The Division of Undergraduate Education (DUE) and the Civic and Community Engagement Department at UC Irvine hosted the fifth annual Engagement Awards last Thursday afternoon, honoring students, faculty and staff who have stood out in the field of Civic and Community Engagement.
The event took place in Pacific Ballroom and included a free potluck and keynote address from Paul Leon, CEO and President of the Illumination Foundation, an OC-based nonprofit organization that focus on providing housing and services for the homeless, particularly homeless children.
The Civic and Community Engagement minor was created in order to give undergraduate students of all majors the opportunity to directly apply what they learn in the classroom to the real world and to foster relationships between the UCI student body and the surrounding community.
“The mission is to institutionalize civic and community engagement so we can foster reciprocity and establish a relationship between the students of UCI and the community,” Zahra Ahmed, the director of the Civic and Community Engagement department, said as he welcomed guests to the afternoon reception.
“All of us have expertise and something important to contribute.”
Following Ahmed’s welcome, fourth-years Emily Sandon and Patrick Mutuc, who will both graduate in June with the minor in Civic and Community Engagement, gave brief speeches and presentations about their experiences in the minor and the projects it has allowed them to pursue.
“We all need each other to grow,” Sandon said.
“We forget sometimes that we can’t do everything on our own, and it’s okay to ask for help.”
Next, DUE Dean and History Professor Sharon Salinger, who created the Civic and Community Engagement minor in 2010, presented important information about the epidemic of homelessness in Southern California — “on the minimum wage, you would have to work 125 hours every week to afford housing. That doesn’t even include food.”
“Our hope and respect is perfectly placed and you do us proud,” Salinger said to the graduating students in the audience.
Leon then delivered the keynote address. Leon, who began his career as a public health nurse for the County of Orange, recently established a housing facility for homeless children and families in Stanton that has taken 4,000 families off the street. He explained that most other Orange County cities refused to allow such a housing facility to be built within city limits.
A common theme of Leon’s speech was his previous lack of qualifications for supporting the homeless, and misunderstanding, before his work for the Illumination Foundation, of the seriousness of this issue.
“When I worked for the County of Orange, I knew very little about homelessness,” Leon admitted. It was his connection with one of patients that opened his eyes to the issue.
“1 in 6 OC children are living in poverty,” Leon explained.
Finally, various distinguished UCI faculty members and alumni presented each award category, including “Campus/Community Partnership,” “Engaged Faculty Scholar” and “Future of the Field.” For each winner, the presenter read a quote from the student or faculty member who nominated the individual about the individual’s work and why he or she deserved to be recognized for it.
Any student, faculty or staff member had the opportunity to nominate any co-worker or instructor they felt stood out in the field of Civic and Community Engagement.
A small committee of the department’s faculty, who independently assessed each nominee’s qualifications, decided the winners.
The projects and accomplishments of all of this year’s Engagement Award nominees reflect the wide-ranging talent of UCI’s student activists and the solidification of connections between UCI and the greater Orange County area.