From their unassuming office in the Administration Building, the staff of the Ettling Center for Civic Leadership & Sustainability (ECCLS) help bring big ideas to life. As bridge builders, the ECCLS brings together UIW schools, colleges and student groups as well as external nonprofit and charitable organizations to serve communities and further social justice on UIW campuses and internationally.
The impact of that work reverberates throughout communities, touching tens of thousands of lives.
“When people ask: What is the Mission of the University? What does it look like? We can point to the Ettling Center,” said Dr. Ricardo González. “We are blessed to serve the Mission and to follow in the footsteps of the first three Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word who arrived in San Antonio to serve the sick and the poor. That’s the spirit.”
Established in 2013 by the late Sr. Dorothy Ettling CCVI, the center began as a collaboration between the University and CHRISTUS Health to build social justice leaders. After her passing, the center was led by former director Monica Cruz who carried on her work and extended its outreach and impact. This year, the ECCLS marks its fifth anniversary and its continued commitment to transformational service. The
ECCLS works collaboratively with people and institutions throughout UIW from business to education to humanities. One of the ways it does just that is via partnerships with UIW’s health professions schools: Feik School of Pharmacy, Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing and Health Professions, Rosenberg School of Optometry, School of Osteopathic Medicine and School of Physical Therapy.
Working together, they help ensure Sr. Ettling’s legacy continues to make a difference in the health and spirits of those who are served and those who serve.
A Mission Alive, A Community Connected
While only five years old, the center’s roots run deep. “In the 1980s, faculty wanted to be sure that students were being formed in the values of compassion and service that we, the Sisters, have been developing since 1869,” said Sr. Martha Ann Kirk CCVI, professor of Religion and ECCLS faculty liaison. “We wanted students not just to have head knowledge but to have the experiences that would touch their hearts and stretch them to be better citizens. The Ettling Center has put in place the support system that faculty were asking for. It’s a joy to try to help connect people more and more.”
Service learning is critical to that end, said Sr. Kirk. Integrating good works into their academic learning helps students not only apply their practical education, but also expand their understanding of the realities of the communities they serve and the impacts they can make. “Our students don’t just go to Peru to do eye tests because communities there need their eyes tested, our students are getting field experience that will make them stronger optometrists,” she said.
Through the ECCLS, faculty members across health programs come together to create new opportunities or open up existing projects for their students to combine service with scholarship.
The Impact of Service
Before beginning a service-learning project, Dr. Erlinda Lopez-Rodriguez, program director of Community Health Education and assistant professor in the Ila Faye Miller School of Nursing & Health Professions (SNHP), consults with the ECCLS staff, who are quick to help or answer any question she may have, she said.
“Community health education is the front line; it is where you facilitate the health needs of your community,” said Lopez-Rodriguez, who’s worked with the ECCLS on a women’s ministry initiative and health mission trips to the Rio Grande Valley. “The Ettling Center’s mission is so similar to ours in that we are there to help build the community, develop you as a whole person and [give you] the best quality of life that can be achieved.”
The mission trip is a collaboration with ARISE, an independent community-based program that is co-sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy of South Central and the Sisters of Charity of the Incarnate Word. Together, the ECCLS and the professional schools form a team of approximately 50 volunteers to provide eye exams, health information sessions, blood glucose checks and medical history checks to some 350 patients who live in the region’s colonias. For some patients, it offers care they might not otherwise get. For volunteers, it’s a perspective-broadening experience shedding light on inequalities and inspiring questions and conversations, said Lopez-Rodriguez. “I saw social justice really come out in these students.”
Volunteers will again head to the Rio Grande Valley for the next ARISE mission trip in December. Among them will be students and faculty from the Rosenberg School of Optometry (RSO) who will administer eye exams and provide glasses.
“I saw the tremendous need for eye care that we can provide,” said Dr. Russell Coates, clinical assistant professor and director of outreach programs at RSO, who has taken mission trips for years, even prior to the center’s earliest days. Coates now spearheads some 10 service-learning trips annually and has been able to spread his commitment to providing care to communities in need. It’s far more than community service.
“Certainly you are providing a tangible service,” he said. “There is that satisfaction, but it is also about what God does to you and your heart. You walk away changed a little bit. I try to pass that same experience to students and faculty alike.”
The center’s reach also extends internationally. Dr. Barbara Aranda-Naranjo, associate provost for health professions schools, has been attending a health mission trip to Oaxaca, Mexico, since 2014 with faculty members and students from health professions schools facilitated by the ECCLS. During the trip, health professions students join Los Quijotes of San Antonio, a group of health professionals who have been serving the region for more than 25 years, at the invitation of Sr. Maria Luisa Velez CCVI.
In Oaxaca, the UIW team and Los Quijotes join U.S. and Mexican health professionals at a pop-up outpatient clinic and serve more than 2,000 men, women and children. The work is fast and challenging.
“They have to create the clinic environment. The pharmacy team has to set up an entire pharmacy and a workflow, and they have to figure out how to communicate with patients,” said Aranda-Naranjo. “It is amazing to see people from different disciplines and different parts of the country come together.”
Before and after the trip, students and faculty spend time reflecting on the experience and the interprofessional exchange that occurs during the mission. This model of interprofessional collaboration is also at work for the benefit of the underserved in our local community. At the School of Osteopathic Medicine (SOM), Dr. Anil Mangla, associate professor and director of public health and research, is putting his passion for preventing disease to work in the city’s District 3, where the SOM campus resides. Formerly the assistant health director at the San Antonio Metro Health Department, Mangla collaborated with Gonzalez on the development of a vaccination campaign to inoculate students at the Southwest Independent School District, and other districts. Working with volunteers from SOM, SNHP and the Feik School of Pharmacy (FSOP), these drives have given hundreds of free doses to school-age children.
“To me that is a major success. Even one dose helps that child prevent that disease,” Mangla said. Another event held this summer provided teens the HPV vaccine, which prevents cervical cancer. Generally, only 63 percent of teen girls and 50 percent of teen boys get the HPV vaccine, and about 40 to 50 percent of parents decline, said Mangla.
“We had a decline rate of 3.7 percent. I have never in my career seen that low of a decline rate,” he said. “The reason behind it is, one, the Ettling Center, and two, that we are a faith-based university. The public has so much trust in what we do that they allow us to offer these vaccines. In 20 years, our cancer rate is going to substantially decrease, not just because of better medicine but because of the vaccines we provide right now.”
Mangla notes that this impact is the result of a team effort between many at SOM, FSOP, SNHP, school districts, University Health System and the ECCLS. “Every individual plays a role in what we need to accomplish. Without the Ettling Center, it wouldn’t happen. It is a collective effort that made this a successful story.”
Taking part in the center’s collective efforts offers so many more rewards than simply helping students fullfill their required 45 hours of community service, says González. It’s transformational.
Dr. Cynthia N. Nguyen, interprofessional education and collaborative practice coordinator and assistant professor of Pharmacy Practice in FSOP, has seen the direct impact service learning has had on students. She has taken part in the Oaxaca mission trip since 2014, even before the center’s involvement. This fall, she prepared five FSOP students to participate in the trip. She also collaborated with key faculty from FSOP, SOM, SNHP, SOPT and other health professions programs to provide opportunities for students on other initiatives.
“Each of my opportunities has taught me something different, and I take learning opportunities away from each one I participate in,” Nguyen said. “Our students like the opportunity to help others, and some of the communities that we work with are not always those that they grow up with. Seeing different communities and social economic differences, they come away with more open eyes and more innovative ideas.”
At the School of Physical Therapy (SOPT), Dean Dr. Caroline Goulet has been involved in international service work for many years, including leading SOPT representatives on interprofessional health program service initiatives, and that experience has given her keen insight into their effects on participants. The lessons learned in the field last long after the mission trips have ended.
“I think service has a big impact on change. It is easy to build walls when you are in the context of cultural shocks. Some learn more about themselves in a context they have never considered,” Goulet said. “It’s my strong belief that the Ettling Center should be at the center of all that we do at UIW in terms of community partnerships, social accountability and student leadership. This is mission in action. I would say 100 percent of students would be committed to assist in providing services to those in need after they graduate.”
Alejandra Escobar is one such student. She worked directly under Sr. Kirk during her work with the ECCLS for two years. During that time, she participated in the ARISE mission, worked with local school districts and was a Cardinal Community Leader. While she graduated with her undergraduate degree in the spring of 2018, she was eager to get back to work at the center this fall when she returned as a graduate student. The opportunities, events and social justice programming she took part in during her time there helped her stretch beyond her comfort zone.
“I would say that it made me appreciate the things I already have,” Escobar said. “With every project, I gained more of myself, pieces I never knew were there. It catches me by surprise, but there is always something deeper to dig for each time I did a mission trip or simply volunteered. I always find myself feeling more fulfilled.”