This fall, Civic Nebraska was the independent study home of José Luis Villa Huerta, a senior at the University of Nebraska who is studying economics, Spanish, and political science. During his time with Civic Nebraska, José worked closely with Collective Impact Lincoln, our local partnership to lift up the Star City’s core neighborhoods so that residents can make the change they envision. Under the guidance of Civic Nebraska’s José Lemus, José got a chance to listen to Lincolnites about the things they love, like, and dislike about their neighborhoods — and hear about residents’ ideas to improve their quality of life.
A native of Chihuaha, Mexico, who moved to the United States in 1999, José conducted his independent study through Isabel Velázquez, an associate professor of Spanish at Nebraska U. from September until early December. José said he joined Civic Nebraska for many reasons, including getting firsthand experience with policy work, utilizing his bilingual skills, and overall professional development.
As a requirement for independent study, José recently published his reflections of his time with Civic Nebraska. The reflections give a first-person glimpse into the lessons and experiences José gained, as well as his takeaways about the people, impacts, and limitations of change-making organizations like ours. We’d encourage you to read the whole document produced by this exceptional young man, but in the meantime, here are our favorite passages from his final project:
-> “The best way to understand the problems that a city faces is to go out and speak with the individuals who live and work in Lincoln, and see what they feel needs to be addressed and worked on.”
-> “Organization is always the key point to identify problems and find solutions. I discovered that the problems that I think might be important may not be the problems that the community needs to address. I have my own experiences and my own problems. My experiences paint a small part of the picture of the issues facing the city of Lincoln. If I had to base community projects and policies based on my experiences, it would be a very inexperienced way of solving the problems of the city.”
-> “Looking at a single perspective is a sure way to fail. That’s why communication with people is such an important step in solving the problems that a community needs to address. We can speculate all day on what topics we think are important, but until we go out and talk to the community, we can never have a true knowledge of the problems of a city. … I can tell you the things I’ve learned and the progress I’ve made, but I can not tell you where all this leads. The final product evades me in what I want to do, how I compile all the conversations, meetings, articles read, activities carried out and reflections written in a single product to show everything I have achieved and learned at Civic Nebraska.”
-> “My growth during independent study has given me a broader perspective of the world, and I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to have worked with a nonprofit organization. Going to the community and talking to people where I can see the work that needs to be done and create a plan of action is a breath of fresh air from the usual office work environments to which I have become accustomed. I do not think that this particular experience has helped me find the exact purpose of my life and my career — yet — but it helped me move toward the right direction to know myself and my goals.”
-> “My experience with this organization isn’t something you can learn in a classroom; you can only learn these life skills by immersing yourself in the community you live. Your career should be one that you enjoy and can see growth in; perspectives are essential to finding out the root causes of communities, change takes time and effort, and the professional growth that someone experiences throughout college shouldn’t be a waste of time, these have been the significant ideas that kept reoccurring during this semester.”
After graduation, José plans to give back to his community, working in a role where he makes a direct impact in lives affected by the issues that the city faces. He plans to spend some time in Latin America to develop and strengthen his Spanish, and then return to Lincoln to pursue a postgraduate degree in public policy or to attend law school.
We know we haven’t seen the last of José; he’s on his way to great things. In the meantime, we are grateful for his contributions this fall to our mission of creating a more modern, robust democracy for all Nebraskans. We’ll be watching José’s career with great interest — and with a rooting interest, too. Thanks for everything and good luck, José.