By BRAD ROLLINS
To Robert Rodriguez, Texas State University is a place where his aunt washes dishes in the student center and his cousins mow grass if they can get a seasonal job.
The 14-year-old has lived in town — this college town — his whole life but does not come much closer than when middle class and rich kids zip by in new cars and trucks as he walks to Sac-n-Pac.
“Maybe I’ll go to college,” he said the other day, “but I doubt it. We’ll see.”
The disconnect between Rodriguez and other natives and the imperious university on the hill is gapping. In a town dominated by one of the state’s largest universities, 20 percent of the adult population did not graduate high school and only 30 percent have either a bachelor’s or graduate degree, according to the 2000 census.
There are a lot of people who think Texas State has failed San Marcos — and that may be — but there is also evidence to the contrary.
Every spring, thousands of the Texas State students turn out for a expansive community service program that cleans up and repairs public and private property. It also fixes up perceptions.
“You have assisted countless families that needed a fresh coat of paint, and with each brush stroke brought hope of a better tomorrow by simply brightening up their part of San Marcos,” city council member Chris Jones said at a recent press conference to announce this year’s marquee Bobcat Build projects. “You brought Texas state students out to meet many families that have lived here for generations but have never been on campus. You have done more with this one program to bind us together than any other single program that I know of.”
In 2003, the build started with 700 participants. Now in its sixth year, Bobcat Build is a cornerstone of efforts to improve town-and-gown relations and grows each year. Last year, 3,000 students and staff members took part.
“That makes Bobcat Build not only the largest community service project in the state, but the largest in the U.S.,” university president Denise M. Trauth said, saying the event is an exercise in “mutual respect.”
Applicants have until tomorrow, Feb. 1, to apply for approval as a job site. In addition to the big ten, organizers expect as many as 100 smaller projects scattered around the community this year’s build on April 5.
Erin Jines, the program’s student director, said, “With all of the tradition and history at Texas State University, sometimes we forget that in the beginning, this university was founded on its closeness among students, faculty and community. The city of San Macros donated the land for the original college.”
And Texas State has given back substantially. Whether it is enough depends on who you ask, except on Bobcat Build day.
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