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Build For Better: GSBS Students Volunteer at Habitat For Humanity

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Author: Charlotte Anthony | Category: Community Outreach | October 30, 2015

The Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio partnered with Habitat For Humanity on Oct. 17 to build a local home.

“As a graduate school, we wanted to provide opportunities for our students to engage with the community and with each other in non-traditional ways,” said Dr. Nicquet Blake, associate dean at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences.

“Habitat For Humanity was a natural choice particularly since our former Associate Dean Dr. Larry Barnes has been heavily involved with Habitat for over 20 years.”

Dr. Blake explained that she was excited that Dr. Barnes and over 20 students could join the group during this volunteer event. She worked with Larry’s team to install closets in the home.

“We spent the day “experimenting” and creating art. From the measuring of closet shelves, to cutting shelves to precise specification using wire cutters to installing shelves, caulking holes, and finally painting to create a marvelous finished product,” she said. “There was no greater feeling than seeing an empty room come alive with just a few brush strokes of paint and lots of sweat.”

“I really enjoyed the Habitat for Humanity event because it’s fun to work together with friends to accomplish a goal, and it’s a great way to help the community,” said Mikaela Sifuentes, third- year graduate student in the Department of Pharmacology.

Sifuentes explained that you are assigned a house to work on, and at the end of the day you can take a step back from the building and feel accomplished that you have put so much work into it.

“After spending so much time in lab making incremental progress on a project, it feels great to go out and physically, substantially make something better,” she said. “The houses are small, but you can clearly tell that the people who move in passionately care about their community, and the future homeowners are there volunteering with the rest of us.”

Maritza Quintero, a first-year graduate student in the Integrated Biomedical Sciences program agreed.

“After having taken an intense exam the day before, it was great to spend a few hours doing something very different from my normal routine,” she said. “It was my first time volunteering with Habitat for Humanity. I know very little about this nonprofit organization, but I think it is meant to help a subset of people that want to improve their way of life and that is a goal worth encouraging.”

Third-year graduate student in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology Meghan Guzman explained that her best memory was working with other people from different institutions and backgrounds to help build these homes.

“It’s nice knowing there are people who will continuously give their Saturdays to help others,” she said.

Sifuentes believes that volunteer is important because you not only help families in need but you are also able to think about the bigger picture.

“When you help others, you also learn to better appreciate what you have, and it keeps you from hyper-focusing on tiny problems, which we tend to do as scientists,” she said. 

“Volunteering also helps to improve the environment around you - cities run more smoothly and are more productive when those with time or money to spare give back to the community.”

Guzman recommends other graduate students to participate.

“It’s sort of a stress reliever…we as students have so much going on and to put all that aside for a day and just focus on someone else, does wonders,” Guzman said.

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