The successful “products” of the Austin College experience are engaged citizens who think globally and act locally, leaving an imprint upon the communities in which they live and work and make their homes. ¶ Likewise, Austin College strives to be an engaged “citizen” in is own right, taking an active role in its “hometown,” leaving is mark upon is own friends and neighbors. ¶ The students, faculty, staff, and alumni of the College are part of the fabric of life in north Texas. The imprint of Austin College is visible on volunteer rosters at service and outreach agencies, on local commerce and economic development, on cultural opportunities, and on places of faith. ¶ The College’s prints mark the local schools where alumni and current students contribute to the education and training of area children and young people, the hospitals and private practices in which alumni doctors and dentists and therapists and other health professionals serve the region, on sports fields and in boardrooms, and at the myriad businesses, small and large, within the community Austin College calls home. ¶ Frequently, this magazine profiles the contributions of individual alumni and friends to make their neighborhoods, their workplaces, and their world a better place. This profile focuses on local citizen Austin College.
Summers of Adventure
For the past 10 years, Sherman elementary students have experienced exotic global travel, exploding volcanoes, and extreme weather—all from within Jefferson Elementary classrooms. The students participated in Austin College’s unique Thinking Camp program, which brings together Austin Teacher Program students and gifted and talented elementary students for an intensive two week summer learning experience.
The program, offered free to participants, was begun in 2003 by Julia Shahid, Austin College associate professor of education, and Cyndi Petray, gifted and talented specialist for kindergarten through fourth grade in Sherman Independent School District. “There are a lot of offerings in the summer for kids, but many of them are $200 to $300, and a lot of parents just can’t afford that,” Petray said. “We decided ‘let’s try this and see how it works.’ Julia had graduate students that needed classroom teaching practice, and we had students that needed learning options in the summer. It was a match made in heaven.”
This year’s Thinking Camp, which highlighted the culture and people of India, was filled to capacity with 82 students. Since its creation, Thinking Camp has hosted about 550 elementary students and provided experience for more than 100 future teachers. The summer ATP teaching methods course focuses on science and social studies, opening a wide range of topics for the camp. Previous topics have included space, the environment, plants, weather, Japan, and the beach.
The program offers learning experiences for all involved. “This is a ‘win-win’ for the community and Austin College,” Shahid said. “The local elementary students have access to an enriched learning environment with a low student-teacher ratio. The Austin College students grow as teachers. They make large gains in their confidence in terms of classroom management and teaching both social studies and science. They figure out how to apply ideas they have about building a strong classroom culture.”
“Experience is not something I can learn from a book,” said Christopher Hickson ’12, who was among Thinking Camp teachers this summer. “This camp allowed me to refine my craft of teaching. As a teacher, I am committed to lifelong learning; any time I step into a classroom there is opportunity for me to learn from the students while they are learning from me.”
In 2012, a grant from the Capt. H.T. Hastings Charitable Trust of Sherman provided funding for the program.
“It was the beautifulest thing I have ever seen just so you know…I was wondering if I could take my family to see it? Oh, and my favorite part of it all was the amazing flowers, plants, and cretures I saw…so once again thank you for letting me and my classmates come see that exstrodinery place.”
Fourth-grader Olivia wrote that summary of her experiences in her thank you note to Peter Schulze, professor of biology and environmental studies and director of the Center for Environmental Studies, and Sarah Campbell Stevens ’75, center coordinator, after her class field trip to Austin College’s Clinton and Edith Sneed Environmental Research Area and Prairie Restoration site.
Stevens has stacks of letters just like that one, with pictures and highlights of hundreds of class field trips. Third- to sixth-grade classes have been taking field trips to Sneed prairie since 2002. Stacy Banam has taken her fourth-grade class from Wakefield Elementary in Sherman every year since 2003.
“It’s so relevant to what we’re studying in Texas history,” Banam said. “We always begin the school year with the regions in Texas, and we start with what we live in. When we go to Sneed prairie, they get to see what we’re talking about. They have a basic understanding of conservation and a drought, but they get a real hands-on experience. We always see a total understanding after the field trip, and they have a deeper appreciation for the area we live in.”
Laura Blalock is a teacher at Henry Sory Elementary in Sherman, and has taken her fourth-grade classes to Sneed since 2007. “The students make connections,” she said. “Now they have something to connect other things, like Earth Day, to Sneed. And, we watch the movie Sarah, Plain and Tall, and when they see Sarah go to live in North Dakota, the students relate that to what they’ve seen at the Sneed Center.—‘It’s just like the big drought when there were cracks in the earth!’”
The field trips to Sneed are unique. The field guides on each trip are Austin College students who teach the elementary visitors using curriculum developed with help from the Austin Teacher Program. Trips can include an erosion demonstration, an explanation of the solar panels and recycled water used in the site’s Howard McCarley Pavilion, experience as a bison stomping seeds into the ground, data collection, a session about plant root systems, animal and plant identification, and even education about fossils.
For the teachers, it is fantastic. Blalock said, “It’s very applicable. Austin College does an excellent job preparing information that the student needs to know, and kids are engaged the whole time. I’ve been there when it’s freezing and when it’s scorching doggone hot; I’ve been after it rains or when it’s really windy but the kids are always focused and paying attention.”
Making the field trip even more useful for teachers, Cassie Ensminger ’12, who completed a major in environmental studies and now is in the Austin Teacher Program working toward her Master of Arts in Teaching degree, is updating the field trip curriculum to closely comply with Texas standardized testing goals. “It’s directly correlated with what we’re teaching; it is nearby; and the materials are supplied for us so we know what will be going on and can prep the kids so they know what will be happening,” Banam said. “It is a wonderful experience, and we look forward to it every year. It helps us out because we don’t have much money for field trips. It’s really something special. Not only is it a top-quality field trip, but Austin College helps us make it happen every year.”
Because the Sneed prairie trips and research are funded by grants and other gifts, the field trip is free to school districts and their students—another thing the teachers are grateful for. “We don’t get to take very many field trips, because it’s hard to make them valid,” Blalock said. “Austin College has done an excellent job of caring about that and making the field trip enhance the classroom.”
And the lessons stick: in another thank you note, one of the elementary students wrote, “I hope by the time I grow up the whole prairie will be restored back to its old healthy ways again. I also hope that you will be successful in informing others and convincing them to help restore the prairie.”
- Dixon Water Foundation
- Constellation Energy EcoStar
- Margaret A. Cargill Foundation
- U. S. Environmental Protection Agency
- Whitesboro Rotary Club
- Grayson County Rotary Club
- Rotary Club of Sherman
- Denison Rotary Club
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
- Magnolia Trust
- Texas Parks and Wildlife
- U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service
- Robert & Ruby Priddy Charitable Trust
- Meadows Foundation
- Wray Trust
- Individual Donors
Former Sneed field guides found the experience at the research center to be life-changing.
David Shanafelt ’09
“It’s an absolute blast. It’s a great opportunity for kids to get exposed to ecology and the environment in a hands-on experience. I don’t think you can get better than that. It gave me a really good resource that tells more about my work ethic and dedication to what I do.”
Joan Youngblood Dorsey ’06
“The prairie restoration seemed cool and I just loved it. It literally changed my life. I learned what it takes to take care of and restore a place that has been broken. It’s fun, especially as a young woman, to learn how to burn a giant field in a safe manner and feel empowered to do large heavy-lifting work.”
Mari Elise Ewing ’03
Sneed “really made that connection to our everyday life. I think that, for me, the big benefit was just to get out there and get other people there so it was no longer a mystery. I think my job is to communicate why we care or why we should care about the world around us. It is therefore incumbent on me to explain how the prairie is connected to us, to our communities. To really understand a thing helps us to better appreciate that thing.”
Reaching Out in Service
Very few service organizations in the local community have not benefited from the volunteer efforts of Austin College students, faculty, and staff.Whether assisting with filing in a busy agency office, engaging children in games, tutoring high school students, or planting a flower bed, Austin College students are very active in the local community. Through the campus Great Day of Service each fall, JanServe every January, and GreenServe each spring, as well as many individual projects, hundreds of Austin College students spend countless hours offering a helping hand in the neighborhood they call home for many months of the year.
Through the College’s Service Station, students log more than 12,000 local hours of service each year. Projects include highway cleanup, volunteer support at area animal shelters, painting, organizing, food collection, or fundraising for holiday gifts. The students work with people—children at area youth centers or those needing tutoring or classes that need readers to visit and share; the elderly in nursing homes and senior centers; women needing babysitting services at the Crisis Center; other community volunteers needing assistance at thrift shops or Goodwill.
The list of agencies assisted by Austin College students grows each year so that this fall at the Great Day of Service, students worked at approximately 50 sites in Sherman, Denison, and throughout the surrounding area. In January 2012, volunteers spent an afternoon at three Sherman schools, working with Partners in Education to staff science themed, hands-on learning sessions.
The students also invite others to campus. One Saturday each month, students host Saturday Morning Program for neighborhood elementary school children, providing fun learning opportunities and cultivating the importance of education, and the annual Halloween ’Roo Boo program brings nearly 800 children to campus.
Service is an important part of the learning process at Austin College. Though service is not required by faculty or administrators, many student organizations require service hours of their members, recognizing the lessons learned in serving others, as Gandhi advised, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
Much to Offer
Austin College’s 1,350 students have skills and talents that can be exercised even as they are learning. Much of that happens in the local community as students engage in internships and collaborative programs with area businesses and nonprofit agencies.
Lauren Hill ’13 received a summer 2012 stipend, funded by Texoma Council of Governments and Austin College, in the College’s Social Entrepreneurship for Poverty Alleviation program. Students in the program gained grant writing experience during the spring and then spent the summer with area nonprofit groups putting those skills to use, working on proposals and programs to help area agencies to address critical issues in the local community.
Lauren worked with the City of Denison and appreciates the involvement and immersion City Manager Robert Hanna and Main Street Director Donna Dow offered her. She was able to work with planning for a number of city events, from the Fourth of July celebration to Music on Main concerts to the annual Arts and Wine Renaissance. The work, she said, involved everything from designing flyers to stuffing envelopes—which helped her appreciate the effort that goes into local events, especially with a limited budget.
She was charged with completion of two major projects: setting up a 501(c)3 tax-exempt, non-profit public charity and writing a downtown design guideline for the historic overlay district in Denison. Through both projects, she gained knowledge and experience that will help her in the future, while completing important work for the city. While learning much about procedure and policy, Lauren said the experience allowed her to become particularly aware of the significant role of nonprofit entities in support of local governments.
“This internship has definitely secured my interests as far as a career path goes,” Lauren said. “Local government is one of the closest forms of contact constituents have to our democratic system yet very few people participate or are aware of how much local government really does for them.”
Lauren is supported by the John D. Moseley Scholarship Program and the Posey Leadership Scholarship Program.
A Green Footprint
Sometimes the students and faculty of Austin College lead the way regarding important issue in the local community.When it comes to environmental awareness and sustainability, students and faculty have led the charge and joined with others in work for the environment.
- Research by an environmental studies student helped lead to the implementation of community-wide recycling in the City of Sherman—still going strong 10 years later.
- Environmental studies faculty and students’ research at Lake Texoma discovered bacteria and subsequently uncovered chronic problems at a local wastewater treatment plant.
- Through GreenServe projects, students have helped repair and groom walking and bike trails at Eisenhower State Park, cleaned up area parks and highways, offered free energy-efficient light bulbs to neighbors around the campus, and prepared plots at the Sherman Community Garden.
- Introduction of the ’Roo Route bus service—a partnership with TAPS Public Transit—has aided in reducing carbon emissions from individual vehicles and served as a pilot program for other fixed-route bus service in the region.
- The College has hosted several community-wide electronic-recycling programs, collecting household electrical items for reuse and recycling.
- Austin College’s goal as a member of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment is to reduce campus greenhouse gas emissions and eventually have no net emissions. The College is on track to achieve 100 percent wind-generated electricity in 2015.
Hands-On Service Learning
In the past four years, 16 Austin College students have served as interns at the Texoma Council of Governments, the regional planning agency for the counties of Cooke, Grayson, and Fannin.
These projects have included community needs assessments, programming for aging services, and regional marketing for the Lake Texoma region—the latter a significant project straddling two states and led by Katy Cummins ’07, who served for two years on TCOG staff as program manager for community and economic development for the agency.
During summer 2012, Weston Moffett ’13 presented to the TCOG Governing Board the findings of her year-long study on “Regional Housing Affordability.”
Dr. Susan Thomas, TCOG executive director, said, “Weston and our other interns have injected a tremendous amount of energy and new perspectives into our programs and services. From grant writing, to web development, to comprehensive assessments of policy issues, these students have tackled big projects for us and have proven to be very valuable to our work. We’re always looking for new ways to engage students and utilize the many resources Austin College offers our region.”
Austin College had a total impact of more than $277 million on the North Texas region’s economy during fiscal year 2012, with more than $12 million of that coming from construction of the new IDEA Center. Economic impact is calculated by looking at direct and indirect effects of expenditures, including employee salaries, volunteer hours, core institution expenditures, and earnings and spending multipliers to calculate the estimated impact of new and induced jobs created for every one job at Austin College.
But community impact reaches well beyond the dollar. The total estimated number in the Texoma workforce of Austin College affiliated persons (alumni, spouses, and college faculty and staff) is more than 1,100. In the education field alone, 100-plus affiliated teachers serve in local school districts. Physicians, dentists, attorneys, and dozens of professionals and social service program directors are contributing to a higher quality of life for the region.
Through civic and cultural engagement and leadership, Austin College significantly impacts community life as well. In addition to the outreach programs highlighted in this issue of Austin College Magazine, a full spectrum of programs are served by the dozens of Austin College faculty who serve as community volunteers and advisors in their areas of expertise. Campus-directed programming in the arts includes the Sherman Symphony Orchestra, Community Series, concerts and theatre performances, art exhibits, and the contribution of talent and services related to presenting the arts.
Area youth benefit from summer camps, technology partnerships with local school districts, thousands of hours of tutoring and enrichment programs, and even some campus fun, including the annual ’Roo Boo Halloween party.
The College’s role in leadership and global awareness also is noteworthy; significant events such as the annual Kenneth Street Law Symposium, the Posey Leadership Award and GO! Forum, Asia Week, numerous lecture series, and a strong commitment to study abroad and international awareness bring to campus opportunities that provide a window to the world for the community that is home to Austin College.