A unique partnership between UT Austin’s School of Social Work and Recreational Sports is helping students take knowledge learned in the classroom to the streets of Austin, helping the homeless.

Students hand out shoes and clothing in downtown Austin
Students hand out shoes and clothing in downtown Austin

The Experiential Leadership I course combines the expertise of Recreational Sports in experiential learning, outdoor leadership and therapeutic recreation with social work in group work, social justice and change, and community engagement. For some students, the fall semester course was the epitome of the university’s core values, especially leadership.

“Leadership cannot be taught in a text book or through lectures. It takes getting out there, putting yourself in real situations, experiencing it and learning from it,” expressed senior social work major Kenzie Feuerbach.

Feuerbach was among several students in the course who did just that. They worked with Caritas of Austin and Foundation Communities to provide food and shoes to people transitioning out of homelessness.

RecSports’ Senior Assistant Director Chris Burnett taught the course with Vicki Packheiser, assistant dean of undergraduate studies at the School of Social Work. The educators engaged learners in experiences and reflection to increase knowledge, develop skills, and serve the academic and service missions of the university.

Students prepare to serve food to the homeless in downtown Austin
Students prepare to serve food to the homeless in downtown Austin

“My vision for higher education is a network of integrated academic disciplines and Division of Student Affairs programs that provide a comprehensive academic experience,” explained Burnett. “The student participation has renewed my faith in the compassion of our emerging student leaders. I am so proud to have met and engaged students through these service experiences and watched them grow intellectually and emotionally.”

For one student, his participation meant he didn’t have to go far away to broaden his horizons.

“This class has shown me that it is not the place, but the people that change how you think; it is the experiences you have with others that truly broaden your horizons,” noted junior social work major Andrew Liu.

The fall course was the first of a two-course series offered. Longhorns will likely find more ways to “change the world” in this semester’s class. It will focus on developing outdoor leadership skills to provide experiences for homeless children.

Posted January 8, 2016. By Division of Student Affairs.