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A Study in Praxis: CCESL Students Anchor UHD to the Community


By Hayden Bergman

The phrase “the theory of” is often followed by something lofty and inscrutable: relativity, being, or that most dreadful theory—everything. While most people have some inkling of what these theories entail, the understanding is vague, and it lacks the direct experience that allows for a complete and visceral understanding. That said, direct experience without reflection is a failure to mine the true value of lived experience. 

Fortunately for UHD students, this difficulty is overcome by UHD’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL), which gives students service-learning course options that help them think critically about the world around them, thereby uniting theory and practice by helping students carry their classroom lessons out into the Houston community. 

Recently, CCESL’s Community Engagement Showcase highlighted some such examples. Read on to find out more about current service-learning projects.  

Houston Court Watch 

UHD’s partnership with the Harris County Public Defender’s Office (HCPDO) gives students the chance to enact their Sixth Amendment right to observe court proceedings and safeguard justice and fairness. Students in the UHD College of Public Service (CPS) who take part in this program receive training and support so they can watch court happenings with a clear understanding of what’s going on. The program, led by Dr. Fei Yang, Lab Director, Department of Criminal Justice and Social Work, allows students pursuing Criminal Justice or Social Work studies to see their coursework in action. 


GatorServe is a UHD tradition that brings together UHD students, staff, faculty, friends, families, and community partners to complete projects in service of neighborhoods in the Houston community. Volunteers help homeowners, small business owners, non-profits, schools, and other community entities with tasks like gardening, painting, assisting with household chores, setting up or taking down seasonal decorations or electronics, general cleanup, power washing, or small construction projects and so on.   

Community Scholars Program 

The Community Scholars Program promotes student success inside and outside the classroom, as students receive additional advising, mentoring, tutoring, and career-placement services. Students can also participate in service activities at the University in the local, regional, and international communities, attend seminars, and go on field and/or service trips. Students may also conduct projects and present at conferences.   

Caroline Smith, MBA, Associate Director of CCESL, said that these and other CCESL activities contribute toward “developing relationships with community partners.” These relationships, said Smith, in turn “solidify high-impact practices for [UHD] students. High-impact practices take what students learn in the classroom to the next level.” When asked how CCESL’s work intersects with UHD’s goal to be an anchor institution, Smith said that community projects ensure that “people know UHD not just because we’ve got great graduates, but because [we’re] the ones who have boots on the ground in the community, who walk the walk." In other words, CCESL ensures that students lead the way toward UHD being an anchor institution in Downtown Houston. We wouldn't have it any other way.

About the University of Houston-Downtown

The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.

U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.