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The Institute

The Advancing Community Engagement and Service Institute connects students, faculty, and community partners through academic-based service learning, high-impact scholarship, and social innovation. We collaborate across disciplines to enhance real-world learning experiences for students while addressing the needs of communities. 

The ACES Institute strives to improve the quality of life in the greater Houston region through strong community partnerships and enhanced student learning. The ACES Institute works with faculty and staff across disciplines at the University of Houston to develop well-designed service learning courses and opportunities for students while engaging the community to fulfill critical educational and health needs.

The inaugural work of the ACES Institute in 2016 focused on school improvement efforts in Third Ward, with UH students serving as reading and math tutors and mentors at partner schools. In fall 2017, the Institute expanded the tutoring initiative with the launch of the Cougar Literacy Corps, in partnership with the federally supported AmeriCorps program.

The ACES Institute, supported by the UH Office of the Provost, also will conduct regular research and evaluation as part of its commitment to implementing evidence-based academic and socio-emotional programs that can be replicated nationwide. The combined work serves to prepare students for lifelong civic and social responsibility and to foster thriving communities.

Core Criteria for Service Learning Course Designation

The National Service Learning Clearinghouse defines service learning as a teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities (Learn and Serve American National Service Learning Clearinghouse, 2015). At ACES, we have identified three core criteria for defining and designating academic-based service learning courses. ABSL-defined courses should:

  • Involve collaboration with one or more community partners to investigate a problem or address an unmet need in the community
  • Incorporate real-world learning experiences (typically outside the classroom) that reinforce and support learning and/or research objectives of the course
  • Provide structured opportunities for reflecting on the relationship between classroom learning and the real-world experiences, with the goal of deepening the understanding of course content and exploring questions of: personal development, diversity, social responsibility, civic engagement etc.

Service-Learning Principles

  1. Academic credit is for learning, not for service.
  2. Do not compromise academic rigor.
  3. Set learning goals for students.
  4. Establish criteria for the selection of community service placements.
  5. Provide educationally sound mechanisms in order to best learn from the community.
  6. Provide support for students to learn how to learn from the community.
  7. Minimize the distinction between the student’s community learning role and the classroom learning role.
  8. Rethink the faculty instructional role.
  9. Be prepared for uncertainty and variation in student learning outcomes.
  10. Maximize the community responsibility orientation of the course.

Source: Jeffrey Howard, "Praxis I," 1993.

Resources for Faculty

The following online resources can help faculty with the development of service learning courses: