Ruth Campbell/Odessa American
UTPB students Evan Mitchell (left) and Campbell Terry talk before the start of Kevin Thompson’s Small Groups Communication course on Wednesday. Students tackled topical issues during the semester.
By ruth Campbell
Issues like homelessness, lack of space at animal shelters and teacher shortages were tackled by Kevin Thompson’s students in his Small Groups Communication course at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin this semester.
The 12 students in the class were broken up into groups throughout the semester and tasked with two projects. The first project was a global matter like Israeli-Palestinian peace or sex trafficking.
There were four people in each group and there were three groups.
The local projects affected the United States, Texas or the Permian Basin. Thompson, a lecturer of communications, said the students all picked an issue that impacted the Permian Basin.
“Each person in each group was responsible for certain parts of the project, and throughout the project development, we talked about how to communicate well in groups, how to resolve conflict in groups; the whole nine yards,” Thompson said.
Some students volunteered for nonprofits and interviewed people from the agencies they wanted to help. For the teacher shortage at Ector County Independent School District, students talked to teachers and administrators. At the humane society, they talked to the director, and for homelessness, it was an organization called Field’s Edge.
“My goal is to help prepare them if they do want to follow suit with any of these. They now have the action steps to do it,” Thompson said.
Thompson said some of the best projects he participated in as a college and graduate student at Texas Tech University were about community and global issues. When group projects are mentioned, Thompson said they usually prompt moans and groans.
“Nobody wants to do them. … I really wanted that to not be the attitude toward it, especially having an entire class centered on that idea,” Thompson said.
“When I thought back to the projects that I enjoyed and I had success with as undergrad or graduate (student), usually they were local issues, or even issues that affected certain countries or parts of the world that we cared about, or maybe was our nationality,” he added.
The issues that Thompson’s students chose were ones they cared about and wanted to talk about.
“I think that’s what makes part of this project so cool is from the ground up it is all organically done by students. I was just there to guide them in the right direction,” he added.
The students enjoyed the course.
Freshman Evan Mitchell said he went in not knowing what it was going to be like and emerged pleasantly surprised. He was part of the group working on the ECISD teacher shortage.
They decided having affordable housing for teachers would help incentivize more instructors to work for the district.
“I think the biggest thing that I really learned was conflict management and conflicting ideas, especially with some of our groups. We would be very open to express our different ideas for the projects. It was all about managing how to go forward as a group, even when there (were) conflicting ideas, or conflicting plans. This class it really helped show me how to manage that,” Mitchell said.
What surprised him was how expensive it is to live in Odessa and Midland. Surprised?
“I learned the Permian Basin alone had one fourth to one third of the oil rigs in the United States and the oil prices really determine the housing prices. Whenever there are teachers here and they don’t fit in with the oil economy, it can be difficult for them to keep up,” Mitchell said.
His group’s solution was a combination of building affordable housing for teachers for the long term and marketing teacher preparation programs better. Some of the housing would be for teachers who planned to start their careers in Odessa and move on and other units would be for those here for the longer haul.
“Then we have a plan to have a UTPB future Falcon scholarship. If you go through UTPB’s educational program, then you teach in Permian Basin for a certain amount of years your children can get scholarships to UTPB,” Mitchell said.
Marlett Mojica, who will graduate in December, said he worked on the space issue for the local humane society.
“Some of the ideas we came up with is the city can donate land that’s not being used to the Humane Society,” Mojica said.
She added that the oil industry could also donate land for the shelter, which would not only help the animals but show the company as a good corporate citizen.
Mojica said she liked the course because it was small and she learned that everyone can have good ideas.
“Since I took this course, I’m more attentive to what people have to say instead of just giving out my opinion without listening to them first,” she added.
Mariana Veloso, a junior, said her group focused on the local issue of homelessness with the idea of providing tiny homes to them.
“My teammate Ayra Cirilo … pitched the idea of the homeless issue. Kevin told us about John-Mark Echols (from Field’s Edge). He’s creating a tiny home community in Midland. We took the ideas, talked to him and developed how that might work in Odessa,” Veloso said.
The groups also were encouraged to give of their time in the community, so they volunteered with Echols and Breaking Bread in Midland to feed breakfast to the homeless in Midland.
“That was a really heavenly experience,” Veloso said. “It was really nice to meet the people he’s going to help, to see firsthand the issue — how big it is.”
Finding out how the people she met got to the point of homelessness was also eye-opening, she said.
“I would love to volunteer with them again,” Veloso said. “That was just a good experience, for sure.”