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Cultivating Civic Engagement

Tutoring at-risk schoolchildren, improving living conditions for those in need, and strengthening local economies are among the many initiatives that demonstrate UT Arlington's commitment to enhancing our quality of life.

Ali Alam

For honors student Ali Alam, a well-rounded education means getting out of the classroom and into the real world every now and then.

As president of the Honors College Council, the biology/pre-med major instituted a theme of community service and volunteerism for the academic year.

"Honors College students are among the best and brightest students academically," he says. "I felt that we should be shining in the community as well."

While Alam has started a number of service-learning projects, perhaps the most successful has been a tutoring initiative at a local Boys and Girls Club.

"We were a little apprehensive at first, not knowing how the kids would respond to us," he says.

There was no need to worry; the group's services were in high demand.

"We really got to see what an impact that one-on-one interaction can have and how much that can mean for those kids," he says. "Beyond that, it's just a good feeling to help."

Ciro Candelario loves his mentoring role at Juan Seguin High School in Arlington. For three years, the UT Arlington political science major has served on the G-Force at the school's GO Center.

GO Centers are physical spaces in eight local high schools that offer advice about admissions, financial aid, and other college-readiness challenges for prospective first-generation university students.

Candelario, one of about 55 UT Arlington students who staff the GO Centers and serve as mentors, says being part of the team is like being a big brother. It's help he would have appreciated when he was struggling to get into college.

"We help students on the borderline of dropping out," he says. "I had no one to help me through the transition to college. Being able to help someone now is an honor."

The G-Force program received a boost in 2011 with a $300,000 grant from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board that will fund the initiative for two more years. Luis Rosado, director of UT Arlington's Center for Bilingual Education, and Carla Amaro-Jiménez, assistant professor of bilingual/ESL education in the College of Education and Health Professions, worked to obtain the grant.

"Our goals are twofold," says Dr. Amaro-Jiménez, who directs the G-Force program. "We aim to reduce the dropout rate and develop a college-going culture by working closely with the students and their parents."

It started with a vision for a better community and evolved into a thriving partnership between UT Arlington and its neighbors with the potential to benefit thousands of families in Tarrant County and beyond.

A School of Social Work initiative, the Innovative Community Academic Partnership (iCAP) program promotes research aimed at improving the living conditions and increasing the effectiveness of the county's social service agencies. A grant from the Amon G. Carter Foundation funded five iCAP projects in 2010, its first year of operation. They included Common Threads, which focuses on refugee reintegration through the knitting of scarves, as well as LOSS Team, a pilot suicide prevention program in Arlington.

"We're helping local community projects become sustainable. We bring in new ideas while strengthening and developing what's out there," says iCAP Director Stefan Ateek, who has fielded questions from universities nationwide interested in establishing similar programs. "iCAP is the opportunity of a lifetime because it raises the standard of living for families and children throughout the Metroplex and beyond."

Common Threads
Institute of Urban Studies

Wander far and wide in Texas and you'll find hundreds of cities benefiting from the Institute of Urban Studies' expertise. With more and more municipalities struggling, expect that number to rise.

"This kind of service has been going on for 40 years, although it has recently picked up new energy and vigor with so many more communities looking for a way to plan and spend smart in a down economy," School of Urban and Public Affairs Dean Barbara Becker says.

As SUPA's applied research arm, the Institute of Urban Studies completes dozens of projects each year—from the state's Panhandle northlands, south to the Gulf Coast, east to the Piney Woods, and west to Big Bend. Many are in urban and rural North Texas.

Led by graduate students, the projects include strengthening local economies through feasibility and corridor studies, economic development ideas, updates of parks and land-use plans, citizen/business surveys, and more.

"It's about doing something for Texas and its communities," Dr. Becker says.

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