In a classroom behind the Tivoli Student Union, class is about to commence. A guest lecture by Political Science Associate Professor Tony Robinson regarding spatial conflict and the politics of urban renewal in Denver is on the day's agenda. Students trickle in, talking about the success of last week's lunch sale or discussing plans for their benefit concert for the Four Winds Survival Project for native peoples, the immigrant day labor center, El Centro Humanitario, and the Jerry Jacks Memorial Scholarship Fund for UC Denver political science students. The diverse and empathetic faces that begin to fill the room are the driving force behind one of CLAS's longest-running and most impactful service-learning programs, the Urban Citizen Project.
The Urban Citizen Program guides students in service-learning projects specific to Denver. Students in the program work to assist and partner with local non-profits and organizations that deal with Denver's societal issues. The program is led by Harvey Bishop in the Department of Political Science, through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
Jerry Jacks, an instructor in the Department of Political Science, taught the class from its creation in 1993 to his death in 2007. In the fall of 2006, Jacks was named outstanding CLAS instructor in large part because of his 14 years of work with the Urban Citizen Project. Political science instructor Harvey Bishop currently carries on the legacy of his late colleague's program, which asks students to work several hours a week with influential non-profit organizations fighting directly against some of America's most challenging problems—poverty, loss of affordable housing, inequality of education, crime, the mistreatment of immigrant day laborers—with the idea that they will not only deal with the immediacy of these issues, but that they will also provide sustainable change and, as Bishop asserts, that they will learn from working with these communities "how to be effective citizens and how to address their concerns."
While the Political Science program requires a community service component in order to graduate, students can choose to take part in the Urban Citizen Program by registering for the course once they're an upperclassman. On average, the program's students give 600-800 hours of community service a semester to the Denver and surrounding community.
The Urban Citizen Program works with a variety of local non-profit organizations, including: counseling and community centers, environmental justice organizations, legal aid service non-profits, among myriad others. Some of the program's partners have included: African Community Center, Art Reach, Student/Farmworker Alliance, Women's Global Empowerment Fund (started by Karen Sugar, a former UCD student), among others.
There are no passive Urban Citizens. In fact, from oral history projects to after-school tutoring, from fundraising to newsletters, these students are doing for the local populations in one semester what most people will never do in a lifetime. They are acting and empowering on a daily basis, and even after the semester ends, many of the students will continue to expand their efforts to respond to the ever-growing social needs. Last semester, students in the program worked on projects that addressed issues such as: urban beautification (by upgrading playgrounds and school grounds), domestic violence, at-risk youth counseling, nutrition problems, refugee challenges, among others.
Bishop speaks to the value of the out-of-the-classroom experience, "This is a class where your heart is as important as your brain. It's an opportunity for students to get involved; the program is one that changes lives; students realize what they're capable of, that they can make a change in the world."