Texas Lutheran University: Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (SISE)
Dr. Judith Dykes-Hoffmann
Director of Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship; Professor of SISE
Founded in 1891, Texas Lutheran University resides on 184 scenic acres in Seguin, Texas, near San Antonio and Austin. A diverse student body of approximately 1,300 with classes averaging fewer than 20 students provides a sense of community and an environment where individuality and personal growth are as integral to success as rigorous academics. At TLU students experience a challenging academic environment that sets a path for lifelong learning.
Texas Lutheran University’s Bachelor of Arts in Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship (SISE) embeds civic learning and engagement into the major as a way for students to embrace the work of social change as well as gain empathy for those impacted by today’s social problems. The degree program prepares students who desire to address today’s social problems through an innovative, sustainable, and interdisciplinary approach for vocations and careers in the nonprofit or social venture arena. Civic learning and civic engagement provide the platform in which we engage our students in a public setting that allows them to have a hands-on, high-impact experience to reinforce classroom learning. This happens through many different settings and through different delivery mechanisms. The degree program is interdisciplinary, so students often enroll in courses that have a strong civic engagement component built into the course. All SISE majors must participate in either an internship or a study-abroad experience that build civic learning into the experience. Core SISE courses within the program almost all contain one to four out-of-class civic engagement activities connected to social issues where students get to experience for themselves some of the social issues discussed in these classes. Finally, the SISE program has conducted several reflective modules that completely revolve around civic engagement and civic learning to create a tangible product that can then be used not just by the TLU community but the Seguin community as well.
Additionally, civic engagement is easy to integrate within the SISE program as civic learning is built into TLU’s mission. In fact, the mission of the SISE program embodies the three facets of the larger university mission: to serve a diversified community, to lead the church to face the challenge of new insights, and to formulate fresh means of creative service, and to encourage students to participate in service work.
Scaffolded Levels of Student Learning
Throughout TLU, civic learning and engagement is tightly interwoven into what we do. The Jon and Sandra Moline Center for Servant Leadership (CSL) serves as our civic learning hub on campus. Through programs such as the Community Engagement and Volunteerism Fair, Let’s Talk About It: Community Dialogue Series, and the annual service days Hot Dogs and Day Of The Dogs, students are immediately introduced to civic engagement and civic learning.
Level One Civic Learning: We know that students who enter the SISE program have already participated in civic learning as all first-year students participate in civic engagement activities during their first TLU semester as described above. TLU has two annual days of service where all first-year students sign up in the fall or spring to help local nonprofits while they get to know the surrounding Seguin community. These events help create a standard we build upon for SISE civic learning/civic engagement activities. The point of entry for SISE majors and SISE specific civic learning is in the Introduction to Social Innovation and Social Entrepreneurship course, usually taken by first- and second-year students. There can be anywhere from one to four activities in the course where students spend two to six hours at each one, dependent upon the activity, immersing themselves into a community setting served by a nonprofit. Students help at places such as a regional homeless shelter, Habitat for Humanity, community gardens, and low-income senior citizen residential campuses. Leaders in nonprofit and social entrepreneurship work visit the class to discuss their work, and students often end up volunteering for these organizations. To help students reflect, class discussions and papers ask students to reiterate how this type of work impacts social justice issues.
Level Two Civic Learning: The next time SISE students are immersed in civic learning is in a series of courses and/or courses connected to their chosen concentration within the program. In addition to taking 18 hours of required SISE courses and 18 hours of business courses, students must choose one area of concentration that is interdisciplinary by design. We currently offer four concentrations: “Arts for Social Change,” “Mental Health Communities,” “Nonprofit Leadership,” and “Faith, Culture and Diversity.” Students take anywhere from 18 to 27 hours of courses in these concentrations. These courses are discipline-specific so the civic engagement is discipline-specific as well. Thus, the civic learning tends to function at a deeper level, and there are many course assignments attached to the work. These courses are typically junior-level courses, and most students enrolled are second- and third-year students, with an occasional senior-level student.
Level Three Civic Learning: Level One and Level Two help prepare SISE majors for their highest level of civic learning and engagement: their required internship or a semester study abroad (that typically builds in civic engagement into the experience). Late in their third year or early fourth year, all SISE majors must do a semester-long internship of 150 hours or study abroad. The majority of students do an internship (a three-hour credit course) at a nonprofit or other social business venture setting. The goal is to put students into a setting where they have high-impact experiences which meld much of what they have learned inside and outside the classroom. These internships are rigorous and often thrust the student into communities served by the organization they are working with and pulls together pretty much everything they’ve experienced and learned from the courses and activities described above.
Course title: Empathy for Social Change
In the SISE required course “Empathy for Social Change,” students develop their empathy skills by interacting with varying populations and areas of social needs. Examples of interactions include working with homeless populations, residents who live in adult special needs care facilities, animals at a local animal rescue sanctuary, and senior residents who live in low-income apartment campuses. Students research the civic engagement venues in class assignments and then work with these populations at these various facilities.
Course Title: Leadership for Social Change
In the “Leadership for Social Change” course that is part of the “Nonprofit Leadership concentration,” students take an experiential approach to analyze how people become and act as agents of change. Service learning connected with the service dog community in Seguin takes place within the context of exploration of the development of leadership theory. Through the innovative approach of working with service dogs, students explore citizenship, communication, conflict, ethics, motivation, power, and team building. The course also supports our Global Citizenship competency of TLU’s general education program, “Compass.”
Reflective Module: Little Free Libraries
This civic engagement reflective module, taught by faculty in the SISE program, “Little Free Libraries," requires students to design and build a little free library using the experimental building process of using used water bottles filled with sand as part of the building process. In less developed countries, this building method is utilized to eliminate trash while creating a scarce building resource. The little free library was built at a TLU faculty member’s house in her front yard. She wanted children and elderly citizens in her neighborhood who lack transportation to the Seguin public library to have another option. Students enrolled in the module designed, built, gathered materials, and then worked with local officials to make them aware of the activity. The module course got students out of the traditional classroom setting and into the community where they could see first-hand the impact of their work.
Exemplary Project Descriptions
The course “Faith Active in the World,” required for students in the “Faith, Culture and Diversity” concentration, serves as a great example of how faculty employ a civic lens in class. It is a three-hour course taught in a two-week time frame. The course is typically taught at Haven For Hope—one of the largest homeless campuses in the U.S. and one also internationally known. The students spend some time in a classroom, but a good portion of the course involves their going into the campus where they engage those who call Haven for Hope home in various activities. For example, they serve them meals, wash their sleeping mats, tend their community garden, and spend time in conversation with them. Haven for Hope residents enjoy getting to know the students and telling their stories to them. It is always a powerful experience for the students and they come away transformed in how they view the homeless and homelessness.
Another course required for our SISE majors in the “Arts for Social Change” concentration is “Dramatic Media for Social Change.” Students in this class, with collaboration from the Seguin community, create short films covering social justice issues (such as teen pregnancy, racial discrimination, etc.). Students go out into the Seguin community and strike up conversations connected to an assigned topic and record these dialogues. Seguin residents share their “voice” with the students while the students learn how to have constructive dialogues on topics that involve some risk.
Faculty-led travel courses also employ a civic lens. One common example is one in which SISE majors take a faculty-led travel course to Costa Rica which serves as a laboratory to study nonprofits and non-governmental organizations (NGOs). During the spring term, students meet as a class to read and research material that demonstrates how civic engagement happens beyond the U.S. Immediately after the semester ends, the students, along with the professor, travel to Costa Rica where they visit the nonprofits and NGOs discussed in class. While visiting these places, the students spend time working alongside these organizations and Costa Rican citizens in whatever projects are underway. Students have helped with re-forestation projects, Geographical Information Systems-based projects, and trash mapping.
Process for Adoption
A civic lens for SISE majors was written into the SISE degree from its inception when a group of TLU faculty came together in 2013 to propose the new degree program. In fact, it was an underlying assumption that civic learning would be a core component of the program. They even wrote as part of the discussion, as recorded in our Faculty Academic Council Minutes of Feb. 7, 2013, “This degree is in perfect sync with our mission. We challenge our students to find their passion and calling while at Texas Lutheran University. We are recognized nationally as a university devoted to service [civic] learning. We have organizations that are devoted to service in the community, such as Service Through Music…. This type of [organization] could spark a life-long venture for a music student. However, without basic entrepreneurial skills, the venture might not succeed. The BA in [Social Innovation] and Social Entrepreneurship could help students of any major prepare to create and run a successful social venture.” From the beginning, it was assumed that civic learning—combined with core courses in business, social entrepreneurship and the student’s chosen interdisciplinary concentration—would be interwoven throughout. Faculty voted for and approved the new degree program in the 2013 spring semester.
Internal and External Influences
As stated earlier, civic engagement is embedded in our mission as well as our strategic plan. Civic engagement is also built into our general education "Compass" program where students are required to take three reflective modules. A good number of these modules, including a kickball fundraiser for orphans in Tanzania and tutoring programs in local elementary schools, take students out into the Seguin community to participate in civic learning.
There is also the Jon and Sandra Moline Center for Servant Leadership (CSL) housed on campus. The CSL employs a director along with 11 student workers who work with eight community partners. The CSL is vital in fostering our civic learning environment on campus. For example, in 2016-2017, the CSL recorded 1234 student and faculty volunteers, engaged in 5669 hours of co-curricular civic engagement, and facilitated11,229 hours of curricular civic engagement. All this transpired primarily in 55 civically engaged courses taught by 24 faculty. The CSL also counsels academic departments and faculty who wish to incorporate civic learning into their courses by providing input on student learning outcomes and syllabi, finding community partners and projects that match course requirements, assessing student engagement experience, and facilitating reflections. This smaller, residential campus that incorporates civic learning into its mission produces a rich environment that makes it easy to incorporate civic design into the SISE major.
There is strong faculty and administrative support for civic engagement and learning. We have the Civic Engagement committee which is an institutional committee made up of the CSL director, faculty, staff, and students. This committee supports the CSL and promotes civic engagement on campus. There is also the Center for Teaching and Learning which does a lot to promote high-impact learning that often engages civic learning.
Influences beyond the institution come from Campus Compact and our representation on the President’s Honor Roll and the Corporation for National Community Service. Our 2016 Campus Compact Annual Survey guides our CSL director and future goals for civic engagement. An additional external influence comes through Ashoka U. The SISE faculty consistently attend the annual Ashoka U Exchange where civic engagement is an underlying foundation of almost all discussions and panel presentations. TLU has also participated in Ashoka U’s Commons as well as its Moxie Academy. These are collaborative programs where universities from around the world work in smaller groups to discuss and explore themes connected with SISE. Mentorship from those more seasoned in teaching social entrepreneurship plays a big part in these programs and SISE has benefitted greatly from these relationships.
Since 2015, three students were nationally recognized as Newman Civic Fellows for their commitment to community service and sustainable civic engagement. Read more about them:
Success is measured in various ways. At TLU, the CSL director and staff collect a lot of information connected to civic engagement and assess the data which is then shared with the larger community. For example, one tool used is the student survey administered after curricular and co-curricular civic events. Through student comments there is clear evidence that they find events beneficial and their outlook changes in positive ways.
Another way we measure success within the SISE program is through student internship feedback which we collect from the student intern as well as the external internship supervisor. External supervisors fill out a mid-point survey and a final survey where they offer feedback on the student intern’s work performance and attitude performance. It is commonly noted by these supervisors that the interns grew significantly from mid-point to the end of the internship. Interns themselves offer a post-internship reflection paper where they re-examine their original internship goals and comment upon goal outcomes at the end of the internship. Students typically write about how they exceeded original goals and how much they learned about themselves, the non-profits or social business ventures, and the clients they served. We are now getting repeat requests for these interns and some go on to a second internship.
In the “Empathy for Social Change” course students spend a significant amount of time immersed with populations impacted by social problems. They work closely with groups often marginalized by larger mainstream society such as the homeless, the poor, the intellectually disabled, low-income senior citizens, and so forth. The goal is to get students to see everyone on a more equal footing and build empathy toward individuals who are marginalized. We measure any change through the emotional intelligence inventory, “Social Awareness and Relationship Management on the Emotional Intelligence 2.0.” Students take the inventory at the beginning and again at the end of the course. At both times, scores (scored on a 0-100-point scale) were recorded and any changes noted. The four areas measured are: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.
Self-awareness is the ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations. Self-management is the ability to use your awareness of your emotions to stay flexible and direct your behavior positively. Social awareness is the ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on with them. Relationship management is the ability to use your awareness of your own emotions and the emotions of others to successfully manage interactions. The last two dimensions make up the bigger construct of social competence.
As stated, students are given the Emotional Intelligence pretest at the beginning of the course. Based on their results, they establish goals for increasing their scores on the four components throughout the course. They then take the assessment again at the end of the course and evaluate the results as part of their final exam. The first time the empathy inventory was used in the course there was an increase across the board from pre- and post-class administration. The numbers below show the average increase in each of the dimensions:
- Self-awareness: 5.875
- Self-management: 6.625
- Social Awareness: 4.75
- Relationship Management: 4.375
- Overall Emotional Intelligence: 5.875
Finally, another way to measure success is by tracking the jobs our majors go into upon graduation. As stated many times above, SISE majors are geared toward addressing social needs and are not strangers to civic learning. As a result, many go on to work in these areas. Of our most recent graduates, one is teaching English in Slovakia in a high school where most students are from a working class, lower socio-economic background. Another graduate is working with Lutheran Volunteer Corps in community organizing, primarily in an immigrant working-class neighborhood near Omaha, Nebraska. Another student is working for Texas Nursing Practitioners, a 501(c)6 and its members in areas of political advocacy for nurse practitioners at our state capitol in Austin, Texas. Another graduate worked with at-risk youth for the District 2 San Antonio Council member in a primarily African-American working-class community.
- Graduate Uses Degree to Help Hometown Community
- Alumna Pursues Passion For Social Change With The Lutheran Volunteer Corps
- Social Entrepreneurship Major Takes Skills Across The Globe
- There is power in immersing students in a civic learning experience and let that be a source of inspiration to you. They long remember the experience and will carry it with them years beyond graduation. Therefore, do not let obstacles get in the way of building civic engagement and civic learning into your curriculum. Facilitating civic learning experiences is challenging and can come with its fair share of conflict, but the depth and quality of engagement can produce sustainable, long-lasting impacts for all constituents.
- There is power in partnering among faculty, staff, and administrators who support civic learning—work with them and ask them to participate in the process. This helps when you have to go before any boards or committees for funding or approval requests. It is extremely difficult to go it alone with this type of work, so it helps to have the energy and enthusiasm of others as you integrate civic learning into pedagogy and then ultimately engage students in civic learning.
- Spend time building relationships with potential external partners. Anticipate a six- to twelve-month period of conversations before something tangible emerges. Take the time to actively listen to the needs of an external partner as this allows you to be more effective and efficient when asking students to engage in an activity. Establish an MOU with the external partner and in the document make sure to fully explain what your program and course is all about and what your goals are for students and civic learning. This allows the external partner to get to know you, your program’s learning objectives, and the type of students you have in class that allows them to think carefully when planning an activity. It also allows the external partner to detail their expectations and guidelines as well. To go this route is to build a deep level of trust that mutually benefits the students and the external partner.
- Do not underestimate the level and depth at which students will participate in civic learning. There will be resistance, but gentle reassurance that any activity is worth not just their time but has an impact upon those who benefit from the partnership. Students will “buy into” the process. Trust and believe that even the most resistant student will come away transformed. Capture feedback regularly as a means for students to reflect on their experiences and share it with external partners to further develop the quality of the program. Communication is a key to growing partnerships, collecting feedback, and making changes.
Looking for more information on the courses? Please return to the top of the page and click on the “Exemplary Course Specifics” button found under the campus logo.