Jay’Len Boone is a jovial guy, the kind who flashes a big smile by the minute. That warm charm never fades as the junior and Truman Scholarship finalist speaks with excitement about Sustainable Youth in Action—the nonprofit he founded to empower students to solve social issues—or his hometown of Ypsilanti, Mich. When he brings up the work he’s done with Caritas Legal Services as part of the Citymester program, however, he becomes solemn. He takes a deep breath and says, “It’s been, in one word, humbling.”
Boone describes some of the tales he’s encountered at Caritas—from the Russian man who’s missing one small piece of documentation that’s preventing him from living in America with his love to the politically impassioned immigrant who was repeatedly turned away from voting booths. Regina Parra, a junior majoring in political science, is another Citymester student who has helped out at Caritas, and she echoes those sentiments. Over the course of the spring semester she has researched legal pathways for refugees and undocumented immigrants and translated legal documents from English to Spanish. “I have gotten a different perspective of San Antonio,” she says, “and its most pressing needs.”
Gaining a different perspective of San Antonio is exactly what Citymester is all about. The Honors College program takes UTSA students out of the classroom for a semester and places them in local internships in addition to partnering them with nonprofit organizations or civic offices throughout the city. Citymester students also explore essential local landmarks and institutions each Friday.
While Citymester was created to give students more valuable internship experiences and bolster their sense of service, the program was also intended make their bond with San Antonio stronger. By exposing students to the city’s greatest assets and getting them involved with solving the city’s most prominent issues, San Antonio benefits from community improvement while sporting a better chance of retaining talented students after they graduate. On the flipside, program coordinators seek out Honors College students that are passionate about the Alamo City.
“We want to know that they’re interested in more than just an internship—that they’re committed to being civically engaged and learning about San Antonio in ways that haven’t really been in the curriculum before,” program manager Elisa Perkins says.
Civic engagement has been the most rewarding aspect of senior psychology major Kristina Gonzalez’s experience. This spring she has been working with the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services on cases in which parental rights were up for termination. She has also been pitching in at the Guadalupe Community Center, where she’s contributed to gardening projects, afterschool programs and food pantry efforts. “I leave every shift,” she says, “feeling like I’ve made a positive impact in my community.”
Another goal of Citymester is to provide experiential learning opportunities to students earlier during their college years. Perkins says that while the program happily welcomes seniors, the Honors College would like to see more juniors, sophomores, and even second-semester freshmen apply. Jonathan Gonzales was the lone freshman of the spring 2019 cohort, and although he admits Citymester was incredibly challenging, the history major already sees the value of what he’s accomplished through his contributions at Caritas and the Institute of Texan Cultures. “Not many 18-year-olds can say that they have 300 internship hours at a credible immigration law firm,” he says, “or 75 hours learning how to market and put together exhibits at a Smithsonian-affiliate museum.”
From Freetail Brewing to CivTechSA, there are several success stories of Citymester internships leading directly to job offers. That said, most Citymester participants would tell you that the connections they’ve made in the program are what really lasts. Networking with city leaders and collaborating with their ingenious peers through Citymester has already given a few dozen motivated UTSA students the opportunity to envision a greater future for San Antonio.
“We’re members of the community and we’re not distant from our community,” says Boone, who interned with CivTechSA and saw his SYA nonprofit expand significantly with the aid of a few Citymester companions. “Citymester is a program that not only UTSA needs; they need this at Trinity and at San Antonio College, a program where the students can come out of their bubbles and unite for the city.”