The week of July 18 – 22 we welcomed our incoming freshman who are declaring majors in Criminal Justice, Social Work, or Urban Education. Events in the College of Public Service were part of a university-wide initiative to provide opportunities for our incoming freshmen to make connections and identify resources and strategies for success at UHD. Just so you know, the Gator is our University of Houston – Downtown mascot. We named the big event Gator Gateway to honor of our newest gators and to provide a gateway for their success.
We designed our Gator Gateway events in the College of Public Service around a cruise ship theme. Our premise was that people on a cruise ship are really going places. In one sense the entire ship is moving forward to a destination, and in another, the individuals on the ship are also moving forward as they develop relationships and engage in specific shipboard activities. We like to think of this as comparable to the university experience where students are involved with a group of like-minded individuals who are focused on a common goal of study, graduation, and success in their profession of choice, and at the same time achieving unique, incremental milestones toward that larger goal. This might be a creating a successful class presentation or paper, participating in a professional student organization, or other similar experiences which contribute to the overall goal.
We began our week with a welcome to the cruise. Freshmen received boarding passes and toured the College of Public Service building with their Gator Crew guides and the Assistant Director of our Advising Center, Ms. Anna Esparza. The tour included highlights such as our Student Resource Rooms for study and collaborative activities, our Advising Center, and the paintings in the lobby of each of our four floors by artist and UHD professor, Floyd Newsum. Students mingled with representatives and leaders of our student organizations in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education as well as faculty in all three of these areas. They chose partners and learned about one another through a bingo game with CPS backpacks for those who achieved bingo! Each of our three incoming groups assembled at the base of our winding staircase for a “class photo” which you can see on our College of Public Service home page! We also created a welcome to the cruise board with photo opportunities for all. Here is a photo of some of our Fresh Gators!
Our officers and some members from student organizations in the College of Public Service were with us all week long. We want our freshmen to get to know the leaders and members of organizations in their field of study and to join these organizations so they will have immediate connections to peers and to service, professional development and social activities related to their interests. Here’s a photo of some of the student organization leaders and members from the Professional Society of Criminal Justice Students, Alphi Phi Sigma, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society, the Social Work Student Community Advocacy Network, the Be a Teacher Club, Bilingual Education Student Organization, and the Urban Educators’ Literacy Society.
On Tuesday, we had a College Immersion experience highlighting the community engagement, service, and research opportunities available in the College of Public Service through curricular (course-based) and co-curricular (non-course-based) engagement with our community partners in agencies and institutions tied to criminal justice, social work, and urban education issues. We began the day by asking our incoming freshmen about their previous and existing service activities. As 73% of our incoming freshmen have service commitments, this was a stimulating discussion. We discovered that our freshmen have served in many critical ways related to their fields of interests and they are able to discuss their activities in ways that provide inspiration for others. Following this we provided opportunities for students to learn about some of our work in the community.
I want to thank Dr. Bernardo Pohl for his discussion of the African-American Literacy Project; Dr. Rebecca Pfeffer for her discussion of her research projects with students and study abroad related to human trafficking; Dr. Judith Harris for her discussion of the senior thesis course and their service learning project in the Harris County Re-Entry Project at the Harris County Jail, and Dr. Maria Bhattacharjee for her discussion of her ongoing work with Crockett Elementary including the STEM project with Dr. Poonam Gulati and her students and the digital book projects. I also had the opportunity to share our Family Literacy Project at the House of Tiny Treasures along with current UHD students Ignacio Gamez, Jessica Lavon, and Yolanda Guzman.
Our Fresh Gators then had the opportunity to break out to a classroom and work with one of the presenters to draw with felt-tip pens on blank puzzle pieces, creating a puzzle representing the site of service. There was much talk and laughter here as students had the opportunity to engage with one another and create a visual that represented some of the key ideas related to the service site. Here are some of them discussing their approach!
Here is an example of a completed puzzle related to study, service, and research in human trafficking.
On Wednesday, we met in the Robertson Auditorium in the One Main building to talk about success strategies specifically related to studies in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education in the College of Public Service. Our panel of experts was comprised of CPS Advisor, Mercedes Gonzales, current Social Work major, Jamie Pena, Urban Education graduates Evelyn Rodriguez and Victor Becerra, and current Criminal Justice major, Maria Bitgood.
Each of them shared strategies and provided encouragement to our incoming freshmen. They began by stating “We never had the opportunity to get together for a week or to sign up for mentors as you are doing!” Victor Becerra told us all that he is the first person in his family to go to college. In order to learn about UHD, Victor confided that he stopped the elevator and got off on every floor, “walking around to find out where the snack machines were and where would be quiet places to study…” Jamie Pena shared her strategy with us, “When in doubt, go back and think about your ‘why.’ Why is this important to you? Why did you choose this major?” Both Evelyn Rodriguez and Maria Bitgood talked about their growth in confidence while in their programs at UHD. Evelyn received 7 job offers when she was in her final semester in Urban Education. Maria presented at our Undergraduate Student Research Conference on her project for the Ft. Bend County Sheriff’s office regarding food service in the jail, a project for which she later won an award and an offer for further consulting work. Mercedes Gonzales let students know that our advisors are here for them and eager to assist!
Our incoming freshmen had an opportunity to pass the microphone and ask members of the panel for more details about persistence, internships, scholarships, and the like!
On Friday, we hosted our Fresh Gators for a College of Public Showcase. We began with a panel discussion of some of the key aspects of programs in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education. Faculty members Dr. Heather Goltz (Social Work), Dr. Mike Cavanaugh (Criminal Justice) and Drs. Colin Dalton and Diane Miller (Urban Education) engaged our freshmen in mini-lessons and learning experiences representative of what they will experience in the College.
As a prelude to these break-out sessions all of our freshmen signed up to be a part of the mentor program where they will have an opportunity to interact regularly with a faculty mentor and a peer mentor in their chosen major. Within their mentor groups of up to 15 freshmen, our UHD freshmen will engage with their mentors and will take two of their first semester classes together. We believe this will provide them with a strong foundation and a network of support.
In addition to the mentor groups, we asked our Fresh Gators to sign up for a student organization in their field of major. There were large crowds at the organization tables and we look forward to working, serving, and socializing with all of our energetic new club members! All of this activity made us hungry so we concluded by mixing and mingling while eating nachos from the Nacho Bar set up for the occasion in the grand lobby of the Commerce Building.
My Best Wishes to All of You,
Leigh Van Horn