It’s not uncommon to hear people refer to TCC as “Tarrant Community College.” That’s technically inaccurate but, in a very important way, it’s spot on. It is the community’s college, created and supported by the people and very much in the warp and weft of the Tarrant County fabric.
That’s why, just as the community supports the College, TCC returns that support not only through its educational programs, but also directly and personally through a wide variety of volunteer programs for students. Some projects are highly structured and linked to a specific class or field of study. Others exist as partnerships with municipal or service organizations and are arranged by College staff. There are also those generated as the result of brainstorming by student clubs or interest groups. Regardless of which pathway is taken, however, the destination is the same: an appreciation for, and acknowledgment of, the debt owed to the community.
Every April, TCC Northeast and TCC Trinity River each host a special Day of Service, as do many community colleges across the nation. They are similar in some ways — scheduled on a Saturday and including breakfast, lunch and team t-shirts — but different in the methods of selecting service projects.
At TCC Trinity River, which has had a Day of Service ever since it opened in 2009, Eddie Brassart and Angelica Cuellar, of Student Activities, contact organizations in the downtown Fort Worth area to see what projects might be available. “Last year, we did about six different locations,” Brassart said and went on to list the March of Dimes, Backwoods Sporting Goods, the City of Fort Worth, the Center for Transforming Lives (formerly the YWCA) and the Tarrant Area Food Bank. “Backwoods donated kayaks so that our students could kayak the Trinity River and pick up trash along the bank. That one was really popular.”
At TCC Northeast, the students find their own projects. “We put out a call to our organizations and ask them to host a project for the day,” said Cara Walker, director of Student Activities. “They propose a project, we review it with our Leadership Honor Society, then we choose from the proposals and create a link so that people can sign up for whatever they want to do.”
April 2019 is TCC Northeast’s third Day of Service. Last year’s event drew 76 students, and Walker expects that number to grow. “I think that the students get a sense of giving back and even a sense of responsibility for helping others,” Walker said. “I think they enjoy a lot of camaraderie with one another to make these things happen.”
While the Days of Service have no goals beyond altruism, laudable though that is, service learning goes a step further, wedding public spirit to instruction. Scholars have advanced all kinds of erudite explanations of the concept, but perhaps the National Youth Leadership Council puts it best: “Picking up trash on a river bank is service. Studying water samples under a microscope is learning. When science students collect and analyze water samples, document their results, and present findings to a local pollution control agency — that is service-learning.”
Examples abound. For instance, Tim Murphy, who teaches Real Estate at TCC Northeast, trains his students to provide counseling to people in danger of losing their homes to foreclosure, poring over a mortgage to see what options might be available through the lender or a third party. “They’re going in there and doing a practical or application kind of learning,” Murphy said. “It’s something I would teach them anyway, but it’s them pulling it together and learning it in a way that is going to be helpful to them in their real estate careers.”
Stacy Stuewe, a TCC Northeast English faculty member with a long record of successful service learning projects, praises their benefits. “I have seen students become so engaged in their work when they do service learning,” she said. “Sometimes they spend much more time on an assignment than they expected just because they find it meaningful. It seems as if students have a purpose — not just to complete an assignment, but for another purpose — it really helps to get them engaged.”
It’s not only the students, but also the organizations who benefit. Nancy Blinn, executive director of the nonprofit Dental Health Arlington, said that while the dental hygiene and dental assisting students coming to her clinic provide a needed staffing boost, they bring so much more. “We love having them because their enthusiasm is so infectious,” she said. “I love the fact that they’re willing to work and work hard. They’ll do anything we ask of them. They always have such a great presence when they come here. And it’s also kind of a unique opportunity for them to get the feel of what it’s like to work in a dental office.”
Blinn is able to see both sides of the coin. A graduate of the TCC Dental Hygiene Program, she recalls her own volunteer service. “A lot of it was the whole sense of enjoying people and helping them — the ‘feel goods,’” she said. “But it also helped me hone my clinical procedures skills and feel more comfortable. It’s a good way to get one’s feet wet.”
For Sierra Collins, it’s been more like total immersion. As a dental assistant student, her experience on campus had been limited to dummy procedures on classmates. But at Blinn’s clinic, she said, “The big difference was having real patients in your chair. This was the real deal, going in and making sure everything was pristine and putting all that training into a real-life situation.”
Service learning and public service can easily co-exist. Many TCC campuses have in-house projects such as food pantries at which all students, including those in the early college high schools, can lend a hand, but opportunities for service learning are also there. A good example is TCC Northwest’s Community Food Market, where marketing students work on ways to let the local community know when and where the food is available, logistic and supply chain students determine the best ways to make the operation efficient and those from the entrepreneurship program obtain patron feedback and offer planning support. Horticulture students have pitched in by creating a composting space to deposit inedible food.
But student volunteering is not tied to a curriculum. TCC Southeast has a long association with Habitat for Humanity and the Arlington Life Shelter. TCC South accounting students help people with their income tax returns in the Family Empowerment Center and kinesiology students collect shoes for the national Soles4Souls program. And the Texas Student Nurses Association members at TCC Trinity River volunteer at the Prostate Screening at the Moncrief Cancer Center.
Prostate screening? Really???
“No, no, no,” laughed Jessica Cox, faculty sponsor. “It’s not what you might think. Remember, these are students, and their roles are limited to things like welcoming patients, taking their information, escorting them to treatment rooms and helping get the rooms ready for the next patient.”
Just goes to show that student volunteerism at TCC knows no limits — almost.