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State Farm awards $50,000 to UTPA for service learning initiative
Posted: 02/03/2009
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State Farm Insurance Company has awarded $50,000 to The University of Texas-Pan American toward a project to promote service learning and safety awareness among South Texas educators and students.

The twofold initiative, titled Project SELS (Service Learning and Safety), will incorporate workshops and other communication tools to engage more faculty, teachers and students in service learning activities related to their studied disciplines as well as opportunities for State Farm agents to promote safety awareness practices to create safer neighborhoods in South Texas.

Amelia Folkes, State Farm public affairs specialist, was joined by Congressman Rubén Hinojosa (TX-15), State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, University administrators and staff and local State Farm agents during a press conference Jan. 29 to announce the grant award.

Folkes said the partnership between State Farm and UTPA began with support for HESTEC (Hispanic Engineering, Science, and Technology) Week, which Hinojosa founded eight years ago to encourage students to pursue study of and careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) fields.

Pictured at the presentation Jan. 29 of a $50,000 award from State Farm Insurance Company to UTPA are left to right Leo Rodriguez, State Farm agent; State Senator Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa; James Langabeer, UTPA vice president for Business Affairs; Janice Odom, UTPA vice president for University Advancement; U.S. Congressman Rubén Hinojosa; Lyra Vela-Salazar, State Farm agent; Amelia Folkes, State Farm public affairs specialist; and Ross Pruneda, State Farm agent.
"We have a proud and long lasting relationship with UT Pan American. This is something important to this community and our students' futures. Through today's grant we hope to really make a dent in some of our community's schools and use service learning as a technique to teach kids that it pays to be civically engaged and to give back to their communities in service while still learning, and show teachers how to take book learning outside the classroom," she said.

Dr. Rebecca Mitchell, assistant professor of English and chair of the English Department's Service Learning Committee, said the goal of service learning is to engage students in meaningful service that is directly relevant to the curricular goals of their coursework and directly benefits the community.

The funds provided by State Farm will be instrumental in creating a centralized, online resource database for faculty to find information on service learning practices and local community organizations and to create an electronic mailing list for faculty and others to network and share information. Workshops organized by faculty regarding service learning and its impact on students are also planned during the year.

Mitchell described a recent exemplary service learning project which allowed students in a creative writing class at UTPA to develop postcards, brochures and an illustrated children's book to advance the goals of the Bentsen State Park in Mission.

"These are classes. It's what distinguishes service learning from community service. It has to be curricular relevant which is hard at this level," she said. "We work hard to tie them directly into the coursework."

Hinojosa commended UTPA's efforts to provide leadership skills and establish service learning programs for students and teachers in South Texas and the State Farm Insurance Company's Foundation commitment to investing in the future of Rio Grande Valley students.

"UTPA's mission will be greatly enhanced by this new investment of $50,000. This funding will help to motivate and encourage students to work and study while improving their leadership skills and making a difference in my district," he said.

Folkes said State Farm believes in its commitment to higher education and the work UTPA is doing with K-12 education.

"Working together we can really make an impact in the community. We can reach a lot of students and meet some major goals such as dropout prevention and helping students to see their potential. UTPA has shown its leadership in the Valley... so let's keep going," she said.

For more information on the project, contact Jessica Salinas, executive director for Community and Economic Development, Division of Community Engagement at 956/381-3361 or e-mail lopezj@utpa.edu.