Each fall, a new group of undergraduates begin their year of service in the Austin City Hall Fellows Program. A partnership between the Longhorn Center for Community Engagement (LCCE) and the Office of the Mayor of the City of Austin, the program empowers students to become effective agents of change.
Throughout the school year, Austin City Hall Fellows engage in discussions with residents and neighborhood association to explore and define priorities for revitalization. The program also includes a service-learning course led by Dr. Suchitra Gururaj, assistant vice president of the LCCE, which provides students with a theoretical framework for community engagement, access to city staff, and time to meet with their cohort and share best practices.
This year, the fellows are working with community members in North Austin’s Rundberg neighborhood to identify projects that might qualify for grants through the city’s Neighborhood Partnering Program. We caught up with Melissa Flores, an urban studies junior, to learn more about her work in Rundberg, and how her experiences as an Austin City Hall Fellow are preparing her for the future.
What are your responsibilities as an Austin City Hall Fellow?
We work with the Rundberg neighborhood’s local community leaders to address issues ranging from education to infrastructure. Austin City Hall Fellows do not define the projects that address the issue, but rather take direction from the local community.
Why did you join the Austin City Hall Fellows?
Through my coursework at UT, I read about the affordability and community engagement issues that Austin is facing. I wanted to take action, but wasn’t sure where to start. The Austin City Hall Fellowship offered me a unique opportunity to continue learning about these topics while making a positive social impact.
Why is it important for students to get involved in the community?
Volunteering has given me the opportunity to give back and the confidence to take on leadership roles. When I served as a volunteer at the public library in my hometown of Laredo, Texas, I witnessed how that organization brought people together to learn and improve their lives. I helped my community build stronger relationships and hopefully made it a better place to live.
What are your post-graduation plans?
After some more traveling and work experience, I want to attend graduate school and continue working with my local community on urban and environmental issues.