Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Chancellor Phyllis Wise "Gets" Public Engagement

Chancellor Wise sets a strong, positive example for everyone at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. This initiative is just one moe example of her leadership.
by Ann Abbott

It is very encouraging to work in a university in which the Chancellor seems to really understand what public engagement is and its importance. For us. For others. For students. For faculty. For image and branding, sure. But also for real exchanges of information and intellectual advancements that wouldn't happen in other ways.

We received the message below from Chancellor Wise today. I feel that her voice from above frames the work that my Spanish students do in their community service learning. It legitimizes, in a way, their service to our local Spanish-speakers. It echoes the importance that they find in their work beyond campus.

I also hope that our department--the Department of Spanish, Italian & Portuguese--can come up with a project that reflects our commitment to languages and cultures.

Thank you, Chancellor Wise, for this message and this project.

To All of Our Campus Community:

As you know, part of the land grant mission of the University of Illinois is to engage and serve the public and our local communities.  During the Visioning Future Excellence at Illinois process, I met with a number of corporate executives in Chicago.  One of the things that really impressed me was how many of them talked about programs where they encouraged their employees to go out and serve their communities together on a specified day.  As part of National Volunteer Week this spring (April 21-27) I would like to initiate a Community-Campus Day of Service here at Illinois. It is my hope that this will become a new tradition here on our campus.

On Saturday, April 20th, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign will kick off National Volunteer Week with our inaugural Community-Campus Day of Service.  Units are encouraged to participate in or hold activities that benefit the local community on this day or at any time during the week.  One of the projects that is already being planned  on April 20th will involve packaging 146,000 meals - one thousand for every year since the University was chartered - that will be donated to local food banks and distributed to the many needy families right here in Urbana-Champaign.  We will need 350-400 volunteers for this project alone, and I am inviting all students, staff, and faculty to take part in this day of service.

Illinois is partnering with the United Way and local Rotary Clubs to organize other projects as well.  We will celebrate our commitment to the community in the afternoon after projects are completed with a casual reception at the Indi go Art Gallery in downtown Champaign.

Several campus units, including the Office of Public Engagement, the Office of Volunteer Programs, the Activities and Recreation Center, and Student Dining and Residential Programs, have already agreed to sponsor the Community-Campus Day of Service.  I encourage other units to sponsor or to get involved in this campus-wide initiative. Sarah Zehr from the College of Engineering has volunteered to lead the coordination of the event.

I hope you will join me in participating in one of these projects, and encourage those in your units to participate as well.  This is a wonderful opportunity to work as a team to benefit our community and demonstrate our commitment to public engagement.  You can learn more about the Day of Service and register to volunteer or report a project that your unit is working on at

We are fortunate to live in such a vibrant community, which is one of the strengths of our university. Thank you for your commitment to making our community an even better place to live for everyone in the Illinois family.

Best wishes,

Phyllis Wise
Vice President, University of Illinois
Chancellor, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Monday, January 21, 2013

What Comes after Spanish Community Service Learning?

We need people who can negotiate among languages, national cultures, subcultures and school cultures.
by Ann Abbott

Two educational situations in particular seem to evoke strong reactions from my Spanish community service learning students:

  • Students who have worked in a bilingual classroom throughout the semester are shocked by what happens when the class has a substitute teacher who does not speak Spanish. Gradually, over the course of the semester, my students become accustomed to a classroom atmosphere in which learning took place in Spanish or both Spanish and English. Then all of a sudden, one day, with a monolingual English-speaking substitute teacher, they see the learning and classroom discipline come to a screeching halt. My students often jump in and play very important roles in those situations, surprising even themselves at how much they can contribute.
  • Students who have done their community service learning work in a school or with any other type of community partner organization are pleasantly surprised by how important their roles as interpreters are during parent-teacher conferences at Central High School. They suddenly see how important the role of parents are in the children's education and how that is compromised when parents and teachers cannot communicate because of linguistic barriers.
But then what?

Students become aware of important issues. They witness their own capacity to provide access to linguistically and culturally appropriate services. The negative consequences of not having those services becomes readily apparent. Then they finish the semester. Graduate. Look for jobs. Move on with their lives.

We can do a better job of letting students know about opportunities to continue being a linguistic and cultural "bridge" to Spanish-speakers in the U.S.

My friend and colleague, Prof. Soria Colomer, sent me this information about a very interesting short course: The University of Georgia’s Professional Interpreter in Education Certificate Program. In addition to being a valuable course in and of itself, I really like the idea of providing language and cultures training to current students as well as practicing professionals in smaller "chunks" than the typical 15-week on-campus semester. 

Students, take a look at the program. Even if you can't go to the University of Georgia, use this as a beginning to search for similar opportunities closer to you or in your own professional area if you're not involved with education.

Why Emigrate? Answering This in a Spanish Community Service Learning Class

Our public discourse presents immigrants as criminals, not as people escaping  out-of-control "criminalidad."
by Ann Abbott

We have an economic public discourse on immigration in this country. And a criminal discourse.

We do not have a humanitarian public discourse on immigration. Not even a humane one, really.

So when students come to our Spanish community service learning courses, they bring with them the weight of that dominant discourse. That is, whether they are pro-immigration or not, the terms in which our students engage the topic of immigration reflect our dominant public discourse: the economic costs-benefits of immigration and the criminalization of the act of migration. This is not our students' fault, of course! It is simply our responsibility to broaden their thinking on the topic.

Lesson 14 in Comunidades is titled ¿Por qué emigrar? It shows students that there are myriad reasons for which people make the difficult decision to leave behind their homes, families, languages and cultures.

One, just one of those reasons is to escape violence and lack of personal security.

This week, CNN featured photos about violence in Honduras. Students can look through the photos, generate a list of questions that the photos raise, team up to answer those questions, then present their reports to the class or on-line.

Immigration is complex. Immigrants are complex human beings, like all of us. We have a good opportunity in our Spanish community service learning students to have students engage deeply with that complexity.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Live and Work in Spain: Language and Culture Assistants

by Ann Abbott

I hope that all my students will consider applying for this.

Dear Professors, Instructors and Administrators,
The Education Office of the Embassies of Spain in the United States and Canada is proud to announce the opening of the application period of the Language and Culture Assistants Program in Spain.
This wonderful program allows recent college graduates, and even juniors and seniors, to spend a year or two in Spain working as English or French Language Assistants in Spanish K-12 schools.
Please, take a look at the website of the program and at the Application Manual, and feel free to distribute it amongst your students and your community. We anticipate a large number of assignments for 2013-14:
Attached you will find the promotional brochure of the program, which we hope you and your students will find informative.
The application period opens on January 10th, and applications can be submitted on-line until April 2nd.
For any question, do not hesitate to contact or your Regional Education Advisor of the Embassy of Spain.