Panel Discussion: Students and the Common Good

How can today's students serve and learn from their communities?

The following is from the blog of this panel discussion, "Students and the Common Good," which was part of SMU's Centennial Academic Symposium on Nobember 11, 2011. The entries were posted in brief increments as the discussion progressed and have not been edited. The times indicate when the entries were made.

The panel was asked to discuss "How can today's students serve and learn from their communities?"

The panel was moderated by Jill De Temple, assistant professor of Religious Studies in SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences; and included Warren Seay Jr., SMU '10, Law School student at SMU and president of the DeSoto ISD School Board; Bethany Mackingtee, SMU '12, student representative to the University Conduct Board and student representative to the Board of Trustees Student Affairs Committee; Jillian R. Frederick, SMU '14, SMU Hilltop Scholar; Matthew C. Gayer, SMU '12, SMU President's Scholar and 2011 Truman Scholar, and founder and executive director of Health Literacy Dallas (session co-chair); Adriana Martinez, SMU '12, SMU President’s Scholar and student representative to the SMU Board of Trustees; and symposium chair and session co-chair James K. Hopkins, Altshuler Distinguished Teaching Professor in the Clements Department of History in SMU's Dedman College of Humanities and Sciences.


De Temple: I'm proud to introduce five students who embody engaged learning. These are some of our best and our brightest.


De Temple: I'd like to start with a big question and have everyone answer it: I was wondering if each of you could share an ah-ha moment that allowed you to connect your engaged learning with your time in the classroom?


Seay: I think that one of the beautiful things about engagement is that we have the infrastructure in place at SMU. In the political science department, the classes are very practical but you also get the theory. It helped to inspire me to go back to DeSoto ... I learned about all the things you could do as a political science major to change the world. SMU National Fellowships Program inspired me to apply for the Truman Scholarship.


Martinez: I remember distinctly as a senior in high school reading "The Plight of the Public Intellectual" by Christopher Hitchens in Foreign Policy Magazine. I'd like to be a public intellectual. I think it's fundamental as a human being to give back to your community at the local, national and global level. But it has to be an intellectual response.


Mackingtee: I'm a political science major and I spent my first two years volunteering in the community in education. Dr. Simon's "Policies and Legacies of the Civil Rights Movement" changed everything for me. Going on a weeklong trip throughout the South, I saw the need. I want to dedicate years to going into classrooms and teaching. I'm now going to Jacksonville, Florida with Teach for America. SMU sends students out to communities to do things.


Gayer: Alternative Breaks all focus on education, service and reflection. Education is a vital piece of my service journey. For service, I've been on eight trips going all over the country to really see what's out there. The final piece is reflection, through the Provost's Office Big iDeas program, I started Health Literacy Dallas, a nonprofit. We've been able to create a lot of positive change in Dallas, in Texas and across the country.


Frederick: We're trying to transform students into service-minded citizens so they're aware, active citizens, no matter the career path they choose. I think that's the main goal of our service-learning opportunities at SMU - go and experience and come out with a different mind-set.


De Temple: Did you come into SMU with this mind-set, or did something happen to you here to change your mind-set?


Gayer: I did not come in with this mind-set. Through Alternative Breaks and running my nonprofit, these opportunities from SMU really transformed me.

SMU students are incredibly driven. They want to accomplish a lot of things. SMU has greatly increased the focus on community engagement.


Martinez: I dreamed of having these types of opportunities. I had no idea how they would look... SMU is very engaged ... to take your passion and help you create something real.

At the same time, I don't think that's universally appreciated by the student body, but it's becoming more important as the curriculum is transformed in a more globalized world. It's the world in which we're living, and we're going to be held accountable to that.


Mackingtee: When I started volunteering in Heart House in the Vickery Meadow area, I was introduced to the reality of situations for kids who are living in a very dangerous part of Dallas. It really opened my eyes.


Frederick: When I came to SMU, I had a totally different mind-set. I was blind to the opportunities I had. I am so thankful I was drawn to this university and am now getting to take part in these amazing opportunities. Now, through Alternative Breaks and taking Community Engagement classes - I'm even taking volunteer activity as a Wellness project. How many schools look at volunteer activity and encourage it?


Seay: One of the things I think separates SMU students is our professors are so engaged and they want to know us on the one-on-one level. And it starts with the leadership at the top.


Seay: We have the obligation to solve, to figure out, what makes you angry? What's your itch? The second part is translating that to a service opportunity. I think the president and provost are making a great investment.


Audience question: Because of your age, have people taken you seriously?


Gayer: My first meeting in my health literacy work was with the person second-in-charge at a hospital, and I was a freshman. But it hasn't been an issue. They're so thankful someone is taking the time to address the issues that are important.


Seay: If you work harder and smarter, and surround yourself with mentors, the education you're receiving here is going to prepare you for it.


Mackingtee: When I first started looking into helping out at high schools in the area, I got some backlash, but I asked a lot of the resources here at the School of Education ... They said just make sure you're going in there respectfully, that you're going in to help them. ... Eventually they started to welcome me into their classrooms. I think it's a test to see how passionate you are about something.


Frederick: Just showing enthusiasm and excitement for what you're trying to accomplish. ...


Seay: All the great social movements have happened by young people in this country. I don't think we have time to wait. It's time for young people to stand up for what we believe in and make those movements happen. ... It's our turn now.


Audience question: What would be your vision of the best things we could do next?


Mackingtee: I challenge everyone to look at education as a community-wide effort. Check in and ask: Do you have the supplies you need?


Gayer: I'd love to see more sustainable partnerships ... for Alternative Breaks, we now have strong partnerships with the nonprofits we have relationships with. Find more ways to partner with local, national, international organizations ... develop relationships that last over years.


Seay: Get involved in Dallas first. We have to make an investment in the Dallas community and make sure that they know that we're here as a service.


Audience question: I see you all being passionate enough to get involved, but I don't see every student with that passion. What can we do to inspire more students to be passionate?


Frederick: Educating on social issues is key, a wider range of social issues. Open their minds, so they can pick and choose their passion.


Martinez: I think part of it is .. let's make use of these technological tools we have. I have a sense students are constantly connected. Make present all these opportunities; it will turn on lightbulbs for all of these students. Hearing from alums would inspire a lot of students.


Mackingtee: Continue to expose students to experiences such as the Civil Rights Pilgrimage, the Human Rights trip to Poland ... I don't believe you can grow when you're comfortable.

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