Eleven students completed internships and research in Dallas over the summer. Fall classes started Tuesday for the justice and urban studies students working alongside CitySquare, a non-profit organization focused on fighting poverty.
This past summer the students completed internships with Americorps, and worked through summer camps and food delivery services to gain experience and familiarity with the impoverished areas of south Dallas. They also took six hours worth of classes.
The small group of sophomore students are the first to facilitate this program. They were selected from the Honors College at the beginning of their freshman year and began work right away.
As a team, they took several trips to CitySquare in Dallas to learn more about the impoverished aspects of the city and how they could help. A class was then set up to help the students communicate the areas they wanted to focus on, whether that was dealing with food, education or another aspect and specific programs emerged.
Dr. Stephen Johnson, dean of the Honors College, helped facilitate the program and oversaw the team’s decisions.
“There was a lot of open-endedness to it,” Johnson said. “We didn’t dictate every step of the way. We were embarking on a journey together. They had to trust the process and take the journey.”
Four students will work with schools in the south Dallas area that accepted the Design for Change program, a global movement created and used by Indian educator Kiran Bir Sethi. They will be conducting research on the overall effect of teaching third to fifth graders to feel problems in their lives, imagine how to fix the problems, doing an act of change and sharing their story with others.
The remaining students will focus on the food accessibility for lower-income families in south Dallas and ways to improve the participants’s eating habits. A PepsiCo learning-lab food truck has already agreed to help the students throughout the program.
Alan Songer, sophomore criminal justice and Spanish major from Tomball, said his biggest struggle will be living apart from campus life.
“I keep saying I don’t want to go, but I do. . .because its worth it,” Songer said. “I believe the work we’re doing is awesome and it’s a great opportunity for us to not only do this work, but also to have our education play out in a different way.”
However, not all aspects of campus life are being left behind. Songer said each student is still required to take 15 hours of classes each semester.
The team also has four scheduled visits to ACU during each semester, said Songer, to visit with friends back on campus.
Recruitment for next year’s team has already begun in the Honors College with 22 new students preparing for the program, said Johnson.
“I’m conviced that where students connect their learning to the things that they’re most passionate about, they learn more, they do more,” Johnson said. “It’s more about a sense of mission and calling.”
In addition to the Honors College, many departments at ACU are creating their own programs at CitySquare. Johnson said an emerging leaders program, an education track and a social entrepreneurship course are in the works to allow students outside of the Honors college a chance to find their passion.