Collegiate Updates: Closing Summit and New Advisory Board

Bianca Solis

Summer 2022 is turning out to be a pivotal moment for our collegiate programs both in terms of meaningful reflection and strategic planning.

The 2022 Closing Summit, held in May, gave our most recent Texas Civic Ambassadors cohort the opportunity to reflect on their experience serving as year-long Texas Civic Ambassadors. During the students’ first in-person meeting of the year, the presentations revealed that each Ambassador faced unique challenges throughout the process of conducting their student-led civic projects. Common themes were:

  • There is always something to be learned, even in missteps.
  • Resting before resetting is crucial to the process.
  • Asking for help goes a long way in community engagement work, as our Texas Civic Ambassadors always found a community member more than willing to support students passionate about making a positive difference.

Here are a few student highlights:

  • Aaron Gonzalez founded the Students Unidos, the first Latino student group at LBJ School of Public Affairs (University of Texas at Austin). As many new organizations tend to encounter, they faced some initial challenges in narrowing the organization’s focus. But after a coordinated semester debrief, they outlined key objectives for the following semester. In the spring, they concentrated on supporting their overarching goal to provide students with a platform for student advocacy. Through these efforts, they hosted an LBJ open house specifically for communities of color and had the university's support in inviting city mayors, city council members, and nonprofit leaders to join as speakers. Aaron further developed his leadership and impact by also serving as Justice, Equity, Diversity, Inclusion Student Representative that advocated for curriculum change.
  • As a Southwestern University student, Rachel Thompson’s initial goal was to continue her work through SU Votes to promote a voter-friendly campus. She encountered a few setbacks when the start of the spring semester was delayed due to Covid and her planned on-campus voter engagement strategies were put on pause. Through some trial and error, she refocused her energy on coalition building across campus and it was through these efforts that she received significant support from students and administrators. By engaging more people in the process, they implemented several engagement tactics such as targeted classroom presentations, Pizza at the Polls events, supplementary educational social media content, and reached over 150 students.
  • Jordan Dominguez collaborated with the University of Texas at El Paso Community Engagement Center to coordinate a 2-Part Impact Series that connected students with community leaders to promote student agency. Jordan shared he encountered some challenges in recruiting participants, but the positive student feedback on the welcoming environment and speaker connections were impactful. Another positive takeaway was that a student who attended the event connected so much with Jordan’s passion for community engagement that he applied for the Texas Civic Ambassador program. That student will be serving in the upcoming Texas Civic Ambassador cohort.
2022 Alumni board standing and smiling

Just a few weeks after hosting the Texas Civic Ambassadors, we had the opportunity to host our inaugural Collegiate Advisory Board meeting. Katya Ehresman, 2018-2019 Texas Civic Ambassador and current Collegiate Advisory Board member, stated, “I owe my career to this programming; they opened doors I didn’t know existed.” This truly speaks to the spirit of the meeting and the Institute’s mission of wanting to educate, inspire, and connect the next generation of civic leaders.

As former Texas Civic Ambassadors and now experienced alumni from diverse professions and backgrounds, the Collegiate Advisory Board is already proving to be an invaluable source of information and inspiration. As I personally reflect on this summer, these back-to-back programs were a big highlight for us. A big THANK YOU to our board for their commitment to making these types of civic opportunities more accessible to students across the state.

We are eager to continue to work with former and future ambassadors to amplify the Institute's impact and build sustainability in the civic learning space!