Engage Dallas operationalizes a place-based community engagement model via each Residential Commons at SMU. Since west and south Dallas' community needs are multifaceted, so too must be the work of this student-led initiative.

Student reading to child in Dallas-area schoolEngage Dallas worked with each Residential Commons —led by current student leaders— to identify a community need in south or west Dallas. Student leaders utilized videos, surveys, social media campaigns, and focused-discussions to identify the community need they would commit to as a Commons.

Then the Engage Dallas team worked with students to identify three to six nonprofit organizations or community agencies actively addressing that community need in the Dallas area.

Residential Commons residents have the opportunity to engage selected nonprofits in community service in a fall service day, monthly service opportunities, and a Residential Commons–specific alternative break experience. Integrating the community need in the experience of each Residential Commons creates a long-term vision and commitment by SMU, as well as bolster residential affiliation while forming meaningful connections with the Dallas community.

Learn more about the major initiative components and distinctive features.

Major components

West and South Dallas

The identified geographic area for Engage Dallas spans the areas of West and South Dallas. This area was chosen because of the amount of existing relationships with community organizations in the defined zones. West and South Dallas have been identified as areas of need within the greater Dallas community by SMU through other previous initiatives, and the focus of all of the community agencies identified will serve constituents in this area. For example, while the North Texas Food Bank might have a new warehouse location in Plano, we know that it serves families and people in the West and South Dallas areas. Not all of the direct and indirect service opportunities will take place in west and south Dallas, but each opportunity will benefit the defined geographic region.

Identified Community Need

Each Residential Commons has selected a social issue (unique to that community) based on SCIE’s knowledge of community-identified needs that exist in our defined geographic area of service. Social issues range from food insecurity to homelessness to health to education. This community need focus will create lasting and mutually beneficial relationships with nonprofit and community organizations in Dallas. By working with one specific community need over time per Commons, SMU will be able to establish short-term support structures and long-term commitment to specific organizations and areas. Additionally, students will have the opportunity to gain an in-depth understanding of their community need, as well as a sense of place and connection to Dallas and the geographic areas selected for our place-based community engagement.

Student Director

Engage Dallas employs a student director to oversee and enact the community service program within each Residential Commons. The 11 student directors are hired, trained, and evaluated by SCIE and RLSH. On average, each student director works 5 hours a week when classes are in session during the academic year. The student director is expected to collaborate with the Commons Council or leadership team of each Residential Commons. This collaboration could be as a position on the leadership team, as a member of the Commons Council, or as a standalone position that regularly communicates with the community. The primary responsibilities of the student director will be to organize, advertise, and track service opportunities within their Residential Commons. Meet the student directors.

General Engagement

Engage Dallas strives to better inform students, faculty, and staff of the history of the South and West Dallas communities. General Engagement opportunities contribute to student learning through a contextual framework of Engage Dallas social problems, principles of good civic engagement, or other knowledge which enhances the impact of direct service.

Monthly Residential Commons Service Opportunities

Each month, the student director organizes a service opportunity for their respective Residential Commons so that students can address their Residential Commons’ community-identified need alongside other members of their community. The Residential Commons will work with Dallas non-profit organizations in order to benefit the larger Dallas community by supporting their issue. The Residential Commons will send 3 to 25 students each month to work with a non-profit organization, which could be the same organization monthly or a different one each month.

Individual Service Opportunities

In addition to the monthly service opportunities and alternative break experience, the student director curates additional opportunities around their Commons’ social problem. This list of possibilities would be available for any student with that Commons affiliation to find connection to their social problem independently (outside of monthly service opportunities, the fall service day, and alternative break trip). Individual service opportunities include:

Click on an opportunities above to learn more about individual service opportunities via Engage Dallas.

#1DayforDallas Residential Commons Fall Day of Service

The Residential Commons fall service day, known as #1Day4Dallas, serves as an annual tradition where every Residential Commons participates in service around their social problem on the same day. Each Residential Commons will have a goal of meeting the needed number of students to serve in the same geographic location at various non profit organizations and community agencies (the same organizations the Residential Commons work with for monthly programs). Throughout the year, the initiative manager works with all student directors and the SMUSH liaisons to organize transportation and coordinate the service organizations. The SMUSH liaisons provide most of the logistical support of the service day. Additionally, while recognizing that the fall service day is a student-led initiative, there may be opportunities to partner with the organization in the spring semester.

Residential Commons Alternative Breaks

Engage Dallas will incorporate every Commons that plans and participates in an alternative break trip. An alternative break trip is a group of 10 to 12 individuals, including a faculty/staff advisor and 2 site leaders, spending 2 to 7 days serving together around their community’s community need in the local or a different geographic location. By viewing the community need in a place other than the Dallas community, students who participate in the alternative break trip will be able to engage in compare-and-contrast reflections on how the social issue varies by geographic location. Learn more about alternative breaks.

Engagement and Research Grants

The Engage Dallas initiative will work to engage faculty-and scholar-practitioners in the work of the initiative via a engagement stipend or funded research grants. Faculty engagement grants will be awarded up to $5,000 per campus member. The engagement grants will be marketed with specific position expectations. For instance, faculty may be recruited to help curate place-based community engagement resources from a faculty perspective. In the end, campus members who apply for these marketed engagement grants will work to strengthen the academic connection to the initiative and larger Residential Commons program. Learn more on our faculty and staff page.

One Night for Dallas

Another aspect of the program is the implementation of Community Partner Reception for those nonprofit and community organizations that work closely with each of the Residential Commons. This reception will take place at the end of the academic year and will serve as an opportunity to showcase the assessment and data from the year. Additionally, this is where SCIE and RLSH will award students who have completed the most service hours or have made a specific and observable positive impact as evidenced by a community partner.