Here at the University of Houston, we often talk about the importance of community. It is mentioned prominently in our official Mission Statement, in our Strategic Principles and in our UH Goals. And we have two different offices with “community” in their titles.

It may just be one of the most frequently used terms at UH, exceeded perhaps only by Go, Coogs!

Of course, to be accurate, we should probably be using the word “communities.” Since there are so many ways to define a community, there are multiple communities.

For example, we refer to our own “campus community,” indicating the 50,000 faculty, staff and students who work and live within the 700 or so acres that make up UH. But if you expand that geographic focus slightly, we are talking about the historic Third Ward neighborhood that enfolds us, another vital community we are proud to be part of. Widen that focus even more and the community is Houston, the nurturing metropolis that has given our University its name … and so much more. And, as a state university, we are an integral part of this sprawling, pluralistic community called Texas.

Sometimes, a community is identified not by geography but common interest. At UH, for instance, we have a group conceptually united by their passion for knowledge, a community of scholars. Our researchers are members of the scientific community. It can also be defined in ethnic or cultural terms, such as the Asian-American community.

Unfortunately, another way to define a community is by common deficiencies — the socio-economically challenged, the under-educated or the medically under-served.

At any given time, there are numerous communities UH feels a genuine affinity for — along with a commitment to support them to the best of our abilities. Our affiliation with Houston, for instance, drives this University to produce skilled workers and talented leaders in the areas that are crucial to our city — energy, health and the arts. Our identification with a burgeoning Hispanic community has led us to qualify for official status as a Hispanic-Serving Institution. Our awareness of our neighbors’ need for better medical resources has been a key factor in current plans to significantly expand the University’s community-based health care initiatives.

While those are high profile examples, UH’s commitment to community service takes many forms, often unheralded. You will find inspiring evidence of that throughout the pages of this magazine. Campus-grown organic produce is donated to local food pantries. Abandoned bikes at UH find their way to deserving kids all around Houston. A research complex shares its prized prairie grass seed with preservationists across the country. A microfinance program teaches under-served community members how business works and assists them in acquiring startup funds.

As I write this, UH has just been named to the President’s Higher Education Community Service Honor Roll with Distinction — the highest federal recognition a university can receive for community service. It is the University’s second year in a row to be so honored. That is wonderfully gratifying. But, in the end, we don’t perform such service for the promise of applause and appreciation. We have come to understand that in helping the community, we are helping ourselves. We understand that we are the communities.

With warm regards,

Renu Khator
President, University Of Houston