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) 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.