Weekends at the Houston Food Bank are typically busy, but last Saturday, Oct. 22, was especially active – thanks to the presence of University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) Gators.
More than 500 students, all clad in Gator blue, converged on the food bank to contribute their time and energies to helping Houston’s hungry. This initiative was made possible through UHD’s College of Business and its Business Cornerstone (BA 3300) course. The class is required for business majors and provides them with activities that broaden their perspectives on both business and community engagement.
Upon their arrival, students dominated the main entrance of the food bank awaiting instructions from volunteer coordinators. They were assigned to various tasks inside the food bank’s vast warehouse facility. Students sorted and boxed packaged food items that ultimately will be delivered to Houstonians in need.
“It opens their eyes to the fact that the community needs them,” said Brett Hobby, director of the College of Business Career Center and a Business Cornerstone lecturer. “They also learn about the needs of the community. In this case, they’re learning about why people rely on the food bank. Students are also learning that they enjoy working alongside each other as a team.”
Students agreed that lessons in teamwork were an invaluable aspect of this experience. Students Vu Nguyen and Donald Nguyen (no relation to each other) met while shrink wrapping boxes of food to be delivered. Both worked up a sweat extending the clear plastic wrap around large cardboard boxes.
“We didn’t know each other before today,” said Vu Nguyen. “Once we started working together, we started learning about each other and collaborating. He now knows how I work, and I understand his way of doing things.”
Business management student Jessica Lopez also found the teamwork aspects of this initiative to be quite rewarding. She said that she’s used to working alone on projects, but working with others at the Houston Food Bank broadened her understanding of her fellow students and her ability to share responsibilities with others.
She also was excited that she was able to learn while helping the community.
“It’s a good experience, something I haven’t done before,” Lopez said as she pulled canned food items from warehouse shelves. “If I’ve learned one thing through this course it’s that I enjoy helping out the community.”
Providing community service as part of the academic experience – or service learning – is a hallmark of UHD and its curriculum. The Business Cornerstone class is just one example of how the University uses Houston as a living, breathing lab for its students.
This weekend, more Business Cornerstone students will volunteer at the Houston Food Bank. The community certainly benefits from this Gator aid, but students also gain much from this experience.
Synergy is the best way to describe UHD’s service learning efforts, said lecturer Robert Irabor. Course such as Business Cornerstone transplant the learning experience from the classroom to the community and in turn help produce engaged citizens and a stronger city.
“What we teach them in class is put into practice here at the food bank,” Irabor said. “They must take classroom principles and use them to help their communities. That’s the basis of this exercise. They come here to help those in need and usually return to campus enthusiastic about doing it all over again.”