UTSA 1604 Campus main building. Courtesy photo.
UTSA 1604 Campus main building. Courtesy photo.

On the ladder to Tier One, UTSA has climbed yet another rung, attaining the Carnegie Foundation’s Community Engagement Classification. This prestigious designation recognizes the institution-wide efforts the university has made to develop partnerships that augment the quality of instruction for their students, and in turn provide resources for the community.

“Tier One status means the institution has achieved excellence on all levels,” said Dr. Jude Valdez, vice-president for community services at UTSA.

More specifically, Tier One institutions lead the nation in the trifold mission of all universities: teaching, research, and service.

UTSA Vice President for Community Services Dr. Jude Valdez
UTSA Vice President for Community Services Dr. Jude Valdez

“The Carnegie classification is important for us, because it says that we have achieved that level of excellence regarding community service,” said Valdez.

UTSA is one of only 240 colleges and universities to receive the classification in 2015. Of those, only 83 were first-time classifications, the rest were re-classified after their initial recognition in 2006 or 2008. Combined with the list from 2010, the total number of institutions to hold current Community Engagement Classifications is only 361, out of more than 4,000 colleges and universities in the United States. 

“These are campuses that are improving teaching and learning, producing research that makes a difference in communities, and revitalizing their civic and academic missions.” said John Saltmarsh, Director of the New England Resource Center for Higher Education.

To receive the designation, campuses must provide evidence that community engagement is more than simply a sidebar department, or a yearly event. Community engagement must be a campus-wide attribute, visible at all levels of university life and work.

Community engagement is an inevitable part of every UTSA student’s experience. Some take service learning classes, which include community outreach and service in the curriculum. Some are connected to service-oriented internships with local organizations. Others receive scholarships with a public service requirement.

Last year 25,000 students took part in some form of community service through UTSA.

The faculty of UTSA has worked hard to further integrate and synthesize the trifold mission. In some cases, community service projects serve as the hands-on portion of the curriculum, like a lab. In others,  outreach efforts are like capstone projects, the culmination of all that a student has learned.

Faculty-led efforts have also created regular community programs. The School of Architecture is particularly active with initiatives like the STAR program, led by Sue Ann Pemberton, who also happens to be the current president of the Conservation Society. Partnering with the City’s Office of Historic Preservation, the program identifies homes in need of repair and design work through an application process. Students focus on a cluster of homes in the same area to maximize the impact. Students then host a workday, ending in major improvements in neighborhood.

Architecture students at work. Courtesy of UTSA.
Architecture students at work. Courtesy of UTSA.

The Institute for Economic Development is also notably effective. Together with its satellite centers throughout south, west, and central Texas, the Caribbean and Latin America, the center generated $2 billion in economic impact last year, working with 30,000 small and medium-sized businesses in the region. In 2014 alone, the Institute created 4,000 jobs, retained 5,000 jobs and generated $33 million in new tax revenues.

A full list of the partnerships can be found on the Office of Community Services website.

UTSA’s College of Public Policy had a robust partnership with SA2020 under the leadership of Mayor Julián Castro. Valdez is hopeful that the organization will maintain its momentum.

“The collaborations we have in the community are mutually beneficial. There’s reciprocity,” said Valdez.

Even the development arm of the university plays a role in the community outreach. “Serving Society” is one of the four pillars of UTSA’s capital campaign. It made up 22% of the campaign’s original goal of $120 million. About 30% of all externally supported grants and contracts to UTSA are for public service and community engagement activities.

This commitment to community outreach is a major reason that San Antonians with no direct connection to UTSA should take an interest in its quest for Tier One status. As the university gains momentum and prestige, its importance to the city can only grow. The Carnegie classification, Valdez said, is an important milestone on that pathway.

*Featured/top image: UTSA 1604 Campus main building. Courtesy photo.

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Bekah McNeel

Bekah McNeel is a native San Antonian. You can also find her at her blog, FreeBekah.com, on Twitter @BekahMcneel, and on Instagram @wanderbekah.