Sunday, April 21, 2013

What I Love about Spanish Community Service Learning

I received my CAPE award from Chancellor Phyllis Wise, whom I admire immensely.
by Ann Abbott

I was honored to receive one of the 2013 Chancellor's Academic Professional Excellence Awards. All the awardees do wonderful work, and I was pleased to be in the company of Cheelan Bo-Linn--a long-time friend of mine who taught me everything I know about using student teams in my teaching--and William P. Kruidenier--the father-in-law of one of my most special former students, Jill Kruidenier.

I am especially grateful to Dr. Sharon Irish who nominated me. (For just a hint of the wonderful thinking and writing that Sharon does, watch this video about her book Suzanne Lacy: Spaces Between.) I am also very thankful to those who wrote letters of support for my nomination: Prof. Silvina Montrul, the Head of my department; Dr. Darcy Lear, my colleague, co-author and co-conspirator; and Dr. Deb Hlavna, my community partner and co-Director of the Refugee Center.

But when I gave my acceptance speech, I didn't thank anyone. We were told we had one to two minutes to speak. I told a story. 

"I would like to share a brief anecdote that illustrates why I love my work at the intersection of teaching, public engagement and research.

"Ryan Kuramitsu was a student in my "Spanish in the Community" course last semester. This is a service learning course, and Ryan did his service learning work at the Refugee Center in Urbana. His supervisors were Deb, Guadalupe, Ha and Maite.

"One day, a Spanish-speaking woman came to the Refugee Center, holding a death certificate. In English. In a language she didn't speak. But she knew that her son had died in [another city]. Deb turned to Ryan and said something like, "This is yours."

"Ryan took that assignment and ran. He called the [other city's] police department and spoke to people of all ranks, even in the forensics unit. As a result of Ryan's work in Spanish and English, this mother in our community found out that her son was stabbed in the back, but while he was doing the right thing: breaking up a fight. Small consolation for a grieving mother, yet so important for her to know.

"During this process, Ryan had opportunites to learn about hegemony, the confluence of languages and power, and as always, the connections between individual lives and immigration policies. Students like Ryan and the work they do provide rich data for my research in the fields of Languages for Specific Purposes (LSP) and Community Service Learning (CSL).

"But then the course ended. Then what? We took it to the next level.

"Ryan's personal passion is fighting human trafficking. He even started an RSO about that: Carry the Fire. The Refugee Center, on a regular basis, deals with humans who have been trafficked. I worked with Ryan on a proposal for the Chancellor's Public Engagement Student Fellows program. If he wins, he will build awareness about human trafficking in Champaign-Urbana.

"That is what I love about my work in the engaged humanities: the learning is transformative, community-campus ties are strengthened, and the research makes a difference."


  1. Ann, it is an honor to know you and learn from you! You deserve all this recognition and more. The Kruidenier family and I loved hearing the touching story about your student and the admirable things he is doing for the Champaign-Urbana community through your class.

  2. Such a profound story, Ann. Students who experience this level of connection to people are transformed by you, by your classes, and by the communities in which they work.
    Sharon Irish

  3. Ann, thanks for sharing that story. What a great example of what can be done in a partnership between your class and the Refugee Center. Congrats on your award; it is well deserved!

  4. thank you so much for honoring me in your speech, Profesora. Hasta muy pronto y espero que todo vaya bien contígo. thank you so much for your encouragement and fingers crossed about the fellows program! :)

  5. Dear Ann, congratulations on your award! The students in Illinois are very fortunate to have a professor like you who is leading them to better lives.
    The story you shared was wonderful as well: the amazing power of good teaching.
    Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us in your blog. I'm always learning from you.