Cougs give back through Community Engagement

Cougs at Salvation Army

‘Tis the season of giving, and WSU Spokane’s Community Engagement program does just that – and much more.

Community Engagement runs the Cougs in the Community events and programs on campus and throughout Spokane. Recently, it hosted Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and set up a display on campus highlighting hunger and homeless stats related to Spokane, the state and the nation.

It was a powerful message that opened a lot of eyes. Community Engagement also recruited students to help make blankets and care kits for local charities that serve less fortunate community members.

We sat down with Veronica Puente, the Community Engagement Coordinator, to talk about the programs she helps run and what students learn.

Q: What kinds of events and programs has Community Engagement been involved in?

A: WSU Spokane’s Community Engagement office has brought together a group of students that have put together the Cougs in the Community programming. They’ve developed some of the events like Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week and others before that, like the Spokane River Clean-Up in September and Reforest Spokane Day.

Q: How do you incorporate inter-professional activities in the programs you put on?

A: All of the programs are intended to bring the campus community together and provide bridges for the campus to engage with the community. Therefore, it’s open to students, staff and faculty. But when we focus on the student population inter-professionally, by bringing these students together from different colleges, we take advantage of that by adding reflections to our events.

Health fairI’m working closely with a lot of colleagues in Student Affairs, like Katie Gilsdorf, to find ways to modify events that have happened year after year, like the health fair, and how we can make those events more inter-professional.

Thanks to the knowledge of Amy Meredith (of Speech and Hearing Sciences), she has some great ideas on focusing our programs. For example, glucose assessments (at health fairs): making those a learning moment. Although there is just an assessment at the health fairs we are involved in, what else can we add to bring student groups from the different colleges to have them maybe learn about the different glucose statistics in a specific neighborhood that we’re serving? So when our students go and do those assessments as a team made up of members from all three colleges, maybe those students do the assessments and then afterwards do some sort of reflection.

Q: What kind of responses and reactions did you get from the Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week display?Hunger stats

A: We got different reactions. I think the students that worked on this were very excited to have a passive event, where people could go and learn about the different statistics on hunger and homelessness in Spokane and the state and the nation. We see community members that are homeless but we don’t know what they go through or how many of them there are. There were a lot of people that stopped by to read the statistics, which was rewarding.

This event was great because our students, staff and faculty were able to engage in making a blanket or donating materials for care kits that were going to be donated to these community members. Through the organizations we worked with – Blessings Under the Bridge and the Salvation Army – we knew that these packages were going to be directly given to community members that are homeless.

I think other reactions we got were from our food sorting volunteer opportunity. Although it was indirect service to the hunger needs in our community, students were still rewarded and impacted because they were able to see a video presentation about where the food goes.

Q: What kinds of things do students learn after being part of a Community Engagement event?

A: Well thanks to the great leadership of my supervisor Jim Mohr (WSU Spokane’s vice chancellor for student affairs), we are in the process of bringing staff, faculty and community partners together to form an advisory council that will help us develop learning outcomes for the office. So when we put on certain events, what are some of the learning outcomes the students can get from these different programs?

Without those learning outcomes developed, we use Community Engagement literature to inform students about the events. We want these events to be purposeful and have the students have experiences they can learn from for their professional development and their personal development.

Veronica cleaning up the riverFor example, the River Clean-Up. Students, staff and faculty went out and picked up garbage, picked up recyclables. Although it was about helping restore the Spokane River area, our students encountered homes, or shelters where community members that are homeless lived.

Since I had done the activity last year, I wanted to emphasize the homelessness piece so I invited (Diversity Center Coordinator) Dion Crommarty to do a reflection with the group. After the event, we got together and talked about homelessness in Spokane and some of the statistics and resources, with the goal in mind to develop the student’s mindfulness. That was a learning outcome – develop a mindfulness, as well as a civic responsibility. It’s our civic responsibility to maintain our environment but also be mindful when our students become professionals to see a person holistically rather than just how they are when they see them, because oftentimes our community members won’t share those things for various reasons.

Q: What kinds of programs and activities will Community Engagement partake in going forward?

A: There are several coming up. We’ll continue to maintain the service opportunities list on (intranet site) CougSync. Students, staff and faculty can go to the service opportunities list on CougSync and they will see different opportunities that are occurring now and throughout the year.

Moving forward, we’ll be at the MLK March and offer service opportunities on Jan. 16. We’ll also be involved in Random Acts of Kindness Week Feb. 14 – 20. That’s a national movement to engage the community and the purpose is to share kindness to make our world a better world. There will be activities throughout the week, similar to Hunger and Homelessness Awareness Week.

We do have the spring health fair coming up, which is in collaboration with student involvement and ASWSUS. Earth Day is another day that we’ll take part in.