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University of Houston-Downtown

College of Public Service

Center for Public Service & Family Strengths

Highlights
  • Photo of UHD students volunteering at spring egg hunt for homeless pre-schoolers

    Public Service Students Host Spring Egg Hunt for Homeless Pre-schoolers

  • Photo of UHD Criminal Justice Cadets at Valentines Day Event for House of Tiny Treasures

    Criminal Justice Cadets Collect Valentine's Day Treats for House of Tiny Treasures

  • UHD Urban Education students volunteering at SEARCH Homeless Services

    Urban Education Students Show Love through Food at Big Read Event

  • Photo of UHD faculty, staff, and students with 20 visiting students from Taiwan's Central Police University

    UHD Celebrates 10th Class of Taiwanese Police University Students

  • Photo of Dr. Flores and Paulette Purdy, College of Public Service, at Carnegie Celebration

    UHD & Community Partners Celebrate Carnegie Designation

  • Photo of Dr. Van Horn at Asia Society presenting an award to elementary school students

    Houston's Citizenship Month Opens at the Asia Society

  • Photo of UHD students at House of Tiny Treasures

    Students Provide Friendly Smiles, Winter Coats for Homeless Children

  • Photo of UHD Criminal Justice Cadets on National Night Out

    UHD Criminal Justice Cadets Volunteer at 'National Night Out' Events

Where is the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths?

The Center for Public Service and Family Strengths (CPSFS) is well-located in the College of Public Service at the University of Houston – Downtown where students major in Social Work, Criminal Justice, and Urban Education and/or seek certification from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement through the Criminal Justice Training Center. Within the CPSFS is the Institute for Community Research. 

The CPSFS supports the growth of students, faculty, and staff through our authentic, academic and profession-based high impact experiences in community engagement, service learning, research, and internships.

What is the mission of the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths?

The mission of the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths and its Institute for Community Research is to initiate and develop collaborative partnerships with the community through which we demonstrate our servant leadership, participate in active engagement and mutually beneficial problem solving, and advocate and effect positive change.  

We value our faculty, students, and staff in Criminal Justice, Social Work and Urban Education and the community agencies, organizations, and institutions who are our partners.

What is the vision of the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths?

The Center for Public Service and Family Strengths will incubate, facilitate, and promulgate systemic change through collaboration and community based research with our external stakeholders.

What is Public Service?

To serve the public is to engage with the members of a community to render assistance, to be of use, to help, or contribute to, as in serving a cause.

Public Service is envisioned by the members of the College as service to our communities of practitioners in criminal justice, social work, and urban education, and to those who are served by these practitioners. Though we are located in the heart of downtown Houston, our community is that of the Greater Metropolitan Houston area and includes community organizations, educational institutions, and public and private agencies.

Our faculty, students, and staff are currently engaged in a wide variety of public service projects based upon specific needs identified by our partners. Some are focused on education and service and others include the community partners in research.

What is said about Public Service?

"I can assure you public service is a stimulating, proud and lively enterprise. It is not just a way of life, it is a way to live fully." Lee H. Hamilton, Member, U.S. Homeland Security Advisory Council

"I think there is no higher calling in terms of a career than public service, which is a chance to make a difference in people's lives and improve the world." Jack Lew, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

"Public service must be more than doing a job efficiently and honestly. It must be a complete dedication to the people…" Margaret Chase Smith, U.S. Senator

Public service is about listening intently to people and then observing, thinking, talking, and taking action. It's about doing something together that none of you could do on your own.  Public service is exploration and affirmation.  Leigh Van Horn, Interim Dean, College of Public Service

Why Family Strengths?

In the College of Public Service we provide undergraduate degree programs including internships and service and research opportunities in Criminal Justice, Social Work, and Urban Education as well as cadet training and licensure through our TCOLE certified Criminal Justice Training Center. We have graduate programs in Criminal Justice and Teaching. During the time our students are with us and long after, they develop understandings about family systems and family-centered practices. Our students gain knowledge about theory, practice, and policy. They learn to recognize and validate the resources that are already in place in the family and then work to build upon those assets, using the knowledge they have gained in their representative academic disciplines.

What is Community Based Research?

Community based research (CBR) has its origins in Latin America with the work of Paulo Freire. Communities can be based in a geographic location or site. Communities can be centered in social or justice agencies, in schools, libraries, cultural centers, neighborhoods, and the like. The "community" in community-based research is representative of the people who work together to identify a common challenge or question. Communities can be self-defined by their participants.

CBR is a partnership that involves community members, representatives from organizations, and researchers in a recursive process of knowledge building, decision-making, action, and reflection.

In the College of Public Service and through the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths and its Institute for Community Research we partner with members of diverse communities, creating authentic, high-impact experiences for our students, staff, and faculty through community engagement, service, and community-based research.  

What is Service Learning?

As defined at the University of Houston – Downtown, service learning is "A teaching and learning strategy that integrates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection to enrich the learning experience, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. Service learning aims to connect the personal and intellectual to help students acquire knowledge and a useful understanding of the world, build critical thinking capacities, and perhaps lead to fundamental questions about learning and about society and to a commitment to improve both."

Something to celebrate!

We are proud to note that the University of Houston – Downtown was selected by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching to receive its 2015 Community Engagement Classification. The work that emerged from the Center for Public Service and Family Strengths contributed to our receiving this award.

What are some examples of current projects in the Center for Public Service and its Institute for Community Research?  

Journal of Family Strengths

Faculty and graduate students in collaboration with Children at Risk and the Texas Medical Center serve as writers, reviewers, and special issue editors for the Journal of Family Strengths, a peer-reviewed, online journal dedicated to expanding our knowledge and practices in professions and services dedicated to the preservation of families and communities.

Journal of Family Strengths​ 

Harris County Sheriff's Office Re-entry Project

Senior seminar students in our Criminal Justice program work with representatives from the Harris County Sheriff's Office in a re-entry project designed to prepare incarcerated individuals for a successful return to the community and reduce recidivism. Students in the program learn to provide face-to-face support of inmates, publish a guide book of resources in the community, examine the research on re-entry and recidivism, and prepare a documentary film about the project. Read Story in UHD Skyline News​

House of Tiny Treasures Family Literacy Project Sponsored by Union Pacific Railroad

Students and faculty in the Department of Urban Education have provided Family Literacy Events at the House of Tiny Treasures for the children (ages 1-6) and their families since the Fall of 2006. These events include interactive readings and response activities led by students who are teacher candidates in the Urban Education Program. Research projects have included studies of the naturalistic literacy practices within the family and the perceptions of participants regarding the relationship between teacher candidates and the parents with an emphasis on their perceptions of efficacy and articulation of advocacy within the teacher/parent interaction.

House of Tiny Treasures Mosaic  Project

During a study of victimology Criminal Justice students and faculty worked with the young students at the House of Tiny Treasures school for homeless children. The project included visiting the Orange Show Exhibit and working with local artists to create mosaics from a collage of found objects.  Following a study of the growth in skill and creativity exhibited through the preliminary drawings and mosaics, there are plans to display the mosaics at the House of Tiny Treasures and in the College of Public Service.  

African-American Library at the Gregory School Oral History Transcription Project

In the first of what we hope will be a m collaboration involving multiple layered projects, students in Urban Education are currently working with the oral history librarian at the African-American Library at the Gregory School in the historic Fourth Ward of Houston. The UHD students are learning to use transcription software and abbreviated note-taking to transcribe video-taped interviews of Fourth Ward residents and graduates of the Gregory School. There are plans to expand the project to include middle and high school students participating in the Fifth Ward Enrichment Program in interviewing the residents of the Fifth Ward.

Citizenship Month Literacy Project with Harmony Public Schools and select HISD sites

Middle and high school teachers from Harmony Public Schools and teachers from select sites serving immigrant and refugee populations in HISD are working with UHD's Leigh Van Horn. The teachers collaborate with Van Horn in the design of curriculum that will engage students in thinking about citizenry and in writing poetry that reflects their experiences and thinking on the topic. Select authors have the opportunity to share their poems during the opening celebration of Citizenship Month in Houston.

New Director for CPSFS!
The Center for Public Service and Family Strengths and the Institute of Community Research are located in the College of Public Service on the second floor of the Commerce Building (C-220). The CPSFS and IOCR are at the top of our winding staircase from the main entrance on the first floor, with a view of Main Street on one side and of Allen's Landing, the founding site of Houston, Texas, on the other.    As we are growing, so is Houston! We believe that this location and its accessibility to the downtown community is an expression of who we are and where our work begins.


Dr. Jennifer Rowland has recently joined UHD as the new Director of CPSFS.  She comes to us from the University of Texas system where her research and scholarly activities focused on community engagement and outreach involving access to community-based activities for youth and young adults.


An Advisory Board of faculty from the College of Public Service will soon begin to work with Dr. Rowland to preserve our current projects and look for opportunities for additional engagement, service, and community-based research projects. The Advisory Board members will be valuable to us as we seek to engage additional faculty and students in high-impact experiences with the members of our community, and as the Center and Institute engage in grant writing to help fund current and future projects.

We will soon be posting information on this website about a ribbon cutting ceremony and open house for the center.

Last updated 8/31/2015 10:28 AM