NACOGDOCHES, Texas — “Shining Light and Joy in our Community,” a service project by the Beta Upsilon chapter of the Phi Upsilon Omicron national honor society for family and consumer sciences at Stephen F. Austin State University, received the 2020 National Professional Project Award from Phi Upsilon Omicron’s national council.
The award, which includes a plaque, a certificate and $150, recognizes projects that promote academic excellence while enhancing the leadership skills and professional knowledge needed to serve individuals, families and the community.
One of 53 active Phi Upsilon Omicron collegiate chapters nationally, the Beta Upsilon chapter was established at SFA in 1973 and has approximately 50 members who are students in SFA’s School of Human Sciences.
For their annual service project, members conducted activities to raise awareness about the number of Nacogdoches children living in poverty.
These activities included a nap mat donation to elementary schools in the Nacogdoches Independent School District, an underwear and sock drive for school-age children and a resource fair with the theme “A Roadshow to a Brighter Future.”
The service project involved collaboration with NISD social workers, City of Nacogdoches officials, the Nacogdoches Farmer’s Market and local businesses and churches. Working with these different groups across the community helps prepare SFA human sciences students for their careers.
“It took an enormous amount of time and effort to take this project from planning to implementation to evaluation, so the feeling of our hard work paying off and recognition on a national level is indescribable,” said Tracie Estepp, a graduate student in human sciences from Georgetown who was vice president of the Beta Upsilon chapter during the service project. “This is validation that we made a positive impact on the community.”
Sierra Smith of McKinney, who recently graduated from SFA with a bachelor’s degree in hospitality administration, was chapter president during the service project.
“I'm overjoyed we won first place at nationals, but to me, we won every time we were able to help our community,” Smith said. “In my eyes, that was the greatest achievement we could have accomplished — knowing I was able to help the community that took me in with open arms four years ago.”
With help from Walmart, the Beta Upsilon chapter was able to donate 30 nap mats to NISD elementary schools. Lumberjack Harley-Davidson, M&S Pharmacy and Tipton Ford, along with several departments on the SFA campus, helped the honor society collect 813 pairs of socks and 588 pairs of underwear for NISD children in need. And local businesses and churches helped the chapter raise $1,105 in Walmart gift cards, which social workers use to help families on an individual, case-by-case basis when other community, nonfinancial resources have been exhausted.
“We are so lucky SFA is part of such a fantastic community full of businesses and organizations willing to form partnerships with student organizations,” Estepp said. “That allowed us to gain invaluable experience; we could not have done this without them. I cannot wait to see the plaque hanging at SFA!”
Like other student organizations, the chapter faced some challenges to completing its service project when COVID-19 hit in the spring, but Phi Upsilon Omicron members “were able to turn around and make the most of something during this pandemic,” Smith said.
Originally, members were planning to make “Take What You Need” boards that provided words of encouragement to students attending NISD middle and elementary schools. When schools shut down, the encouraging notes were delivered at NISD meal pickups and went to any school-age child attending NISD schools. NISD’s National Honor Society and SFA student organizations assisted the Beta Upsilon chapter in writing nearly 900 notecards.
“I can't express how proud I am of our members,” Smith said. “I’m proud I was able to be part of this wonderful organization and part of this amazing project.”
In 2019, the Beta Upsilon chapter’s service project earned second place at the national level, said Dr. Jennifer Newquist, assistant professor in SFA’s School of Human Sciences and a faculty advisor for the chapter. That project involved assisting the Family Crisis Center of East Texas, Nacogdoches’ Helping Other People Eat food pantry and Godtel Ministries.
“Winning first place with our professional project shows how hard the members of our honor society work year after year to serve the community that helps them prepare for their future careers,” Newquist said.
Dr. Donna Fickes, clinical instructor in SFA’s School of Human Sciences and another faculty advisor for the chapter, also is grateful for the recognition.
“I am so excited to see our SFA human sciences students recognized for the positive influences they have on individuals, families and the community,” Fickes said. “These students are truly transforming their learning experience in preparation for bright futures ahead.”
For more information on the Beta Upsilon chapter of the Phi Upsilon Omicron national honor society for family and consumer sciences, contact Newquist at firstname.lastname@example.org.