Connect, Collect, Create: Honors Service

March 11, 2021

This story is part of a series entitled “Teaching in the Time of Covid.” The series explores how the UTSA Honors College transformed its experiential curriculum into a virtual curriculum and how the pandemic has shaped students’ experiences within the virtual classroom. The curriculum emphasizes interdisciplinary work in Service Learning, Professional Development, Intellectual Achievement and Research, Cultural Exploration, Engaged Living, and Skill Development. In this article, we highlight a Service Learning course addressing community issues related to Covid19. We hope you enjoy the series! – Jill Fleuriet, Acting Dean, UTSA Honors College

During the Summer of 2020, Citymester coordinator and Honors College lecturer Elisa Perkins, created an Honors Service course that incorporated COVID-19 into her summer classroom curriculum. Perkins, a UTSA Graduate, has been teaching for the Honors College for the past two years. COVID-19 gave her a crash course in on-line teaching. “My first time teaching an online class was in the middle of Spring 2020,” said Perkins. She called the experience, “extremely challenging” given the nature of her Citymester courses, which “require in person internships, service projects and seminars” that call upon students to “explore San Antonio on foot”. But with the help of her community partners, Ms. Perkins was able to make it work. “Many of our partners were willing to chat with students via zoom and internship/service sites were able to offer work at home features to students,” says Perkins.

When Spring ended, Perkins and others within the Honors College decided to put Citymester on hold and re-launch it in the summer of 2021 choosing, instead, to focus, on a new course she had been thinking about teaching for a while and could focus on Covid19 in our community. The course was entitled Connect, Collect, Create: A Virtual Collaborative in the Time of COVID-19. According to Perkins, the course involved students “connect{ing} with community members.” Students learned about issues that impact San Antonio, including homelessness and low blood and marrow donation. As part of the course, Perkins said students were required to “develop a project to support {their} cause. COVID-19 added an extra layer by requiring students to develop a virtual project that their peers could participate in from home,” says Perkins. It also “added an extra layer to the research… students learned about the initial issue, but also explored how COVID-19 has exacerbated the problem.”

In future iterations of the class, Perkins hopes to “touch on topics beyond homelessness like food insecurity, healthcare disparities, and college readiness. As we reflect on the first iteration of the class, it’s important for students to develop a clear plan of executing their project if it extends past the semester. We’ve also learned not to put limits on the project. We thought the donation drive would be the end of the project but the group is in the process of developing a student organization to stabilize and build in support for longevity of the work they are doing with Haven for Hope.”

According to Perkins, going virtual gave students “more creative courage in how they reached out to community partners and large corporations. They were persistent in their attempt to secure donations, not for a grade, but because they learned so much about the lives that would benefit from the donations. Students also had to utilize stronger project management skills because students in each group were scattered across the state with different schedules. It gave them a taste of the virtual working world.”