Meet The Tyler Loop 2020 freelance fellows

Our first-ever batch of young Tylerites and East Texan fellows share their voices and views.

📷 Yasmeen Khalifa

This summer, young adult volunteers with a connection to Tyler and East Texas — and something to say about it — met regularly in our inaugural Freelance Fellowship. Over the weeks, they took what’s important to them and developed projects for and about their communities. It was evident from the beginning that our freelancers have been paying attention, asking questions and seeing needs. If you want a shot of optimism and fresh perspectives, keep company with young adult Tylerites! The Tyler Loop is beyond proud of their ideas and energy and look forward to featuring their work in future posts.

Caroline Crawford

Caroline Crawford is a born-and-raised Tylerite. She has just begun her sophomore year at Mississippi State University, where she studies Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture with a concentration in Human-Wildlife Interaction and a minor in Political Science in hopes of protecting precious wildlife for future generations. As both a student and alum of the newly named Tyler Legacy High School, she has been an instrumental part of the youth-led movement for racial equity and change within the city and its schools. Her freelance fellowship project is an essay exploring a profound and wide-reaching issue in our region: mental health and access to care. Her project is dedicated to a close friend lost to suicide in 2017.  

Govinda Dass

Govinda Dass is a University of Texas at Austin graduate and Tyler ISD educator. You can read about the house “in the woods” of northwest Tyler where he was born, raised and still lives in the April 2019 Out of the Loop storytelling transcript, “Holding on to Tyler’s Green Spaces.” Govinda can give you a list of the best folk punk bands to watch live and the secret to cooking the perfect butter chicken, but the most important gift he hopes to share with his city is the abundance of its natural habitat restored for generations to come. This summer, he has worked to launch a new community-driven organization called Ark Habitat Restoration that will mobilize Tyler residents to plant and harvest native seeds.   

Jess Hale

Jess Hale is currently a senior at The University of Texas at Tyler studying Mass Communication. She has been involved with community events such as arts and culture festivals and Longview Pride. Jess hopes to bring light to the limited reproductive health options people in East Texas have access to.

Claire McGuire

Claire McGuire is a native East Texan who recently moved to Tyler. Her happy places include the serenity of a moonlit lake and the rational and research-based nature of the chemistry lab. She plans to pursue a PhD in Physical Chemistry after graduating from the University of Texas at Tyler. This summer she has been working to launch something that Tyler has never seen: a supportive, celebratory, intergenerational community centered on feminine empowerment through STEM, focused on area-wide middle and high school youth.    

Luke Lee

Luke Lee is a life-long East Texan who recently graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in History. Luke envisions a world where all living things experience happiness, worth and belonging. This summer, that desire motivated him to research how racism has shaped Tyler’s houses and neighborhoods. He is also asking North and South Tyler residents, “What do you love about your neighborhood? What would you change about the place where you live?” Help Luke by completing his Tyler neighborhood survey here.

Karen Mendoza

Karen Mendoza grew up in Mount Pleasant, Texas, and studies Mass Communication at The University of Texas at Tyler. She is happiest when surrounded by good music, art, food, friends, pets and friends’ pets. Her freelance project takes on the local manifestation of a global phenomenon: the impact of Facebook in our social and individual lives. If you are a community leader of any age who uses Facebook to share information, mobilize for change or help others, Karen would love to talk with you.  

Mary Claire Neal

📷 Mary Claire Neal

Mary Claire Neal moved to Tyler with her family when she was in third grade. She studies Sociocultural Anthropology and runs cross country and track at Rice University in Houston, Texas, a city she has grown to call home. As the Tyler Loop’s freelance fellowship coordinator for summer 2020, she is deeply grateful to the freelance fellows for sharing such passionate care and curiosity for Tyler and the future that its residents will create. 

Jasmine Sirls

📷 Jasmine Sirls

Jasmine Sirls is a life-long East Texan who earned an International Baccalaureate diploma from the newly named Tyler Legacy High School. She is a passionate community servant, having volunteered with The Arc Smith County and Tyler Public Library. Jasmine sells her own beautifully handcrafted hypoallergenic essential oil soaps and scrubs. For her freelance project, she is working on a documentary highlighting Tyler neighborhoods. 

Autumn VanBuskirk  

Autumn VanBuskirk has lived in Tyler since childhood and studies English and Language & Technology at The University of Texas at Tyler. She is full of recommendations for shows, movies, novels and plays that you’ll be better for knowing. Autumn is an avid writer of fiction and non fiction. For her freelance project, she took a deep dive into how property taxes are administered in Tyler. Her essay and accompanying podcast demystifies this system for the rest of us and reveals the coronavirus’ impact therein.

Thanks for reading this story. Just one more thing. If you believe in the power of local journalism here in Tyler, I'm hoping that you'll help us take The Loop to the next level.

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Jane Neal is the executive director of The Tyler Loop and storytelling director of Out of the Loop: True Stories about Tyler and East Texas. In addition to the Loop, she works at the Literacy Council of Tyler and Tyler Public Library. Jane is a certified interfaith spiritual guide. She is a member of Leadership Tyler Class 33 and a former teacher of French at Robert E. Lee High School, where she ran a storytelling program called Senior Stories. Jane and her husband Don have four children.
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