Higher Education with Heart

A closer look at how DFW institutions are serving the community

Serving Future U.S. Hispanic Leaders – DALLAS BAPTIST UNIVERSITY

“The lack of equality is the biggest problem in our educational system today,” says the Rev. Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference (NHCLC) at the National Hispanic Education Summit on the campus of Dallas Baptist University (DBU).

The two-day conference in October 2019 featured a schedule of presentations and panel discussions with perspectives from college students, academic officials, university presidents and church leaders centered on the theme “Commitment from the Boardroom to the Classroom: Advancing University and Faith Community Practices for Hispanic College Completion.” The goal of the annual summit is to bring higher education leaders and the church together to address best practices for successfully recruiting, retaining and graduating Hispanic college students while empowering churches to effectively counsel their Hispanic students toward the completion of higher education.

“By bringing together Hispanic leaders from a variety of industries who share a common faith, the Faith and Education Coalition, once again, empowered participants to take keen insights back to their communities …” says Dr. Nick Pitts, executive director of DBU’s Institute of Global Engagement, in event coverage on DBU’s campus news website.

DBU, a private university, is located in southern Dallas and combines faith and academic instruction to empower students to have a strong focus on increasing the number of students of color attending and completing higher education. The university often hosts national conferences focused on aligning their faith-based mission with real-world issues.

Student Grant-writing Training Through Nonprofits – AUSTIN COLLEGE

Career-connected learning can deeply impact a student’s outlook on their career path, but it can also help those who are doing the most good in the community. At Austin College, students in the Social Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation (SEPA) program receive grant writing training, then go to work as interns for nonprofit agencies in the region and put that education into action. SEPA is a collaborative program between Austin College and the Texoma Council of Governments designed to engage students in community development through grant writing as an entrepreneurial endeavor. Students learn technical aspects of grant writing and get hands-on experience in the world of nonprofits.

“Each time I have an intern [from Austin College], I personally benefit from [having] someone that can help share the burden of work. [The student] helped me to make new forms, gathered new information, and made numerous contacts. Most importantly, she was able to write the case statement portion for our food assistance program, using the structure that I had already created. Her writing will easily be incorporated into what I’ve already done,” says Julie Rickey of Master-Key Ministries in a testimonial for the program.

These internships are about more than just gaining workplace experience for the students; since the program began in 2012, Austin College SEPA program interns have helped raise over $1.1 million in grant funding for the 66 local agencies served. It is not only the nonprofit agencies who are seeing the value of the program. “I loved this project. I learned so much about the non-profit world! I have definitely become extremely aware of the concerns of mental health in southern Oklahoma, and I hope that one day I will be able to make an impact in the lives of those I saw in the crisis units and clinics. In the future, I will definitely consider doing something in the mental health field as a medical doctor,” says Austin College student Helen Nguyen in a testimonial about her experience as a SEPA intern.

Finding opportunities for higher education, community organizations, and students to collaborate for impactful career-focused learning creates a win-win-win situation. “Rising tides lift all ships,” goes the old adage, which applies to the SEPA program at Austin College.

Serving a Community by Joining the Community – UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS AT DALLAS

The University of North Texas at Dallas is the only public university in Dallas, and the only university that focuses on urban Dallas students. With a soaring enrollment, UNT Dallas is recognized as the fastest-growing public university in Texas.

UNT Dallas is committed to creating pathways to socioeconomic mobility by decreasing the economic disparity that exists in higher education. By offering high-quality degree programs at low tuition costs, plus scholarships and financial aid, UNT Dallas limits burdensome student loan debt upon graduation.

A student body that is 85% Hispanic and African American,

UNT Dallas boasts the most blended diversity in Texas.
A majority are first-generation college students who come from modest economic backgrounds in urban Dallas County.

A Backbone for the Southern Region

UNT Dallas’ connection with southern Dallas communities includes unique partnerships and programs. Its Urban Institute focuses on projects that improve the social, economic and community well-being of Dallas’ southern region.

Leveraging the university’s intellectual capital and academic expertise, the Service, Education, Research, Community, and Hope (SERCH) Institute provides objective data to policy makers and community leaders while also building the capacity of individuals and organizations in the region. UNT Dallas faculty, staff and students play a vital role in SERCH initiatives. The institute serves as a key strategic component in fulfilling the university’s mission to be a catalyst in the community’s transformation.

“The SERCH Institute gives us the ability to acquire the true needs of the community,” says Keith Vinson, vice president of operations at YMCA of Metropolitan Dallas. “Through the support of the SERCH Institute, we are helping the YMCAs in South and West Dallas make programs and services accessible to all. Working with the institute to complete a community needs assessment survey gives us true data directly from residents regarding their wants and needs. This information allows us to set our future priorities for programs and services. The SERCH Institute is truly an inspiring collaboration.”

If We Don’t Have It Let’s Build It

SERCH is a leader in the community, taking ownership of ongoing projects, like managing the AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers for the City of Dallas’ GrowSouth initiative.
SERCH works with the community to better understand where efforts should be focused, and then UNT Dallas answers the call.

When SERCH found that southern Dallas didn’t have adequate access to healthy foods, a partnership was formed with Toyota, DART, and local vendors and organizations to create a “mobile market” to sell fruits, vegetables and other nutritive foods to residents who lack access to grocery stores.

Leadership for Those Who Serve – UNIVERSITY OF NORTH TEXAS AT DALLAS

The Caruth Police Institute (CPI) at the University of North Texas at Dallas is a partnership with the Meadows Mental Health Policy Institute that will serve as the state’s premier police training, policy analysis, technical assistance and research organization.

This one-of-a-kind collaboration between mental health care, higher education and public safety was founded in 2009 with a $15 million grant from the Communities Foundation of Texas. Initially, CPI’s goal was to fulfill the complex leadership needs of the Dallas Police Department through rigorous leadership programs, workshops on health and wellness, and academic research on best practices in policing.

Today, CPI serves police departments across Texas. A dozen police chiefs from departments throughout the state serve on an executive advisory board that oversees the mission to formulate solutions to the most complex issues facing police departments, such as increasing workforce, improving community relations and reducing police suicides.

“CPI represents a unique academic-practitioner model in police science,” says CPI interim executive director B.J. Wagner. “CPI combines expertise in police policy with the ability to conduct research, evaluate programs and improve police operations, making it one of the finest law enforcement institutes in Texas and the country.”

This article is part of the 2020 Higher Education Review Magazine.