UTRGV honors community partners at awards ceremony

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UTRGV recognizes The United Way of South Texas along with the City of Edinburg's Solid Waste Department as community engagement partners on Wednesday, Apr. 19, 2017 at the Student Union in Edinburg, Texas. From L to R: Jeanette Ahlenius, board member for United Way of South Texas; Fidencio Mercado, board member, United Way of South Texas and UTRGV clinical associate professor of rehabilitation services and counseling; Janie Chapa, City of Edinburg Solid Waste Management; Celene Gonzalez, City of Edinburg Solid Waste Management; Dalinda Cardenas, City of Edinburg Solid Waste Management; Doris Mendiola, data and research manager, UTRGV Community Engagement and Assessment; Ramiro Gomez, City of Edinburg Solid Waste Management; Cristina Trejo, UTRGV assistant vice president for Community Engagement and Assessment; and Dr. Dean Kyne, UTRGV assistant professor of sociology. UTRGV Photos by Paul Chouy

The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley’s Office of Community Engagement and Assessment presented its Distinguished Community Engagement Partner Award to the City of Edinburg Solid Waste Management and the United Way of South Texas for providing learning and volunteer opportunities to students.

Representatives from both organizations received their awards at a ceremony Wednesday, April 19, at the PlainsCapital Bank Theater in the Student Union on the Edinburg Campus. These awards are given to an individual or an organization that offers engaged learning opportunities for students while addressing community needs.

 The city’s solid waste management department last fall worked with Dr. Dean Kyne, assistant professor of sociology, to develop and design two service-learning courses in environmental sociology. Students in Kyne’s class met with city waste management officials to learn about current waste management operations and what challenges the department faced. The students then had to do research and develop solutions that promote sustainable solid waste management.

“This partnership has showcased a noble community partnership that provided service-learning opportunities to the students,” Kyne said. “Students are provided with the learning and development opportunities … to learn the real-life problems the Rio Grande Valley is facing, to generate creative solutions to the problems and to present solutions to the practitioners and policymakers for sustainable environmental management.”

Celene Gonzalez, an accounts manager for Edinburg’s Solid Waste Management, said the department was “deeply humbled and honored” to receive the award and were impressed with the students’ research and presentations.

“To say this collaboration was a remarkable accomplishment would be an understatement,” Gonzalez said. “As a result, we have agreed to maintain our partnership and are in the planning stages of another project which will look at debris management after disasters in the Rio Grande Valley.”

UTRGV and United Way of South Texas developed electronic platforms that allow organizations to post volunteer opportunities and students to sign up for them. The United Way platform is called Volunteer South Texas and the UTRGV platform is called the UTRGV Engagement Zone

“By launching these two platforms simultaneously, local nonprofit agencies are directly connected to the university community,” said Nick Weimer, assistant dean for administration for UTRGV Student Academic Success.  “When a nonprofit agency posts a ‘need for volunteers,’ students, faculty and staff can opt to respond to the ‘need’ and be involved with a service learning opportunity.” 

 UTRGV students logged 4,700 hours of volunteering in the Fall 2016 semester, Weimer said.

 Jeanette Ahlenius, who serves on the United Way of South Texas’ Board of Directors, praised UTRGV students for donating their time and talents to serve their community and encouraged them to stay engaged in community service.

“We want you to be a part of the community,” Ahlenius said. “We want you to be engaged in places where you’re passionate.”

 In a separate ceremony, the university honored the United Way of Northern Cameron County and the United Way of Southern Cameron County on Tuesday for their work in helping launch the Engagement Zone.