring semester.
Melanie Wright, Engage Dallas Student Director for Boaz Commons, exclaimed, “There is nothing I’m more passionate about than engaging with my community and helping those around me. My excitement about Engage Dallas has been growing ever since getting to know Boaz’s community organization, North Texas Food Bank, and so I’m excited to encourage everyone to participate in Engage Dallas this semester.”
Amber Martin, External Relations Manager for Reading Partners of North Texas, remarked, “I appreciate Engage Dallas and Eduardo [Engage Dallas student director for Virginia-Snider Commons] for the willingness to help within the community. The services Engage Dallas is providing North Texas will make a tremendous impact. Thank you for choosing Reading Partners to be one of Engage Dallas’ community partners.”
SMU is excited to announce the following organizations as the initial community partner cohort for Engage Dallas. Each Residential Commons is listed with its chosen community need and initial partner(s).
“We look forward to what we will be able to accomplish together,” concluded Nadler. For more information or to suggest an organization, visit the Engage Dallas website. Inquires by community organizations can be directed to Staphany C. López-Coronado, Assistant Director for the Office of Social Change and Intercultural Engagement (email@example.com; 214-768-4582).