Students continue volunteer work remotely, required for some classes

UTEP's director of Center for Community Engagement said programs gone "remotely in many cases."

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Illustration by Claudia Hernandez

The mission of the Center for Community Engagement is to enhance higher education and contribute to the public good through community-based teaching and learning initiatives that enrich student education, promote civic engagement, and improve the community while capitalizing on the region's and UTEP's social and intellectual capital.

Isaiah Ramirez, Staff Reporter

In the era of COVID-19, volunteer work has been largely stifled by safety restrictions meant to curb the spread of the virus, but UTEP’s Center for Community Engagement (CCE) has adjusted to these times to allow Miners to continue to give back to the community.

Before the pandemic, volunteering within the Center for Community Engagement consisted of many face-to-face activities throughout the city at places like nursing homes and animal shelters. The students who volunteer through CCE usually do it as a requirement for academic-based community engagement courses they’ve enrolled in, but things are now being done a little differently.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identify the elderly as a high-risk population when it comes to the novel coronavirus and in El Paso, 379 of the 462 COVID deaths were individuals over the age of 60, according to El Paso’s COVID-19 data source.

Because of that, volunteers no longer do community service hours at nursing homes.

“Typically in the fall and spring semesters, faculty will connect with us about their students participating in a service activity with a nonprofit organization for 15 to 20 hours throughout the semester,” said Jennifer Lujan, assistant director of CCE.

The courses in which students can earn college credit through CCE dwindled from about 50 courses to about six, Lujan said. The CCE has adjusted to virtual methods to allow students to continue volunteer work which was critical for the University 1301 class, a core curriculum course at UTEP designed in part to increase volunteer engagement.

“We have adapted our programming to go remotely in many cases, other opportunities made available for volunteering purposes in person are minimal and we have also shifted some programming this year towards civic engagement and the elections,” said Azuri Gonzalez, the CCE’s director. “We have come up with a neat website with voter information and it’s an activity for students to go through to and pledge.”

An already implemented website prior to the pandemic called The Cue is an interactive website in which agencies post their specific needs and students can contact the agency to start their volunteer projects.

Recently posted volunteer opportunities include communication intern for the Boy Scouts of America and a marketing/social media assistant for Sun City Development Corporation.

“It’s kind of like a dating website but for volunteers where the agency will set up a profile and they will post their different service needs and the students can go on there and see what volunteer opportunities are available and what they require,” Lujan explained.

Volunteer work through virtual outlets consists of task and project-based activities that can be completed online with organizations like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, or MADD, where students research crash reports for the agency and put together data.

“A lot of agency’s also need help promoting services to the community and with students being tech savvy they can create social media posts while helping through service learning,” Lujan who has been working at the CCE for 16 years said.

Certain classes are designated as Community Engagement and Leadership (CEL) courses offered through UTEP’s College of Liberal Arts, fostering community engagement through connections with the community — what Lujan refers to as “service learning.”

UTEP’s CCE is also increasing its social media presence and has created a LinkedIn account and YouTube videos and is striving to connect with UTEP students.

“We have been posting a lot on social media to increase more membership and so the students know our services and what programs we have available,” Lujan said.

Isaiah Ramirez may be reached at [email protected]; @_IsaiahRamirez1 on Twitter.