The student-led Texas Civic Impact Council needs help from Austin Community College and other Austin area colleges to shine a light on socio-economic opportunities for the community ahead of a major transit infrastructure project.
Written by Ky Duffey
Edited by Pete Ramirez
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist and author.
Mead’s exemplary words are not lost on Vaishnav Kuruvanka and Ruth Mewhinney, two University of Texas-Austin students and co-founders of the Texas Civic Impact Council (TCIC). TCIC is a student-led organization that strives to bring the community together by engaging college students to work as a team to solve social issues.
Sponsored by Promoting Education Across the Country (PEAC), a platform that supports youth entrepreneurs at the community level, TCIC aims to be a bridge for student progress on city-wide issues.
While TCIC has made strides so far in launching social campaigns, its newest campaign is focused on Project Connect, an upcoming transit infrastructure project for the city of Austin. Find out more about TCIC and how to apply here.
The following is my recent conversation with Kuruvanka and Mewhinney about TCIC and Project Connect.
Ky Duffey (KD): Tell me about Project Connect.
Vaishnav Kuruvanka (VR): Project Connect is a $7.1 billion investment in public transportation in Austin. There are three components to it: a light rail connecting North and South Austin, an expanded all-electric bus fleet and an underground transit tunnel that will go through downtown. The purpose is to make it easier to get around Austin through public transport.
We at TCIC are interested in it because we see it as more than just an infrastructure investment. We see it as a way to connect Austin geographically and socially. We see it as a way to develop jobs and affordable housing. To initiate this equitable and innovative future for our city. It’s a generational opportunity. When will we see this kind of investment again?
Ruth Mewhinney (RM): If Project Connect is done well, we’ll be creating communities of opportunity in the four corridors of the city the project will engage. To make projects like this work, we need community engagement to make sure community priorities relate to public policy. We recognize this as an amazing opportunity, and our job is to amplify community voices. We want to serve as an accountability check for Project Connect and what it can do for the citizens of Austin.
So basically, how can the infrastructure in Austin, the fastest growing city in America, bring opportunity for us to connect statewide and nationally.
KD: How did TCIC come about?
VR: TCIC is a chapter of a non-profit called PEAC. PEAC has one main goal: getting young people involved in solving social issues.
When I moved to Austin, I noticed there were so many great students here yet they weren’t all working together on issues they commonly deal with. So I decided to get a bunch of diverse students together to see how we can tackle common issues.
I met Ruth in 2019 and we worked to build TCIC from the ground up. TCIC’s goal is to connect students to the city of Austin and take an interdisciplinary approach to solving social issues. We represent 9 colleges on campus and two representatives on the council from each college.
KD: Your goal is to get college students across Austin involved as well through fellowships. Tell me about those.
RM: To be a council member in TCIC, you have to be a student at UT, but we wanted to make sure TCIC is not just representative of UT students, but any young person in Austin.
So TCIC is leading a student-led, grassroots community engagement along key Project Connect corridors. There are three ways for students across Austin to get involved.
We have community engagement fellows who are leading that boots on the ground engagement.
We have data fellows who are cataloging and analyzing that data.
And we have design fellows who are taking all these data and stories and turning them into the written content we’ll present to the City of Austin and Project Connect leadership.
VK: The main goals of our fellowships are to strengthen the connection between Austin residents and city leaders, getting people across Austin to work together from City Council, company leaders, and community members.
I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this is called Project Connect, I think there is an opportunity to connect Austin here in a deep and meaningful way, and students are a very important part of that opportunity.
This isn’t a UT Austin issue, this is an Austin issue, so we welcome students from across the city to join us.
KD: How can students in Austin apply?
VK: We have a simple application at www.bit.ly/tcicfellowship.
You don’t have to have a lot of skills to get involved in this project, you just need an interest and passion for serving your community. No matter whether you’re an undergrad or grad student, all are welcome.
RM: TCIC is student-led and student-built so come on board! We need numbers to do community engagement.
VK: The community engagement fellows are the lifeblood of our project. If we don’t have a lot of students out there connecting with the community, we can’t get the data to present to community leaders.
So we need a lot of people who can be boots on the ground.
RM: We’re the only program that is entirely student-run. You may see other programs similar to us, but they aren’t doing it like us. Student-led!
Find more information about Project Connect here.
Engaging with your community, especially at the college level, not only provides an opportunity for you to be a voice for those who are usually ignored within our neighborhoods. It’s also an opportunity to show desired transfer universities and future employers your efforts to make the world a little better.
Young people across the country normally feel that their voices are not taken seriously. This initiative is a chance to highlight voices that have been drowned out in the past.
Do your city and yourself proud. Join TCIC to connect with others around Austin fighting to make this city’s future equitable and enjoyable for all.