Suchitra Gururaj, serves as assistant vice president for Community Engagement in the DDCE, where she provides vision and strategy for student engagement programs rooted in service, community-based learning, community advocacy programs, and sponsorships. A lecturer in the College of Liberal Arts, Gururaj teaches courses on community organizing and leadership development.
What do you love most about working with students?
I imagine my students are tired of my repeating the same phrase: “trust the process.” And while I believe that students should shape and subvert the process, too, I do like this phrase because it resonates for students at the end of the year. In May, I often sit with students, who say, “I hated that project/paper/assignment when I had to do it, but now I can’t imagine how I’d get to my next step without having done it.” I always tell them that school, like life, makes a lot more sense in retrospect.
What do you love most about working with the community?
On a weekly basis, I meet with community members, residents and partners as part of an effort to address civic issues of importance in Austin and our area. I’m grateful that, almost always, these official meetings turn into opportunities for myself and others to share our personal journeys. I love hearing people’s stories and understanding through these conversations what our shared personal values might be – and I think these are the real moments of connection, collaboration and potential transformation.
Why is it important to get students involved with the community?
Because of funding issues and the like, earning a college degree these days is definitely a matter of expediency even while it may be a matter of mastering material and asking compelling questions. In my mind, what often gets lost when students are asked to be single-minded and linear is the feeling of being part of something much larger. Serving in the community is one way for our students to understand that their participation at UT stretches beyond these 40 acres: they are a part of Austin, cultural communities, arts communities and so much more. Getting involved in the community gives students a perspective on the books they read, the labs they take and the papers they write – and it helps me rest easy knowing that the next generation is ready to lead us after they graduate.