Sunday, May 31, 2009

Conference Announcement: Latina/o Communities in the Midwest

by Ann Abbott

Valerie Werpetinski always keeps me updated on great service learning information. She forwarded an annoucement about the "Latina/o Communities in the Midwest Conference."

Although my research is more on student learning than on Latinas/os in the community, I think that a paper on Spanish community service learning could fit in some of the following ways:
  • Student perceptions of the local Latino community as expressed in their reflective essays.
  • Community-expressed needs for partnerships with the program.
  • Students' reported changes in attitude about immigration reform and educational policies after a semester of Spanish community service learning.

Getting IRB approval to do research on minors (the students at the schools where my students work) or vulnerable populations (local Latina/o immigrants themselves) is not an easy process. And I have reservations about using these populations that we serve as research subjects. Still, I will seriously consider submitting a proposal.

Thanks, Val! Be sure to sign up for Engaged Illinois where Val shares all her great ideas and resources.

Student Spotlight: Jeanne Huguelet

by Ann Abbott
photo of Jeanne Huguelet in Prague

Once again, I'm following up on a former Spanish & Illinois student's success. Unlike engineering, accounting or business, when you study Spanish, there is no one clear career path. That's why I like to show my students some of the very different roads our students have taken after graduation.

Here are some highlights about Jeanne Huguelet as a student:
  • She took "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" and did her community service learning at the Refugee Center.
  • She studied an entire academic year in Barcelona, Spain.
  • Upon returning to UI after Barcelona, Jeanne volunteered at Champaign County Health Care Consumers during both semesters of her senior year.
  • She received the Flores Award, an annual faculty-nominated award for the best Spanish major.
  • About Spanish community service learning and the two community organizations where she worked, Jeanne says: "Working in the Spanish-speaking community in Champaign/Urbana was such a great way to practice the language! [V]olunteering at Champaign County Health Care Consumers... was another great experience and was so different than the Refugee Center. It showed me a whole other field and even more challenges that non-English speakers had to deal with when living in the States. The people there were also so friendly."

After graduation, Jeanne went to work for Ace Hardware Corporation, but she knew that she had a passion for education. So she wrote to me earlier this school year to tell me that she was interested in applying to a Masters Program in Education at Loyola University in Chicago. I wrote her a letter, and recently she sent me another e-mail:

"I just wanted to let you know that I was accepted into the grad school program at Loyola that I applied for. I will be starting in the summer and taking two classes. If I can take two classes a semester, I can finish in 2 years. I'm really excited about the program and I'm excited to be in a classroom again. ... If you ever have any students that have questions about the program or about Barcelona or Ace Hardware or anything, feel free to send them my way!"

I'm very happy for Jeanne, and I look forward to having her as an educator-colleague in the very near future. I hope that during this Masters program she can draw upon her Spanish community service-learning experiences in some way.

Good luck, Jeanne!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Twitter: Great Service Learning Conversations Taking Place

by Ann Abbott

Two weeks ago I was at the Faculty Summer Institute, attending sessions on e-portfolios, user-generated video, RSS feeds, social bookmarking, free web 2.0 gadgets and gizmos, SecondLife and WOW, haptic devices and Twitter. Wow! In all the sessions I learned really useful things from great presenters.

Since the Institute, what have I followed up on the most? Twitter.

You can follow me at @AnnAbbott.

I'm following service learning experts and truly enjoying the conversations. I love getting quality information, but in just this short time I can also see something else that I really love: camaraderie. (More on the necessity of finding a supportive community for Spanish community service learning in a future post.)

Here are just a few of the people I am following on Twitter and the information they have recently shared.

National Service Learning Clearinghouse
Bio: America's most comprehensive service-learning resource
One recent tweet: Service-learning = one of the 17 ways college campuses are changing
Why I liked this tweet: It shows that community service learning is on the forefront of important trends and that it needs to be cultivated by our Spanish departments in order to gain new relevance.

Bio: News That Serves from YSA: Act-Report-React-Repeat
One recent tweet: Embedded Philanthropy: Will it Ever Really Add Up?
Why I liked this tweet: I learned a new term! Now I can add a discussion about embedded philanthropy into my "Spanish & Entreperneurship" curriculum. I can also think about how the Refugee Center can benefit from this trend.

Bio: Interested in service-learning, e-learning, and social media, especially in higher education.
One recent tweet: From yesterday: New Post (series): Identifying the Learning in Service-Learning Please leave comments if you have any :)
Why I liked this tweet: If you click the link, the blog post has great information. Kind of a checklist for things to think about as you are designing your community service-learning course. But even more than that, I have been feeling a little lonely on my blog lately. I know I have a good core of readers--faithful and new ones--but I don't get many comments. I'm happy to comment on others' blogs and hopefully drive them to mine, too. Having good conversation is what blogging should be all about, not just a one-way pushing out of info.

Bio: We promote, support and moblize resources and efforts at colleges in Nebraska, South Dakota and Iowa in Service-Learning
One recent tweet: RT @NSLC Employers want students to be more work-ready service-learning is a great way to accomplish this!
Why I liked this tweet: It is a re-tweet of something that NSLC sent out, but I missed it on their profile. Since I am constantly trying to bring the pre-professional training to the fore-front of Spanish community service learning, I'm glad to have even more ammo for my arguments. Love the link. I'm also interested in seeing what a regional consortium can accomplish. I need to think big in terms of linking Spanish communtiy service learning resources and efforts. This could be a good model.

I will continue to follow more people on Twitter who are involved in community service learning, and I hope that people will find some value in my tweets.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

8 Things Never to Say to a Latina/o during Your Spanish Community Service-Learning

by Ann Abbott

Darcy Lear, my friend and fellow Spanish community-service learning colleague at the University of North Carolina, introduced me to this great website: DiversityInc.

As I think about ways to help my Spanish CSL students navigate the professional settings where they work in the community and prepare for their professional careers after graduation, I believe that their work in multi-cultural and multi-lingual environments can be a real asset to their future employers. My goal is to make teaching materials that ask students to do the following:
  • Reflect on the impact of diversity (or lack of diversity) in their learning environments.
  • Compare that to the role of diversity in the work environments where they do their community service learning.
  • Translate what they have learned about working in diverse environments into documents or deliverables that show future employers that they can transfer that knowledge and skills to the work environment in ways that add value to their organization.

DiversityInc's series of articles about "Things NEVER to Say to..." is a good starting point for students to think about their own assumptions. For example, are you guilty of saying--or even thinking--any of these "Ten Things Never to Say to Latino Executives?"

Here is a list of "Eight Things Never to Say to a Community Partner/Member During your Spanish Community Service-Learning." (I don't have ten. If you can think of two more, please add them in a comment here!) OJO: My students work with recent immigrants. Not all Latinos are foreign-born, of course.

1. "Are you a legal immigrant?" There is sooo much wrong with this question. First of all, we never, ever ask about anyone's legal status. Our community partners provide services for all people living in our community. Furthermore, hidden in this question is the flip side: "illegal immigrant." We do not use this term. Immigrants are immigrants. They may be undocumented workers or sin papeles, but we do not refer to a person as illegal. That is to deny the basic humanity and dignity of all people.

2. "What is your status?" Again, all our community partners provide their services without regard to legal status. If this is a question that you need to ask in order to access an outside service or file paperwork, then you need to call your supervisor immediately and let him/her handle the issue.

3. "What is your social security number?" Many forms that our students work with have a space for social security numbers. Never, ever fill this out yourself! We had a problem once in which a student of ours filled out a form for a client that included the wrong social security number. (It wasn't the student's fault; but now it is a rule that you never ask for anyone's SSN.) Identification is a very thorny issue for many of the immigrants we work for, and each community and state has different rules. The Refugee Center, for example, enourages people to get an ITIN. If in doubt, leave that part of the form blank.

4. "Are you Mexican?" Latina/o immigrants are from all Latin American countries. Never assume that someone who speaks Spanish is Mexican (or any other nationality). You can simply ask, "Where are you from?"

5. "You should learn English." It would be great if learning a language were easy. It's not. It's a long process that requires specific conditions. Adult learners working long hours, taking care of families here and there, with varying degrees of literacy in their first language have many obstacles to language learning. I've never met anyone living in the US who didn't want to learn English. I have, however, met a lot of people who simply had to prioritize other things in their lives.

6. "My family immigrated legally. Why can't everyone else?" The simple answer is, they just can’t. Except for special programs, only the educated elite can even apply for a US work visa. Even then, a small number of applications are accepted. Furthermore, I would encourage anyone who says this to do a little research about their family’s immigration story. It’s always wonderful when a person or family can immigrate with full legal status. But often people earn that status because of special agreements between the US and their home countries or because of special employment needs in the US (like nursing).

7. "You're so lucky to be in the US." Most people have no desire to leave their homes, families, communities and countries. It is a hard decision with many risks. There are benefits, but there are also drawbacks. And many immigrants simply want to make enough money to support the family they left behind and then be able to go back home. In the US, you often here that this is "the best country in the world." Best in what way? Certainly not in every way. Don't let ethnocentrism color your perception of what an immigrant's life in the US is like.

8. "I'm going to Mexico for spring break. Where should I go?" I'm not saying that you shouldn't be happy about the trips and study-abroad experiences that you have. However, do be thoughtful before sharing something like this. Our ability to simply take out a passport and go almost anywhere in the world (and to have the money to do so), is a privilege that many immigrants do not have. They often miss births, weddings and funerals in their home countries because of work pressures and the dangers involved in crossing and re-crossing borders. And realize that many people (even in the US), do not have the opportunity to travel for leisure, even within their own national borders.

Any more? Let me know your ideas!

Student Spotlight: Nicholas Ludmer

by Ann Abbott

Spanish community service-learning students working in a health-care facility always makes me nervous. Is their Spanish really good enough? Do they understand cultural nuances well enough? Should they take an introductory course on translation theory before they can work in a clinic?

On the other hand, our community partners and the Latinas/os they serve are often in desperate need of language assistance. Too few certified translators are available in this area, and the costs can simply be out of reach for some organizations and individuals. If our students don't lend a hand, children might end up translating for adults, leading to a number of ethical and familial problems. (See this piece on general issues; this piece on language brokering; and this piece on children interpreters.)

Nicholas Ludmer has convinced me that Spanish community-service learning students can work in a health care facility effectively, because he has.

Here are a list of a few of Nicholas' accomplishments:
  • He took "Spanish in the Community" and worked in one of the bilingual classrooms at Booker T. Washington School.
  • The following semester he did his James Scholars Honors project in a different Spanish course by continuing to work at Booker T. Washington and sending me his reflective essays.
  • He took "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" with me this spring and did his community service learning work at Frances Nelson Health Center, a free clinic that our local Latino community relies heavily upon. I'd also like to point out that his reflective essays were little joyas. Whereas some students write and reflect well, you can tell that they're just completing an assignment. Nick went beyond the mere requirements and wrote essays that caused me to pause and think myself.
  • For his honors project for this course he prepared materials that would help future Spanish community-service learning students work effectively at the same clinic. There are hundreds of vocabulary lists of medical terms, but I like the fact that Nick created a list that is contextualized; these are terms that he has used at the clinic. In the future, I'd like students who work there to expand on this list by listing phrases or common commands that they use on the job. Nick's document is a great starting point.
  • He was chosen as one of the University of Illinois' Senior 100 Honorary. (I didn't even know this. Congratulations, Nick; you are too humble.)
  • Nick is a social entrepreneur himself. He is one of the founders of The Illini 4000, a team that bicycles across the US to raise money for cancer research. In the photo above, you can see that Nick (on the left) was instrumental in raising $50,000 in one year for cancer research. See the video below about their goals and their first trip. Nick is in the voice-over as well as the images.
Nick plans to go to medical school. I have no doubt that he will be a wonderful success. Although he was already accomplished before coming to the Spanish community service-learning courses, I like to think that his work in those courses and with local Latinos will inform his future studies and work. We need doctors with language skills, cultural know-how and the knowledge that only on-the ground experiences within a Latino community can give you.

Good luck, Nick, in all that you do!

Friday, May 22, 2009

How to Reduce Your Community Service Learning Footprint

by Ann Abbott

We all know we should reduce our carbon footprint. For the good of the planet--and for our own good--we should consume less, eat less meat, use renewable/recyclable goods when we do consume, carpool, bike, and in general, become informed about the issues and consequences of our behaviors.

You can calculate your carbon footprint on-line by answering questions about how much animal-based what kinds of food you eat, how much trash you produce, how much you pay for electricity and gas, how much you travel by car, bus, train or plane, etc. In essence, these calculators allow you visualize how much you are taking from the planet, what kind of burden you are placing on it. The result for most of us in the developed world is that we are consuming more of the earth's resources than it can actually provide.

But what about our community-service learning footprint? How can you calculate your community-service learning footprint?

Here are some basics of what I would consider to be a "green" community-service learning program:

Benefits. The program is truly mutually beneficial. Students give as much or more to the community than they "take." Our students' presence in the community and in its organizations is disruptive. For example, community partners must take the time to train our student volunteers, answer their questions and correct their (inevitable) mistakes. They must be providing enough benefit to the community to be worth the disruption they cause.

Sustainability. You contribute to the community's sustainability and have a sustainable community service-learning program yourself. Most real-world problems need long-term, on-going solutions. Therefore, our communities need lasting partnerships. For example, if a biology class works on a water-quality program, in one semester they might be able to analyze the water and suggest treatment solutions. But who will knock at City Hall's door and present the findings? Who will wage a letter-writing program to local businesses to ask for their cooperation? Who will write op-ed pieces and letters to the editor in the local newspaper to inform the public? Who will do follow-up analyses to see if water quality improves over time? In my experience, community partners can use our help at all those stages. So, in order to commit to a community's sustainability, your program must be sustainable. If you're a one-(w0)man show, like me, are you going to burn out? If you started your program or course with grant money, what will you do when that money runs out? Community problems don't take sabbaticals; what will you do if you go on one? Does your department view your program as "nice," but not integral to their mission? If so, it could be the first program to be cut in these tough budgetary times.

Research. Your research benefits the community and "does no harm." I cannot tell you how many times I have been told by Latinos in the community that they don't want to just be the subject of university research, they want to share in the grant resources and benifits of the research. That's great, except I don't do research with community members! (My research is on student learning.) That means that someone before me came into the community and left a really big research footprint that I now have to work around. People have been used. Burned. And now they automatically assume that my students and I have the same motives. Obviously, it's important for us to do research to advance the field of community service learning. But you have to do it in a way that is, again, mutually beneficial.

Transitions. You have clear entry and exit strategies for your students. At this point, I think that most community service learning instructors and program directors do a good job of thinking about effective ways to prepare their students to enter a community and the community partner's organization. But what about when the semester or school year is over? What is your exit strategy for your students? We need to help our students make smooth transitions into the community and out of it, disrupting as little as possible the work of our community partner organizations and the lives of the community members. Without a smooth exit, community members can feel confused or even cheated. When we work with vulnerable populations, some people might feel "abandoned" as our students leave them and their community and go on to new challenges. For communities that struggle with low educational achievement and unemployment, what should your student say or not say when he/she leaves after the semester is over to start a new job or to go on to grad school? And if you have a bumpy exit one semester, it's harder for your students to enter the community the next semester.

Students. Students are aware of their responsibilities and the potential for negative consequences. Most of our students are very responsible, mature people with a real desire to immerse themselves in a community, learn from it and contribute to it. Nonetheless, even well-intentioned students can get things really wrong in the community, causing unintentional damage. Worse still, there are inevitably a few students who carry their negative, often uninformed, attitudes into the community. In short order, they can destroy the trust that you may have worked years to establish. I lost a great community partner when one semester, three of the students who worked there arrived late for meetings and essentially showed through their behavior that they weren't truly committed to the organization. Some organizations may tolerate that because they see what they gain from the other students. Now, each semester when I reach out to that former community partner again, the answer is always "no thank you."

Right now, there is no "Community Service Learning Footprint" calculator on the web with graphics that demonstrate how many resources you consume. But the metaphor is not far off the mark. Don't get me wrong; the vast majority of community service learning creates truly impressive synergies between students and communities. But just like we need to know how much of our planet's resources we are using when we drive to work, eat beef and take long, hot showers every day, we also need to know if we are depleting the community's reserves of time, resources and good will with our community service learning projects.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Spanish Community Service Learning Textbook: Writers' Perspectives

by Ann Abbott
As many of you know, I have been writing a textbook for Spanish community service learning. I'll post more about it when it's closer to release time.

For now though, I have been reflecting on what an emtional roller coaster I've been on. I've worked very hard on the textbook, but there were times (late-pregnancy and early-months-with-infant) that I didn't work on it at all. The editing process tends to have that familiar "hurry up and wait" pace. Reviewers love the concept; reviewers hate the concept. Some days I felt I was on a roll. Other days I felt like an imposter.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Community Informatics Seed Grant Will Help Incorporate Social Media into Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott
image from

I'm very happy that I received a seed grant from the Community Informatics Initiative (CII) at the University of Illinois!

CII's most recent newsletter lists all the grant winners and their projects. The newsletter also includes items of interest to those of us doing Spanish community service learning:
  • The "Community as Intellectual Space" conference in Chicago's Paseo Boricua,
  • The third annual eChicago symposium, entitled "Cybernavigating our Cultures," and
  • The project on Participatory GIS for Empowering Low-Resource Communities
The funding will release me from teaching one course in the upcoming year (2009-10) in order to focus my efforts on finding external funding sources and tweaking my proposal to incorporate social media into Spanish community service learning. Of course, I'll be blogging about my ideas and progress with the grant-writing process.

In addition to the funding and time off from teaching, I am most excited about learning from the truly excellent people and projects within the CII and the Graduate School of Library and Information Sciences. The are a top-ranked program--with good reason. I know I will learn a lot from them and find much to emulate.

Student Spotlight: Nancy Parman

by Ann Abbott

    Nancy Parman was the kind of student I wish I would have been: smart, fun, socially-aware, involved and artistic. Here are some of the things Nancy did as a U of I undergrad:
Nancy wrote to me yesterday:

"Hi, Profesor Abbott! Que tal? The last time I wrote you you sent me some links to Ashoka and Kiva stuff, which I looked at and it's super interesting. Currently I am editing some video footage for Ashoka's website as a volunteer thing. It's so interesting to hear about the new and different ways people are using to fight global poverty. The video I'm editing is about distributing rural technologies."

I was blown away. She's volunteering for Ashoka! It's such a great organization.

But what I am particularly struck by is the concept of virtual volunteering. This is something that I want to emphasize in my grant proposal for social media and Spanish community service learning. As I see it, virtual volunteering can enhance Spanish community service learning in at least the following ways:
  • Students who need to make up hours can find an on-line project and complete it however it best fits into their own schedule--even at midnight, or on the weekend.
  • Some tasks that our community partners need, like translations, can perhaps be best accomplished through a community editing effort.
  • It can complement the face-to-face service projects they do locally, allowing them to form an idea of the the "global Hispanic community."
  • Students who want to continue to engage with the Latino/Hispanic communities can do so after their course is over.
  • It can engage students with limited mobility or other disabilities.
  • Students can bring their language skills to agencies and organizations that are beyond the immediate Champaign-Urbana area.

So, I will be very interested to follow up with Nancy about her experience working on videos for Ashoka. She's a model of what we can do when we combine social entrepreneurship, Spanish community service learning and social media.

Good luck with all your projects, Nancy!

Friday, May 8, 2009

How to Say "Gracias" in a Spanish Community Service Learning Course

by Ann Abbott

In the teaching materials for the "Spanish in the Community" course, I ask students at the end of the semester to write thank-you notes to their community partner or community members.

When I originally wrote the materials, I did it because I thought it was important professionaly and personally to show your gratitude to the people who have taught you all semester long. Our community partners put a lot of time and effort into supervising our students' work and teaching them about the community; it's only right to acknowledge that.

What I found out was that this is another case in which professional skills, cultural knowledge and language proficiency are more intertwined than we realize.

Professional skills. We all know that following up from a job interview with a hand-written note is professional must. But when is it appropriate in other occassions? Required? Frowned upon? I think that the vast majority of our students say please and thank you every single time they are in the community; they are lovely, polite people. But putting something down in writing on nice stationery is a professional gesture that people can overlook. I also think that students may associate note-writing with "jobs" and their work in the community as "just volunteering." I think it's clear in this blog and in the curricular writing that I do that I want students to see their work in the community in pre-professional terms.

One of my TAs this semester, Lily Martinez, took the thank-you note to a new level! Her students made the thank-you notes in the photo above. Not only do they convey an important message with their words, they also show that they have taken the time to present their thoughts in a form that unique and hand-crafted. Thank you, Lily, for your creativity! :)

Cultural knowledge. I hate broad cultural generalizations, my experience, formal written notes are more important in Latin cultures that I am familiar with (Italian and Hispanic) than in the US. I know that we can all find counter-examples to that statement. But in general, saying thank you with a written note, even a gift, seems to be de rigueur in professional (and some personal) contexts in Latino cultures.

I also find that my Italian and Hispanic acquaintances usual include in their "thank-you" a reference to my family. I remember many years ago when someone from a Hispanic or Italian culture would tell me, "And give my greetings to your mother," I would politely say yes, but never actually pass on their greetings. I thought it was a mere formality. I quickly realized that they would indeed follow-up and fully expected that I HAD indeed conveyed their greetings. That was a cultural lesson I learned the hard way and that our students can benefit from as well.

Language proficiency. I was surprised when I read the students' thank-you notes the first semester I did this and saw all the mistakes and limitations in their Spanish. The majority simply did not know the language that is used in a thank-you note, probably because they had never actually had to write one to a real person before. Here are a few of the issues I have noticed over the years.
  1. Gracias. That is the only way many of our students know how to say thank you. In my revised materials for this lesson, I try to introduce students to a wider array of possible expressions: Quisiera agradecerle/te la oportunidad de poder..., Le/Te agradezco su amabilidad..., Le/Te doy las gracias por haber me ayudado..., Le/Te quiero dar mis gracias por la paciencia con que recibió todas mis preguntas...
  2. Tú/Usted. I saw many notes that went back and forth between addressing the person as or Usted.
  3. Por. Many, many students use para instead of por in these constructions. They need to be reminded (taught for the first time?) that you always say "Gracias por..."
  4. I had a good time./I enjoyed myself. You probably know where I'm going with this... Many students translate these phrases literally, and wrongly. To say something like, "I had a good time working with the kids in your classroom," you would say something like "Me gustó mucho trabajar con los niños." Often I see mistakes like, "Me disfruté mucho..." (correct word, but shouldn't be least not in this context!) or "Tuve un buen tiempo..."
  5. Wrapping it up. Many of the students form strong attachments to the people--especially children--that they work with all semester long. They close their notes by giving them words of encouragement and wishing them luck in the future. One expression that would be useful in this context but that I rarely see: "Que te/le vaya bien (con)..." And a student's (lack of) control of the subjunctive mode usual becomes clear in the closing lines: "Espero que..." I would say that the majority of students don't follow up that phrase with the subjunctive in their thank-you notes.

Despite any mistakes in grammar or vocabulary, I mail these notes to our community partners to show them how much their work is truly appreciated by the students. And how much I appreciate their patience with and encouragement with our partnerships.

So, this is my big THANK YOU to the SPAN 232/332 students, TAs and our community partners in Spring 2009: ¡Gracias por todo! :)

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Faculty Spotlight: Bruce Elliott-Litchfield

by Ann Abbott

It is truly a pleasure to work with wonderful colleagues. They can give you support, ideas and collaboration.

Prof. Bruce Elliott-Litchfield is a Faculty Fellow with the Academy for Entrepreneurial Leadership, and despite the fact that he is in Engineering and I am in Spanish, I see ways in which our work and our thinking coincide. His work with the University of Illinois' chapter of Engineers without Borders is very impressive.

But one thing that Bruce has obviously done a lot more thinking about than I have is creativity. In fact, he teaches a course called "Creativity, Innovation and Vision." I heard him speak about his course at the recent Retreat the Academy hosted, and I also enjoyed reading about it in the Academy's latest newsletter.

There are a few quotes that I wanted to pull out here.

Bruce Elliott-Litchfield on the lessons he passes on about creativity: "Each of us has creative abilities, and each of us can enhance our creativity. Some of the core lessons of the course include understanding cognitive scaffolds, using provocations to deal with obstacles to creativity, viewing from multiple perspectives – seeing what others do not see, understanding deeply and making connections, stockpiling and combining ideas, being persistent and using periods of incubation, being comfortable with ambiguity, delaying decisions and remaining open to options, assessing and taking risks, and having courage to be creative and to face opposition."

Most of the things that Bruce lists above are things that I and other entrepreneurial people I know tend to do intuitively. But I think it is fascinating to see them presented in this way and for students to have the opportunity to think about these techniques, maybe even habits, in an explicit way. I also like that the way Bruce describes the creative process cuts across all fields. He teaches in engineering, but I think that my Spanish students could easily identify with all the concepts he outlines above.

Bruce Elliott-Litchfield on what he views as the most significant benefit for students who take his course: "I hope that students leave the course thinking in a new way. I hope that they are more curious, more open, slower to close the door to ideas, and more able to deal with obstacles to generate ideas. I hope that students develop skills and attitudes that will serve them well, and that they experience the joy that comes from the creative process."

I wish that all professors had these kinds of learning objectives in mind for their students! Just the other day I attended a presentation by a professor who proudly displayed the stacks of papers that represented all the terms and concepts that his students were expected to learn in his course. My jaw dropped. (One other person's eyes widened. We exchanged complicit glances.) I have no doubt that our extremely intelligent students can memorize all that information. But is that what we really want them to do?

Learning objectives like Bruce's prepare students to take what they learn in their disciplines, deepen their knowledge in it through a combination of learning and experience, but then play with those concepts in new and creative ways. That's what our students need when they go out into the world.

Student Reflection: 10 Things I Learned From Span 332

by Megan Knight

*The best classes are the ones where you get to know all of your classmates’ names.

*Setting deadlines is a lot easier than meeting them.

*Tutoring elementary school kids requires a lot of patience and energy…and hand sanitizer.

*It pays to step out of your comfort zone.

*Volunteering is a really rewarding experience.

*You always have opportunities; it just depends on how you look at the situation.

*Working in a group not only means getting work done easier but also getting to know people better.

*Entrepreneurial skills are invaluable in today’s society.

*If you start something, you need to finish it.

*If you’re REALLY lucky, your teacher will buy you Jimmy Johns (thanks Ann!!)

I really learned a lot from my experiences this semester in Span 332. I feel like I now have a better grasp on my strengths and weaknesses and what I like and do not like. This class was really interesting and fun, and I always enjoyed going to it. Volunteering is such a necessity, and I am so happy that there are classes at U of I that promote it. For all of you trying to decide on a Spanish class to take next semester, I highly suggest taking Span 232 and 332. You will be amazed by the things you learn that are not from the textbook (although you do learn a lot from the book)! Thanks for a great semester!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Using Real Job Offerings as an Assessment Tool in Spanish CSL

by Ann Abbott

In my previous post I talked about some ways to connect Spanish CSL to a job search.

In this post, I want to share a way that I am asking students to do that as part of the curriculum.

I wanted to make a final exam for my "Spanish & Entrepreneurship" students that was meaningful, not just in exercise in proving that they could do a final exam. So this is what I have done.

1. I found this job listing on (Update: the job ad expired at that link. You can read it here.) These are the things I liked about it and thought would add to the meaningfulness of the exercise:
  • It's real. I didn't want anything fake.
  • It's for a job in Mexico. Several of my students have expressed interest in at least considering the idea of working abroad.
  • It's got a good job title. The job title might intimidate some students, thinking they could never apply for that. However, resource-gathering and strategic alliances are all things that we covered in this course and that they did for their projects.
  • It's entrepreneurial. The position requires that a person be entrepreneurial for the good of the organization. This is spelled out explicitly in the "Selection Criteria." I believe that those are qualities that my students have displayed in their work in both "Spanish in the Community" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship."

2. This is a take-home exam, and I wrote these instructions to my students:

Your exam consists of a 700-word cover letter for a real job ad. Please read the job description in the attachment below and follow the directions for how to write a cover letter. Please include specific examples from your work in SPAN 232/332 (along with any other pertinent information) in your cover letter; please consider the importance of your team projects, final presentations, research, etc. You may write the cover letter in English or Spanish.

This exam is an opportunity for you to synthesize and highlight all your work and talents.

Do you know how to write a good cover letter? Here are some resources: (This link is about job interviews, but it explains the importance of using specific examples.)

3. I'm excited to read my students' cover letters and will let you know how they turn out!

Can Spanish Community Service Learning Lead to a Real Job?

by Ann Abbott

A lot of students get excited about their work in the community and using Spanish on the job and then want to find a job doing the same. So I get a lot of questions from students about how they can go about finding a job using Spanish in Champaign-Urbana or Chicago.

Chicago, I don't have any answers. I don't know the community and the agencies well enough.

Champaign-Urbana, I decided to ask a couple of people whom I thought would have some good suggestions. Both of their answers require students to do the leg-work themselves; they are truly just ideas to get students started.

Are you willing to really work to try to find a job using your Spanish? Then read what they have to say:

1. Deb Hlavna, Co-Director of ECIRMAC. Deb knows all the social service agencies in town as well as the places that could use Spanish speakers. ECIRMAC is always looking for an employee who is very fluent in Spanish and is a self-starter.

"If it were me, I would talk with the hospitals, the state of IL (DCFS etc), migrant headstart, headstart and even businesses where lots of Spanish speakers frequent. Western Union etc."

2. Nicholas Ludmer, SPAN 232/332 student and social entrepreneur. Nick took it upon himself to find work in the community this semester that coincided with his career aspirations--to be a doctor. He's doing an honors project to describe what students working in the clinic need in order to perform well, and in the meantime, he took the time to write this very detailed message to a student who is looking for a job. Thanks, Nick!

"My name is Nick, I am currently a student of Professor Abbott's in Span 332. She forwarded me your e-mail about looking for a job in Champaign, and there may actually be a position available at the place where I volunteer.

"It's called Frances Nelson Health Center, it's a health clinic out on Prospect that serves the uninsured and underinsured. Out of all of the medical providers that work there, only one speaks spanish and they are always in need of translators. In fact, one of the translators that worked at the desk just quit and I believe they are trying to fill his position.

"The responsibilities of an employed translator there are usually 1 of 3 things:
  1. You can work in medical records and help them translate and sort the information that comes through. You would also probably help make phone calls letting patients know of appointment times.
  2. You can work at the front desk, helping patients arrange appointments, discussing billing issues, and directing them to various departments within the clinic.
  3. Or, they'll have you translate between patients and the medical care providers (Doctors and Nurses)

"Although that's how they appear to have it broken down, odds are you'd probably end up doing all three at some point as they most need you.

"Anyway, I've really enjoyed working there. The people and the staff are great, and I've learned a lot. If you're interested, I could ask the site director tomorrow if they are still looking for a translator and let you know.Otherwise, here is the phone number for the site director. Her name is Andrea (I think her last name is Goldberg, it says on her answering machine). (217) 403-5401. She's definitely who you'd want to talk to. Don't be discouraged though if she doesn't call you back right away, she's really busy. It took me like three weeks to actually get in contact with her.

"Again, if you want me to inquire for you I'dbe happy to do so. Also, if you have any questions about the actual experience feel free to send me an e-mail.FELICIDADES EN TU GRADUACION!~Nick"

Monday, May 4, 2009

Student Spotlight: Lisa Medearis

by Ann Abbott

The student in this picture, Lisa Medearis, has contributed just as much to the Spanish & Illinois program as she has gotten out of it--if not more! It is an absolute delight to see students bring all their talents and experiences together for the good of the community as well as their own learning.

Here are some highlights of Lisa's experiences and contributions:
But what I'd like to highlight here is the honors project that Lisa did this semester for the Spanish & Entrepreneurship course. With a project like this, we can really see the power of the James Scholar Learning Agreements--they can push students in new directions and have them create a deliverable that highlights their academic learning while at the same time contributing something of value to the community.

In Lisa's own words, this is what she did for her honors project:

"I have attached the final copy of my James Scholar grant project. In addition to writing a 1-page proposal for ECIRMAC, I conducted some extensive research on the Orange Krush foundation and their giving patterns (typical grant size, etc.), also attached."

I am very impressed with Lisa's research abilities, writing skills and ability to merge the two in very useful documents that can be accessed and utilized over and over again. When I asked her to document where she got the specific data on the number of Latino immigrants, she sent me this answer:

"Here's the link where I originally found the statistics. Since it was from FAIR (an immigration non-profit), I went on the US census website to confirm their stats (which checked out), so I just cited the US census bureau in the letter (shorter citation :)"

I would like to congratulation Lisa on her outstanding work and thank her for helping ECIRMAC, the local Latino community, and me.

Student Reflection: Trust Me, I Can Help You

by Sarah Moauro

For a class project in SPAN 332, I had to write up an informational “module” on trust between volunteers and the clients or students they work with while volunteering. In doing so, I had to spend a lot of time reflecting on my own experiences while working at the Refugee Center. Although I incorporated this into my project, I was only able to do so in very general terms, not elaborating much on details. Now that the project is nearly complete, I feel that sharing my portion in a little more personal, a little less instructional form here gives it a finishing touch.

During my few months at the Refugee Center, I’ve have many interactions in which I felt trust to be an issue to some degree. For the most part, they were simple things that would frustrate me. Quite a few times, a Spanish-speaking client would call, ask for Guadalupe, the bilingual counselor, and when I would tell them she was out at lunch and ask if I could take a message or help them with anything, they would say no. I could tell that they were reluctant to talk to me because I was not a familiar voice or because they could tell from my accent that my Spanish was not my first language. I would understand having apprehensions toward talking to someone you don’t know; I would understand being uncomfortable trying to communicate with someone who doesn’t fluently speak your language. But not trusting me enough to give me your name and number for me to pass on to Guadalupe in a few hours? That I wouldn’t understand.

Although their reluctance was what would frustrate me, the only thing I could do was change what I was doing. In response, I would try to sound more confident in my speech, have more specific information to give them, and to come off as, besides a language barrier, someone that they could trust with their message rather than attempting to call back multiple times. This is how I felt most issues of trust happened, and the general way in which I approached the situations. Over the course of the semester, I the rejection to messages became much less to the point of being almost non-existent and more conversational phone calls became the norm. It’s not that my Spanish had morphed into perfection over these months. It was because I was persistent in my demeanor, becoming if nothing else a familiar voice that gets messages where they need to go. To gain trust you don’t have to undergo miraculous transformations or put forth outstanding efforts – you just have to keep trying each and everyday to slowly prove your worthiness of their confidence, regardless of how simple the responsibility.