UHD Students Choose Community Engagement Abroad
By Sheryl E. Taylor
The country of Ecuador straddles the equator on South America’s west coast and is 2,458 miles from the Lone Star State by plane.
When most college students across the nation took a hiatus from the books, 13 University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) students from the Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning (CCESL) chose a different way to spend their Spring Break.
Along with their two UHD chaperones, Dr. Poonam Gulati Salhotra, CCESL director and Krysti Turnquest, assistant director of CCESL, engage with residents in the Ecuadorian communities and students from the Universidad de las Americas (UDLA) in Quito.
They volunteered at a community center, Casa Saber Pega Full, a municipal organization focused on health and sex education; and teamed up with architecture and interior design students from UDLA to design and paint the outer walls of a nursery school in a low-income neighborhood. On day three, the students traveled to the Casa Hogar Maria de Bethlehem, a center for pregnant teenagers and young mothers and their children. UHD students took care of babies and toddlers while the young women worked on their academics towards high school degrees. The students also taught English to the young women. The group also traveled to Tena, a town located in the Amazon, where they helped in a reforestation project by bagging and carrying large bags of soil into the forest and planting cacao trees. The trip was capped off with sightseeing and shopping in Quito before returning home.
“The purpose of the Alternative Spring Break – Community Engagement in Ecuador was to foster community engagement among UHD students, provide an opportunity to understand and appreciate other cultures, and interact with university students from the other country,” said Gulati.
According to Gulati, the students were able to experience the Ecuadorian culture first hand and engagement among their fellow students.
“The students had the opportunity to stay with loving Ecuadorian families who provided two meals a day for most of their stay,” she noted. “The students truly bonded with one another and formed lasting friendships.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD)—the second-largest university in Houston—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 more than 15,000 students; boasts more than 60,000 alumni and offers 45 bachelor’s, nine master’s degree programs and 16 fully online programs within five colleges (Marilyn Davies College of Business; Humanities & Social Sciences; Public Service; Sciences & Technology; and University College).
For the fourth consecutive year, U.S. News & World Report ranks UHD among universities across the nation for Best Online Criminal Justice Programs (No. 27 and No. 15 for Veterans) and Best Online Bachelor’s Programs.
UHD has the most affordable tuition among four-year universities in Houston and one of the lowest in Texas. U.S. News ranked the University among Top Performers on Social Mobility and a No. 1 ranking as the most diverse institution of higher education in the southern region of the U.S. The University is noted nationally as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, Minority-Serving Institution and Military Friendly School. For more on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit www.uhd.edu.