Community Connect

Office of the Vice President for Community Services

Committed to Community

UTSA students volunteer at Providence Place, a faith-based agency just south of the university’s Main Campus. A student will be placed there this fall as part of UTSA’s new community-based work-study program, Rowdy Corps.

Committed to the Community

Engagement with community is an enduring part of the UTSA experience, and distinguished recognition for such service makes the effort that much sweeter

Committed to Community

Whether through groundbreaking scientific discoveries, the charity work of faculty and staff members, or students using their spring break to help people in need, community engagement is and always has been an integral part of UTSA’s DNA.

Last year, more than 13,000 UTSA students and 3,000 faculty and staff provided services and programs to more than 710,000 people across Texas’ south–central region.

This multifaceted commitment to service was recognized earlier this year when UTSA received the prestigious Community Engagement Classification from the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. Specifically, the Carnegie honor acknowledges UTSA’s “dynamic and noteworthy” community outreach efforts in San Antonio and its impact on the global community through teaching and research, public service, volunteerism, civic partnerships and economic development.

As UTSA President Ricardo Romo says, “The classification speaks to our commitment to community outreach and our drive to make a difference in the lives of our students and our community. It is a remarkable milestone for the university and another advancement in our journey to Tier One recognition.”

It also is a university–wide achievement, encompassing contributions from thousands of UTSA faculty, staff, students and community partners. “We are an engaged university,” says Jude Valdez, vice president for community services. “Since UTSA was first established, we have been deeply connected to our region and our community.”

Celebrating these mutually beneficial relationships, the following portraits are examples of how different individuals and entities at UTSA work for and with the community.

Amber Calvert: Student Raises VOICES

Amber CalvertIn her role as vice president of alternative spring break for the student group Volunteer Organization Involving Community Education and Service, Amber Calvert decided to try something new–adding a volunteer project during winter break.

VOICES, launched in 1993 by four students, now runs a number of volunteer opportunities each year, including the alternative spring break during which students travel to an area and donate their time to a specific cause.

Isaiah's Place

Calvert had already been to St. Louis, Mo., and she thought a smaller, less costly trip not too far from San Antonio would be ideal for a first–time winter break project. She wanted to focus on helping people who serve the disabled community, and VOICES was able to raise enough money using the crowdfunding site Launch UTSA to volunteer at Isaiah’s Place, a nonprofit in Whitney, Texas. Isaiah’s Place is an educational summer–camp–style retreat for deaf children, Calvert says. With the more than $2,000 raised, VOICES helped the staff of Isaiah’s Place reorganize the library and do minor repairs and cosmetic fixes as well as take care of the horses, freeing the staff up to attend to other duties.

A senior kinesiology major, Calvert says she decided to minor in criminal justice because she wants to help at–risk youth, a realization that came to her through her time volunteering. “I did alternative spring break as a trip leader my sophomore year,” she explains. “That made me want to be more involved in volunteering and helped grow my passion to serve.”


Gregory White: Professor Fights Cyber Crime

Greg White

For companies and customers alike, 2014 was a scary year in data security. Several hundred million households fell victim to hackers who compromised names, addresses, email accounts, phone numbers, credit card information and Social Security numbers.

“Almost once a week we’re hearing about a new cybersecurity breach,” says Gregory White, director of the Center for Infrastructure Assurance and Security. “It’s happening everywhere, which is why we are trying to improve cybersecurity awareness and expertise nationwide.”

White is a longtime advocate for cybersecurity education, research and training in San Antonio and across the United States. After serving in the Air Force for 30 years, he joined the information systems faculty at UTSA in 2001 and helped establish the CIAS, the university’s first cybersecurity research center. That center conducted the first Dark Screen exercise in 2003, making San Antonio the first city in the nation to conduct a mock cyber–terrorism exercise. Since its inception, the federal government has consistently called on the CIAS to strengthen national cybersecurity preparedness. The CIAS is recognized as a leader in cybersecurity testing and offers preparedness exercises and training to help governments and organizations across the U.S. prevent, detect and respond to large–scale cyber attacks.

The UTSA cyber team at the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition.

“We also founded and currently direct the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition, the nation’s largest cybersecurity competition for college students, and the CyberPatriot competition for high school students, both of which seek to train the nation’s future cyber defenders,” says White.

In addition to the CIAS, UTSA also is home to the Institute for Cyber Security and the Center for Education and Research in Information and Infrastructure Assurance and Security. All three are focused on solving global security challenges.


Brian Halderman: Director Cultivates a Culture of Civic Engagement on Campus

Brian Halderman

It was through the process of applying for the Carnegie designation that the recently formed Center for Civic Engagement was born, says Brian Halderman, director.

The mission of the center is to empower students, faculty and staff to serve society through community–engaged scholarship that enriches learning, promotes civic literacy and contributes to the study of community needs and resources.

With a background in social work and experience in academia, Halderman arrived at UTSA in 2014 as the Student Center for Community Engagement and Inclusion’s associate director of service learning. He was later tapped to get the center up and running. The overarching goal at the center is to educate students on how to be actively engaged citizens.

“In order for the democracy to work we have to be involved,” Halderman says. “We still know a lot of students aren’t voting and are not being engaged in the process. In our service to the state we have an obligation to ensure we are educating students who are going to be active citizens in the future.”

Volunteer sign-up tables provide students ample community engagement opportunities.

To that end, one of the center’s charges is to develop programs to cultivate an engaged culture on campus, which includes how to engage public officials, how to create public forums and trying to give students training to develop those skill sets. One step in that direction, Halderman says, is by initiating the process to have a minor in civic engagement.

Because students are already doing quite a bit of volunteering and service to the community, Halderman is looking to gather data to measure more accurately how UTSA is having an impact on the area. In just one example, the center could collect data on where students are doing service hours, and using GIS maps look for gaps in services.

Halderman knows that this is just the beginning but is looking forward to future possibilities. “General community service is extremely important for students because that is their introduction to the community, and that’s something we should always encourage them to do,” he says. “Developing civic literacy and engagement is the next step to ensure a higher quality of life.”


The DoSeum: The Redesigned Children’s Museum Works With UTSA


When the San Antonio Children’s Museum began working on new curriculum and educational opportunities in preparation for its big move and transformation into what is now called The DoSeum, museum leaders turned to UTSA.

Not only did a number of faculty serve on the board for the development of the new museum but the partnerships between the university and museum date back for years, says Chris Navarro, the museum’s public director and community partnerships manager. Both UTSA’s College of Education and Human Development and College of Engineering have been involved with the museum.

“The College of Engineering helped our team acquire and design a Baxter robot, which is an industry standard robot used in factories,” Navarro says. “It can be programmed to do really basic tasks, and it was designed to look kid–friendly. They’ve come to Come Fly With Us and provided a demo of drones, and then they came for a celebration of Engineer Week.”


UTSA students were on hand at The DoSeum's "First Look" event. Photos courtesy of The DoSeum.

During that week, visitors were asked to dream up the robots. The COE had reusable materials, some art supplies and they crafted a quick robot mockup. “Families loved it, and about 100 kids got to see the demo that day,” Navarro says.

The DoSeum location provides more space and programs to entertain and educate. Navarro says he hopes that will increase the possibilities for partnership with UTSA, especially broadening into the arts. “I feel we’re scratching the surface,” Navarro says of how UTSA and The DoSeum could work together. “There’s so much going on at the university. I hope to introduce ourselves next year department by department.”