Spring 2014 Awardees

$2,000 (10 mini-grants distributed spring, 2014)

Civic engagement, part of UHD’s statement of shared values, as well as the new call to service issued by President Obama to (http://www.serve.gov/), focus on the opportunity to make a personal connection to complex social problems in our communities. Several content areas are involved in reality-based education (also named community-based education), an arm of service-learning.

Service-learning is recognized as one of the high-impact initiatives for student success. Additionally, it aligns with UHD’s mission statement, creates campus-community partners, uses civic involvement to meet specific learning objectives of an academic course, engages students and invigorates teaching, and creates research and publishing opportunities.

Resources for a more detailed discussion include:


Service Learning and Community Engagement Committee selects awardees that meet the criteria:

Procedure upon Selection

2013 Awardees

John R. Kelly

Dr. John R. Kelly was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant for the University of Houston-Downtown Department of Urban Education/ Harris County Juvenile Probation Department Excel Academy Writing Project. During the fall 2014 semester, students from Dr. Kelly’s PED 3301 course who volunteer will have the opportunity to participate in a high impact service learning project designed to improve their understanding of and improve their teaching skills with at-risk youth. They will partner with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Departments Excel Academy to guide 25 to 35 UHD pre-service teachers and 25 to 35 incarcerated youth in writing, illustrating and publishing three to five children’s picture books. This has been an outstanding multi-year project with a huge impact on UHD students, the Juvenile Detention center, the incarcerated youth and UHD's reputation in the community.


Natalia Matveeva

Dr. Matveeva was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant to develop a service-learning component for her ENG 3331 Advanced Desktop Publishing course. The goal of the service learning project is to help students develop new communication skills, establish contacts with local nonprofit organizations, positively impact local communities, and increase student’s future employability chances. In 2012 she introduced a new service learning component in her ENG 3326 Proposal Writing Class which allowed her students to create databases of funding sources for Bering Omega Community Service in Houston, a nonprofit organization helping people with HIV/AIDS. Many students reported that working with a client was important, enlightening, and “real” to them. In the fall of 2014 she will be teaching ENG 3331 Advanced Desktop Publishing and she wishes to enrich her other courses with similar projects. Working with real clients in Houston and devising real life solutions will increase student’s awareness of social issues, while bettering their communication and critical thinking skills. Dr. Matveeva believes that by introducing a service- learning component in her course, she will increase the competitiveness and employability of UHD graduates and create opportunities for students to develop new skills and impact their communities.


Stacie Defreitas

Dr. Defreitas was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant for her "Reducing Mental Health Stigma through Community Engagement" project. Dr. Defreitas believes that a well-developed service learning program will result in an excellent learning environment for students, serve the community, and result in a publication concerning its positive outcomes. Because of these beliefs, she has proposed a course called Abnormal psychology, where her students will select from three possible course projects. One will be a service leaning project in which they work with individuals with mental illness, another will be an interview with an individual with mental problems, and the final project will be a research paper on a topic focusing on psychological disorders. Through contact with people who have mental illness and those who work tirelessly to help those with mental illness, students will begin to minimize the stigma around individuals who suffer from mental illness. Students will also gain real world skills that can assist them in their future careers.


Dana S. Smith

Dr. Smith was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant for her Older Adults and Autonomy project. Older Adults and Autonomy is a directed study that focuses on transportation and technology. This directed study is designed to provide students who are interested in community outreach, advocacy, and the senior adult population, an opportunity for a hands-on experience in which they can see a project from beginning to end. The students will use theoretical concepts and practice skills to develop, organize, and implement services to senior adults in underserved areas. These lessons will empower senior adults in underserved communities while increasing their ability to utilize common technological instruments for activities of daily living. Finally these assessments will be provided to assist the public authorities in prioritizing construction and repairs necessary to create better transit access for senior adults and others.


Susan Beane

Dr. Beane was awarded a Community Engagement Mini- Grant for her "Probability of Birds" project. The learning outcomes for this service learning project are to gain an appreciation for our natural wildlife in the Houston community and understand how providing a service in our community can benefit learning in the classroom. The students will learn about local birds, migration, and populations by collecting and analyzing the data that they collect while serving as a volunteer for one session of bird counting at any of the Houston Audubon’s designated monthly counting areas. The students will see a direct connection between “math” and the "community" by allowing students to apply "theory” to real world information in a way that directly benefits the community while gaining an understanding and appreciation for our natural habitat. The survey data collected will be more meaningful to each student, thereby helping to improve understanding and interpretation of the course objectives in the areas of probability and statistics.


Zeenat K. Mitha

Zeenat K. Mitha was awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant for her CrimeStoppers Student Enhancement project. The project seeks to familiarize students with concepts, principles, practice and the profession of public relations and its effects. Students enrolled in Advanced Public Relations courses will get an opportunity to apply practical learning to presentations as well as relaying that message to an outside community of 10-50 people. The Outreach program allows an additional method of thinking, researching, and interpreting one’s learning, outside of theory that is carried in lectures and textbooks. The students will develop public speaking and research skills which elevate their knowledge of public relations. The CrimeStoppers Student Enhancement project will connect classroom theory to practice and serve the community, by assisting CrimeStoppers with the ‘taking a bite out of crime’ campaign. UHD students will enhance their sense of civic responsibility fully through the evaluation of the value of their work through responses from the community, peers, and the instructor. This project will also give the students an opportunity to develop a realization of why one should give of their time and knowledge and provide assistance to the community.


Vida Robertson

Dr. Vida Robertson has been awarded with a Community Engagement Mini-Grant in support of his HISD Summer Reading Program. The project enables our UHD students to conduct and facilitate book discussions with participating high school students in the HISD Summer Reading Program. Students will discuss A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines, the selected text for the 2014 UHD Common Reader. Placing UHD students in the role of teacher/facilitator will enrich their learning and provide critical thinking, organizing and leadership skills to prepare them for the 21st century workforce and community engagement. Through discussion, UHD students will encourage HISD students to think critically about individual choices in relation to one’s commitment to their respective community or mutual humanity. The initiative will foster civic responsibility by helping UHD students understand how to use their valuable critical thinking, reading and writing skills to contribute to the betterment of their communities. The community engagement component will enhance UHD student's awareness of the power and humanitarian utility of a college education.


W. Clay McFaden

W. Clay McFaden was awarded a Community engagement Mini-Grant for his Texas Legislature Project, a first-hand experience in educating UHD Students about the Legislative process. Approximately 50 students will be taken on a day trip to the Texas Legislature on or about October 21st, 2014. The trip will give the students an opportunity to interview legislators or a high-level member of his or her staff for the purpose of educating students on the status of bills that will be introduced in the 84th Texas Legislature. Students will be selected based on attendance in the fall 2014 semester of Texas Government and also through a campus wide recruitment. This is a service learning project that could spark more interest in politics among our students at UHD. The first-hand experience in contacting an elected leader will give them some experience in what they may develop an interest in repeating in another context later in life. This service-learning project could also serve as a great life lesson for our UHD students. It will build their self-confidence simply through the process of interacting with elected officials or even a member of their staff. We have all experienced times in life where we have to be bold. Training our UHD students to take bold action is a transferrable skill that will be useful to them in many aspects of their lives.


Travis Crone

Dr. Travis Crone has been awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant for his Social Psychology class. The project will be introduced to students in Dr. Crone’s PSY 2302-Social Psychology course. The students will be exposed to a wide range of social psychological research and theoretical perspectives that can inform and often improve the positions that our students take on key issues such as prejudice, homelessness, charity, and altruism, etc.. Students will evaluate how the social psychological theories not only can help eliminate or alleviate the problem, but also how the basic psychological nature of the individual helped to create the issue. Students will be required to complete a minimum of 12 hours of active service learning, which enhance students understanding and application of psychological principals to personal, social and group issues. Allowing students to connect the theoretical perspectives to their own lives increases the understanding and memory of concepts discussed in class. This project will truly make students think about helping, volunteering, and activism in a completely new manner.


Peter DeVries

Dr. Travis Crone has been awarded a Community Engagement Mini-Grant for a capstone course that will consist of a consulting team of 4 who develop a website/ database application for a local Houston business client using a system development life cycle methodology. Students will employ project management methods, project scheduling and control techniques, formal presentations and group dynamics in the analysis and design of information systems for local Houston businesses. This project is a fantastic chance for students to apply what they have learned by thinking critically to solve problems as they arise and keep the project on track while at all times satisfying the needs of the client. Students are proud of the work they can accomplish as a team, they are happy to have gotten the chance to do an actual consulting project. Many students agree that EIS 4312 is the best course they have taken at UHD because they were able to apply what they had learned to the small business community.