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Engage Dallas: Beyond the Hilltop

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.

Engage Dallas launched Fall 2020 with each of our 11 Residential Commons focusing on one specific community-identified need. Each Commons partners with non-profit organizations in South and West Dallas serving to address these needs. The 11 community-identified needs are: Homelessness, Food Insecurity, College Access & Preparation, Arts as Social Impact, Environmental Injustice, STEM Education Access, Immigration and Refugee Support, Community Wellbeing, Child Poverty, Childhood Literacy, and Community Rebuilding.


My volunteerism at Geneva Heights Elementary School here in Dallas the past two semesters has significantly contributed to my personal growth in many ways; the service has revealed to me that I can be spiritually fulfilled in helping these young students. While the objective is directed towards their growth and improvement, it has internally also contributed to my growth and knowledge of the English and Spanish language. Moreover, this service has given me greater social understanding and greater diversity exposure; I tutor two young girls that are Hispanic. Learning about their culture and experiences in education has broadened my innate perspective and challenged my views about early childhood education consequently. I have always had a passion for childhood literacy, and so the fact that I had this opportunity has just strengthened my affirmation for it. I am so incredibly thankful for it. My commons’, Virginia-Snider, directed audience is childhood literacy. I am appreciative of this implication in volunteerism because childhood literacy is truly a factor that will continue to aid students into furthering their educational pursuits. Due to this, the importance of having a good childhood literacy experience is crucial to young students’ growth. My residential commons’ puts forth the effort to bring awareness to this, and I have had the pleasure to be a part of assisting that social problem through volunteering at a local elementary school in Dallas ISD, which has impacted me as a student, as a young adult, and as a Dallas resident. I would not have been able to do this if it was not for Engage Dallas that offers access to these programs–and it allows for students to gain their CEPE in an impactful manner.

Gracie Holder, ‘25
English and Social Innovation & Nonprofit Engagement Majors
Virginia Snider Commons


Volunteers are the lifeblood of our organization. Like most organizations of color, we have a small staff who wear several different hats. Our relationship with Engage Dallas has been a godsend. The young people who volunteered in February during our one-act festival arrived on time. They were professional and courteous, definitely representative of our brand. We look forward to a long and continued business relationship.

Teresa Coleman Wash
Executive Artistic Director
Bishop Arts Theatre Center


I was excited about the opportunity to work with Engage Dallas this year because doing so presented a unique opportunity for me to put my research into practice and to have an impact on both SMU and our community. My research focuses on the relationships universities have with external organizations and how those relationships shape what universities do and the impact they have on their stakeholders. For example, Engage Dallas has created a number of partnerships between SMU and community-based nonprofits, I want to understand how these partnerships impact all parties.

To that end, I joined Engage Dallas to help create a tool for evaluating the usefulness of the partnership between Engage Dallas and the respective community organizations. This tool will help to answer questions like whether or not this partnership helps the community organizations to better achieve their mission, or allows them to expand their services. Contributing to Engage Dallas to help build this evaluation tool is a welcome opportunity to put my research knowledge and expertise into practice in the hopes of ensuring that Engage Dallas benefits the community, the nonprofit partners, the students, and SMU.

Dr. Sondra Barringer
Assistant Professor, Education Policy and Leadership
Simmons School of Education & Human Development