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SHSU ACE gives back to community

Senior Reporter

Published: Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Updated: Thursday, December 5, 2013 01:12

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The Sam Houston State University Center for Academic Community Engagement provides courses in which students gain hands-on experience by working with groups and members in the community of Huntsville.

The ACE initiative at SHSU involves teaching methods and course work that allows students to transfer things learned in the classroom and apply it to everyday life while giving back to the community.

Education professor Joyce McCauley is the director of the ACE center.

“In 2004, I was the Chair of the American Democracy Project Committee under Provost Dr. David Payne,” McCauley said. “He's actually the one who is responsible for inspiring this movement toward more engagement with the community, encouraging students to become more active and productive citizens.  It was through his support and encouragement that this group of faculty began working toward a more formal institutional structure. This resulted in the eventual establishment by Provost Jaimie Hebert of The Center for Academic Community Engagement.”

ACE was established in 2008 through the work of a group of professors in the Engaged Scholars Committee who believed that community engagement between SHSU students and staff could become a powerful force aiding the community of Huntsville.

SHSU is one of 311 institutions of higher learning that has been designated as a Carnegie Community Engaged Campus. SHSU now has over 174 ACE courses represented in all six colleges at SHSU as well as the Honors College and the First Year Experience program.

This semester specifically, students have taken part in a wide variety of community service.

“Students have had a vast array of experiences this semester,” McCauley said. “They have tutored children in public schools, assisted teachers, written business plans, written grants for non-profits, assisted with local events, initiated public awareness events on topics from victimization to gun safety, worked with children with disabilities, assisted adults with disabilities, refurbished houses, created marketing plans and worked in local medical clinics.”

According to McCauley, like any other course at SHSU, ACE classes have requirements of their own.

“ACE course work is one initiative under the umbrella of The Center for Academic Community Engagement,” McCauley said. “Professors who teach courses that could be strengthened by partnering with a community organization apply for the ACE designation.  There are requirements for ACE courses such as definite connection with a course learning objectives, collaboration with a community organization to meet a need, student reflection on the ACE experience, and a minimum number of community engagement hours.”

McCauley said professors of ACE courses have a lot to benefit from overseeing community-involved classes.

“Teaching is much more fulfilling when course content is related to real world situations,” McCauley said. “Discussions are powerful and energy is high. However, the con of teaching an ACE course is that it takes more preparation, time and risk taking on the part of the professor.”

However, professors are not the only ones who benefit from ACE classes.

“From the research, we know that Academic Community Engagement enhances academic performance and has a positive effect on GPA, writing skills and critical thinking skills,” McCauley said. “In addition, students who are engaged in the community make community contacts and gain work experience, all of which builds their resume and increases their chances of being hired.”

Through the ACE initiative, an estimated 500,000 hours and $8 million have been contributed by SHSU to community service, according to the ACE center. If students would like to participate in ACE courses, they are specifically identified as ACE courses in the class schedule, just as Writing Enhanced or Honors courses are.

In addition, students who want to volunteer in the community can contact the SHSU Office for Leadership and Service for a complete list of community organizations that can use volunteers.

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