SUSTAIN: ‘Students for Sustained CivicEngagement’

When David Boutte transferred here from New York City, he brought his work experience andorganizational skills with him. In his first few weeks on campus, he set out to bring them to otherstudents by founding an organization called SUSTAIN: ‘Students for Sustained Civic Engagement.’

The group is working to help match students with internships and career opportunities, in localand national partnerships that would last and benefit both parties.“We realized that, more than a lack of opportunities, there was a connection block betweenstudents and the realization of those opportunities,” Boutte said. “The group will be tabling inNovember to get information from students and hopefully through first year seminars to find out whatsort of internships people are looking for, and create a working database, so that Southwestern’s officesof Civic Engagement and Career Services will have a communicating extension.”

Boutte was inspired by a project he had special interest in, but in discussion with the Office ofCivic Engagement realized the project could take over five years. It then developed into somethingbroader.

“I volunteer in Austin for “The Challenger”, which the homeless write and sell in lieu ofbegging, so the homeless community in Georgetown was my first interest,” Boutte said. “I realized thatmore help in Williamson County would enable long-term programs to really impact the lives of thesepeople, so with the Office of Civic Engagement I developed ideas about maintaining groups that couldwork on sustainable projects like this. Slowly, we realized that I had to start with the gap betweenstudents and projects at Southwestern rather than try to begin with large off-campus issues.”

SUSTAIN emphasizes the importance of commitment to civic engagement, rather than themore common short-term internships students often consider.

“The name of the group means, if you’re involved, you’re committing to making a sustainableeffort, a difference that will last,” Boutte said. “It doesn’t matter what kind- internship, work,volunteering- it means making an investment in civic engagement, both for yourself and forSouthwestern. Let’s say you volunteer with a non-profit organization for the university. When youleave, if you’re in SUSTAIN, the Southwestern presence there does not disappear. We can help enableyou to train someone to take your place, and sustain the school’s positive influence there.”

The organization, still in its first stages, aims to evolve into a business model that connectsstudents to the kinds of opportunities that they want.

“We hope to find ways to fund students who want to intern but need a paying job,” Bouttesaid. “If we get the funds we need, this type of aid could really benefit the Southwestern student body.We’re making a database of all students to help connect them to non-profit organizations andbusinesses who could be more engaged with Southwestern.”

The organization met with Mel Pendland, president of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce, last Friday to discuss ways to make chamber members aware of SUSTAIN’s motivations and ideals.

The Big Event is another way SUSTAIN will try to connect students to local work. On March 23, the week after Spring Break, the group’s one and only event of the year is hoped to turn out a large part of the community to introduce the ‘Be Southwestern’ campaign, a project of the Office of Gift Management under Rob Bacchus.

“Although we expect some of our programs to develop and change over time, The Big Event is our commitment this school year. We are trying to bring in businesses, churches, and other groups tothis service day with the goal of at least 300 students, staff and faculty,” Boutte said. “Our mostimportant aim is creating a sense of community between residents, students and Georgetownbusinesses and organizations. We want everyone to Be Southwestern.”

Along with inter-community connections, Boutte emphasized the differences between internships and employment.“Long-term experience teaches you skills and responsibilities that you just don’t get from a short-term internship,” Boutte said. “It allows you to build up on those skills and gain that responsibility, rather than starting at the bottom as an intern again after a semester of school.Internships, over long periods of time, can turn into lasting jobs that many other students won’t haveaccess to. We want students to make that commitment, so they can understand what it means to do ajob well. It also looks great on both academic and career resumes.”

The Big Event was an idea that started with attempts to connect school and community at TexasA&M University. Their efforts evolved into a nationwide day of service. This is Southwestern’s firsttime participating.Boutte is working with SUSTAIN’s Director of Operations Aaron Jimenez and Student LiaisonMarianne Lynch to coordinate the function with other student organizations.

“We will send out an e-mail soon to create committees and sub-committees focused onorganizing the Big Event,” Boutte said. “Not only are we open to students seeking internships, but weare looking for officers, members and help of any kind- especially with this huge program. We arecreating a great opportunity for Southwestern to maintain a presence with the organizations andbusinesses that students are involved in.”

The Big Event has happened at other schools for the past 30 years now, but Boutte is starting itoff differently here.

“We want more businesses to accept Pirate cards, to enable more local internships and to fundthose opportunities. ‘Be Southwestern’ was mega-launched at Homecoming last weekend,” Bouttesaid. “SUSTAIN is working with that campaign. We want to reinforce the idea and establish morelasting relations between Southwestern students and the community.”

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