Many students feel that they must decide during the beginning of their senior year whether or not to attend graduate school. Common wisdom holds that once you leave the university, it's hard to switch gears and become a student again. Yet I am seeing more and more students return to graduate school after working for a year or two.
One example: Jessica Polos.
Jessica took SPAN 232, "Intensive Spoken Spanish" with me before I converted it to a community-based learning course. She had already studied abroad and truly surprised me with her fluent Spanish and native-like pronunciation. She was obviously a very talented second language-learner.
She was also exactly the kind of student who would have benefited the most from a Spanish community-service learning course. She was already serving the local Latino community with her work at El Centro por los Trabajadores (now closed). I'd like to think that her community service could have been enhanced by the reflective techniques and classroom activities that now form the basis of SPAN 232. But she had already obviously learned a lot on her own. The other students, however, benefit so much when one of their classmates already has considerable experience with either service work in general or specifically with Latino communities. Jessica would have enriched the classroom discussions and level of analysis considerably.
And we have many students like Jessica. But we often don't know that. Traditional classroom learning rarely gives us access into what students are like outside the classroom. But when we engage students in community service learning and the associated teaching materials, we often see them more fully. Reading students' diarios escritos gives me insight into their personalities and characters that I would never get from a traditional test; hearing my community partners praise a student for a particular skill that never gets utilized in the classroom makes me appreciate all the different ways in which students can contribute to a social and academic endeavor.
Jessica has worked in the Illinois Office of the Comptroller in Chicago for the past 2 1/2 years. Now she is applying to graduate programs in public policy and international relations. Her work experience will certainly enhance her profile. But I believe that her work with El Centro por los Trabajadores will as well.
Jessica proves that you don't have to enroll in grad school right after you graduate.
She proves that Spanish majors can get jobs!
She proves that civic engagement can be woven into all aspects of our lives: community-based learning, jobs, post-graduate studies, whole careers, as well as volunteer work.
Her resume shows students how they can do it, too. I'll write about that later.