Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Student Reflection

Picture is from

by Kelly Klus

As many of my friends and I have been thrown into the reality of graduation, I’ve had several reflective conversations about the Champaign-Urbana community. C-U has an unbelievable amount of resources and opportunities, of nooks and crannies that are impossible to explore within four years. The campus community has so much to offer in the form of RSOs, clubs, fascinating research, professionals and experts in any given field; the surrounding community has even more to add.

ECIRMAC and SOAR were two of these niches that I feel very fortunate to have had the opportunity to explore some of the great diversity CU has to offer- especially grateful that these two organizations allowed me to explore diversity that was not centered in the University experience. According to ECIRMAC’s website, 24.3% of Urbana’s residents speak a language other than English at home, more than the reported 20.1% nationwide. Getting to interact with a portion of this community was inspiring and I know I will continue to seek similar opportunities throughout the rest of my life. I met so many hardworking people--the women that keep ECIRMAC functioning everyday are tireless, the students that volunteer are integral, and the people that come in to seek support are determined, their stories moving.

I’ve spent the past few days at home in the suburbs, and as I was thinking about this last blog post I thought about looking at what resources were available to immigrants and refugees in the community in which I grew up. My preconception was that Naperville’s and the surrounding communities’ diversity is so incomparable to the CU community that I wasn’t expecting to find many services/support/resources for refugees here. I pretty immediately stumbled upon a World Relief branch in DuPage/Aurora (  The office offers very similar services to ECIRMAC—legal and community advocacy, citizenship applications, translation of documents, ESL courses. Like ECIRMAC, World Relief seems to be a center that is capable and willing to offer a broad spectrum of services. World Relief has an explicit religious component to their organization-- which differs from ECIRMAC. 

This summer I hope to continue to volunteer at ECIRMAC while I’m in Champaign. I think an interesting project would be to inquire into similar organizations within different communities—like World Relief DuPage— to see how their day-to-day activities, services and programs operate. Opening lines of communication between similar organizations could be mutually beneficial for the organizations and would offer opportunity to recognize opportunities for improvement or change as well as share knowledge and resources.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott


Our group consisted of three members (Ryan, Celia, and myself). The purpose of our group project was to help out the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) organize their fundraising dinner.

The East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) has provided services to refugees and their families in the East Central Illinois area for 32 years. In the past year alone, they have served over 2,100 clients! Their services include resettlement, translation, adjustment, citizenship,and a children's tutoring program. 

Although they are supported by small federal, state and local grants, the Center depends heavily on this annual fundraiser. As a group, we worked diligently to market the event and seek sponsors.We created the flyer pictured below and distributed it to local businesses while asking for any sponsorship they could offer. Even though it was really tough to find sponsors, we still tried to spread the word about the event as much as possible We did this by sending out emails to our current and past professors, leaving the flyers at the local businesses we visited and also by asking some departments to include the flyer in their weekly newsletter. 

On the day of the event, Saturday, May 3rd, Celia and I attended the event and helped out in any way possible. However, there wasn’t much help needed that day since all the tables were set and people were able to serve the food themselves. Additionally, there were assigned people who were collecting tickets. Our presence, however, was much appreciated by the Refugee Center.

(Maritza Guzman)

So what? 

Now that we’ve heard a bit about the what, now I’d like to spend a bit of time speaking on the ramifications of our project, and on the lessons we have learned that we would like to pass on. 

I should start this section by saying that by helping the Center raise necessary funds to continue their services, we helped ensure their organization had the funds to continue their work. As Maritza discussed, the services that ECIRMAC offers are varied, and the majority of these services are completely free to the clients who visit the center. This is great, but it also means that the financial capital gained from fundraising events like the annual dinner are absolutely central to maintaining the mission of the organization. 

And this is something I want to touch on briefly as well: in this way, we learned that although an organization may identify as a “nonprofit,” that doesn’t mean they don’t need to make any profits in order to keep operating! On the contrary to tie in some of what we have been learning in our in-class discussions – all organizations need to be able to produce something worthy and desirable, whether it be a social or a physical product. 

As we have seen through our analysis of Kiva and other such groups, nonprofit organizations like ECIRMAC also need to have all the marks that other good, respected for-profit companies need to have. These include being financially transparent, being conscious of their “branding,” and image, and having reliable, stellar marketing to reach new relevant populations. 

From working on this project with Maritza and Celia, I think we have all come to see that these are indeed challenges and concerns faced by groups like the Refugee Center. We benefited from this aspect as well as from being involved with an organization that does this kind of work so well. 

Because my group members and I do want to work with multilingual and multicultural populations in the future, the experience we gained from directly working with this community was actually a nice complement to the in-class learning we’ve done on the subject. 

On a personal note, as someone who one day wants to work in the public (or nonprofit) sector, this project helped present me with a more sobering view of the industry as a whole. Put simply, I’m starting to see that working as a professional for an organization that “just helps people” or “just makes the world a better place” is no simple affair. Working to improve the world in this way requires no less innovative, responsible, or hardworking a mind than the for-profit sector demands. Whether one works for Boeing or Kiva, it’s not like the mindset of the employee must completely change

Having spent almost 4 semesters now volunteering at this particular refugee center, I have seen firsthand the positive “so what?” work this organization does with the limited resources they have. As a simple volunteer, I have been fortunate enough to have been thrown completely out of my undergraduate comfort zone, helping clients with complicated and intense issues related to immigration, housing, crime, and law. 

There are few other organizations like ECIRMAC in our community, resources that serve a vulnerable community even as they build relationships with local university students and simultaneously educate our community on issues we otherwise might never encounter. I am extremely grateful to my supervisors at the refugee center, and for my time there particularly, in working for this event and others as well. It has been an intense learning experience I will never forget (and one I plan to continue!) and one I never would have had without this curriculum.

(Ryan Kuramitsu)

Now what? 

Our group has learned a lot about planning a fundraising banquet through this experience. Through planning the donations, entertainment and advertising for the event, we gained invaluable experience in the efforts needed to plan a formal banquet of this scale. 

In order to plan this event we needed to use a great deal of organization and communication skills. Our three group members all had full schedules that were difficult to coordinate, but we made time to meet and split the work in order to reach our best individual results until we could regroup. 

One of the best things we gained from this project was the ability to prioritize. This is a skill that will be helpful to each of us as we continue to develop, and one that I know personally will come in handy next year during my first year of graduate school. 

We would like to offer some advice to future groups so that you can learn from our process. First and foremost, this is the type of event that takes time so beginning earlier in the semester is the best advice we can offer. The event was very successful and the donations for the auction were amazing, but in order to take the fundraiser to the next level we should have begun soliciting donations earlier. 

The first step in planning was to make an appointment with the coordinator of the event so that we could get as much information as possible in order to know what we needed to do. We tried our best to keep in contact with the Center, but they are understandably very busy so we took it upon ourselves to think outside the box. Since we were not given a great deal of instructions or direction, we decided to use the skills we had discussed in class to help the center in every way we could. To us this meant being innovative and thinking beyond this one time event. 

One thing we had in mind but never got to implement was to create a regular source of income for the Center. We had the idea of creating t-shirts that would not only help advertise the efforts and services of ECIRMAC, but help provide a supplemental cushion to the budget. We weren’t given an official response from the Center, but they seemed interested in the idea so whoever takes over for the following year should try to organize this. 

It was amazing to learn about and even witness all that the Center does, and we were all happy to be able to ensure that they have the resources needed to continue their charitable work. 
(Celia Zanayed) 

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott

by César, Skye and Kim


Our group project was to act as the “web masters” for the East Central Illinois Refugee Mutual Assistance Center (ECIRMAC) Facebook page. The women from the ECIRMAC office made clear they wanted us to post information relevant to the mission and work of the Refugee Center every weekday (Monday through Friday) to maintain the interest of followers and clients. Our posts varied depending on the amount of news coming from the office. Some of our posts consisted of updates around the office and information about upcoming events so that clients and volunteers were able to easily obtain this information via Facebook. If we did not have enough posts for the week with just office information, then we would post about articles, pictures or motivational quotes that we felt would increase the interest of the Facebook followers. The main purpose of our project was to increase awareness about the Refugee Center through social media (Facebook) and to keep these followers informed about our work. The Refugee Center aims to provide necessary services to the immigrant and refugee populations in the area and this page helps these populations more easily find how our organization can help them. Our goal for the semester was to augment the amount of followers to 350 people (or 350 Facebook “likes”).

The ECIRMAC page needs to continue growing both in likes and in reach, which can only be done with consistent posting. I will be staying on as the Social Media Manager and creating relevant and engaging content for the page. Creating a database of possible posts, images, videos and articles will ensure that posts are useful and will assist in weekly planning. While I am away or unable to post daily, posts can be scheduled ahead of time so that the page does not suffer. We successfully reached our goal of 350 likes by the end of the semester; we believe setting goals like this are important to maintain motivation and measure success. So, another goal should be set for the future. The ladies o fthe center should be educated on the management of the page in the event that a Social Media Manager is not available to run the page for a period of time. More detailed analysis of the Facebook insights would also assist the page in the future as they would provide information as the what type of content is successful and what time of day is optimal.

So what?

During our group project, making our posts relevant to our viewers was crucial, as the likes and comments we receive are able to promote the page and thus enable us to achieve our end-of-semester goal, which was to get the page to 350 likes by the end of the semester. Our posts on the page included things such as motivational quotes, current news, and even the promotion of ECIRMAC’s annual Fundraiser Banquet, which is crucial for the maintenance of ECIRMAC. Setting such goals for ourselves was very helpful because it allowed us to see our progress throughout the semester. This self-evaluation allowed us to assess how to change what we posted in order to gain “likes” throughout the semester. For example, we were able to see that pictures of people that work in the office and our clients received the most “likes” on the page because people like seeing people they know on social media websites; therefore, we would continue to post pictures of ‘real’ people. Additionally, we were able to announce days when the Refugee Center was closed due to bad weather so that the volunteers and clients did not waste their time travelling to the center. The posts that may have been the most helpful were those that made the public aware of events with Mayte and other employees that took place out of the office. We are confident that our continual posts during the semester have helped ECIRMAC because we can see the feedback via Facebook “likes” and comments from community members. If anything, this semester long project has taught us the importance of social media and what we can achieve through it.

Now what?

The ECIRMAC page needs to continue growing both in likes and in reach, which can only be done with consistent posting. I will be staying on as the Social Media Manager and creating relevant and engaging content for the page. Creating a database of possible posts, images, videos and articles will ensure that posts are useful and will assist in weekly planning. While I am away or unable to post daily, posts can be scheduled ahead of time so that the page does not suffer. We successfully reached our goal of 350 likes by the end of the semester; we believe setting goals like this are important to maintain motivation and measure success. So, another goal should be set for the future. The ladies of the center should be educated on the management of the page in the event that a Social Media Manager is not available to run the page for a period of time. More detailed analysis of the Facebook insights would also assist the page in the future as they would provide information as the what type of content is successful and what time of day is optimal.

This assignment taught us a lot about being a team, and about social media management. Through this project we learned the importance of an online presence for an organization like ECIRMAC. This experience has also allowed all of us to have a different perspective of social media; we can now see it as a dynamic working platform and not just a personal outlet. Overall, we are very proud and honored to have been able to assist ECIRMAC in their online growth and reach their goals.

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott

by Carli Smith & Chris Levine


For our project, we created profiles on past U of I students who are working or have worked in social entrepreneurial careers related to Spanish and the community. Each past student was interviewed with the same set of questions. These questions focused on the positions and roles that they have, how prepared they were from the Spanish program at U of I, and advice for future students looking to follow similar career paths. We were able to contact Nicole Stawiarski and Jessie Faus. To create these profiles, we decided to write blog posts for Ann’s blog that showcased the students’ achievements, along with allowing them to explain what they’re up to, how they’re doing it why they took the path that they did.

So What?

These profiles showcase the strengths of the Spanish program at U of I, specifically Spanish in the Community and Spanish & Entrepreneurship. Each profile displays a different social role that Spanish students can look for after graduating from the University. Through reading these responses and talking to these former students, it is evident that they are applying material from Spanish in the Community, Spanish and Entrepreneurship and the Spanish program at U of I in general. Current and future students now have access to these profiles to aid in their search for possible career paths through the Spanish program at U of I. Given the struggle to find jobs for students currently graduating, it can be intimidating to graduate with such abroad major. These profiles help not only give current students ideas about the possibilities with their Spanish degrees, but to encourage them to do great things similar to what these former students have done.

Now What?

Our project pertains to applying material from Spanish in the Community, Spanish and Entrepreneurship and the Spanish program at UIUC in general to careers and life after graduation for students. Therefore, it seems that the first step from here would be to get more students to go through the Spanish program here and then keep them there. As stated before, it can be intimidating to have a major as broad as Spanish-a lot of current students are not sure which direction to take that knowledge after graduation, and they are not the first. These profiles we have created are one small piece of a solution that guides students to being successful after graduation and finding careers they truly enjoy. We need to make these profiles available to current (and possibly even aspiring!) Spanish students to show them that there are more possibilities out there with a Spanish education than they might think. However, as stated before, these are only one small piece of a solution-we must explore other outlets that can provide current students with ideas, guidance and even reassurance! Maybe we could incorporate the study of Spanish into career fairs. Maybe we could have employers currently working with former students give a presentation or offer advice for current students. The possibilities are endless! Offering all of this guidance to current students will help them feel more comfortable with their path of study, think of different ways to apply everything they’ve learned after graduation and, ultimately, be successful in a career they enjoy.

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Kelly and David

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott


For our project, we chose to write a grant proposal for the after-school program called SOAR that takes place at Garden Hills elementary school. The SOAR program is designed to help second language learners from low-income families in the Champaign Unit 4 school district improve reading, writing, and math skills. The program is coordinated by the University of Illinois Center for education in small urban communities in conjunction with the bilingual program at Garden Hills. Each semester, three days of the week, University service-learning and volunteer students travel to Garden Hills to work with an assigned student for 1-2 hours after school. The student volunteer/SOAR student pairs spend time reading in English and Spanish, working through math problems together, and playing educational games. The program has been successful in helping to close educational gaps and has received praise from tutors, bilingual coordinators, teachers, and families of the students. 

We looked at a few grants; based on the organization offering grants’date of submissions and which grants were aimed at awarding funds to social reform programs like SOAR, we decided to apply to the State Farm Youth Advisory Board (YAB) grant. The grant stated that they wished to allocate money to programs in multiple areas around the country with the purpose of encouraging elementary age kids to take leadership roles in service-learning programs in small urban communities. 

While SOAR’s current focus was not on the elementary-age kids as leaders in service-learning in the Champaign-Urbana area, instead being focused on the University students’ roles as tutors, David and I saw an opportunity to expand the SOAR program in ways that would include more than just reading and writing help. 

We realized that in order to meet the criteria put forth by the YAB, we would need to propose an expansion of the roles of both the University student volunteers and the SOAR students which would involve a) having BOTH parties engage more meaningfully in their community in order to expand their scope of awareness in the greater community; b) identify Latino leaders in the C-U area that could serve as role models for community leadership and participation, and; c) demonstrate clearly the opportunities available for pursuing higher education to the SOAR kids, and reinforce its value to the University student volunteers by expanding their relationship to one of mentorship in which they could work on community oriented service together, involving field trips to UIUC campus and other sites with clear strategic value. 

We knew that SOAR had received money from an organization called Orange Krush in the past, and this past year had received a small sum of money from a Social Work club on campus to help buy snacks. We were also aware, however, that SOAR could use more funds to buy healthy snacks for the kids since they stay after school and were in need of more Spanish kids’ books.

So what? 

We started by inquiring to SOAR’s project coordinator, Lila Moore, about how the funds could be used and how much money she thought would be necessary to help the program run more efficiently. We realized, as we began the application for the State Farm YAB grant, that the minimum amount allotted was $25,000-- much more than we had originally thought.We did not need that amount if we were just looking to supply SOAR with needed Spanish kids’ books and healthy snacks for the academic year.

However, we met with Lila in person, began brainstorming, and came to the conclusion that the $25,000 could actually allow us to be creative and really think about possible ways to expand the program and make it more meaningful for both the SOAR kids and the University student volunteers alike. With Lila’s help, we came up with a list of things that we saw as potential ways to expand SOAR, make it more efficient, and create a more engaging ongoing participatory dialogue with clear educational and societal value within the community. 

We realized that with more resources and manpower, there were ways to expand and revitalize the structure of SOAR that would incorporate a greater service-learning component on all levels. 

The needs that we identified were the following:
  1. Developer/coordinator paid internship position: a dedicated developer/coordinator for greater service-learning integration into the program, which would be a paid internship at least part of the time to assure dedicated hours, and whose primary task would be to change the tutor/student relationship, in which currently the SOAR kids are “passive”benefactors of learning assistance, to a mentor/service-learning partner relationship in which the SOAR kids are offered the opportunity to engage in community service-learning themselves. In short: greater integration ofservice-learning into the current SOAR mission. This would help build the next generation of community-minded adults, demonstrate and reinforce the value of higher education, and help narrow the marginalization factor so prevalent in immigrant communities. Academic learning would bebalanced with reflection on each participant’s relationship to the process of participating in the greater community. Example: Developer/coordinator plans service-learning activities/modules, integrates them into current structure, calls volunteers to briefings, fosters team culture, facilitates feedback sessions, works closely with Lila to ensure daily logistics of program are met. 
  2. Streamlined and secure transportation: primarily, this would save time for UIUC students--time that could be spent developing/experimenting/implementing new components/methodologies to the program via leadership/teamwork that are based on a service-learning approach. UIUC volunteers currently waste much time individually organizing their own transportation to Garden Hills, which is not located centrally. Increased time would facilitate planning sessions for volunteers while likewise engaging them in leadership skills development, also allowing for discussion about what is working, what isn’t in the service-learning component development, etc. Currently, the transportation budget for SOAR is contingent on funding that the bilingual program at Garden Hills is able to earmark. This is not secure and is reviewed year-by-year. A secured source of funds would additionally cover any potential shortfalls to keep the program running, and also offer possibilities for taking the kids and mentors on field trips to sites of clear service-learning value. Examples: a) Daily shuttle from campus to Garden Hills for UIUC volunteers and back on days the program runs. b) Field trip to UIUC waste/recycling facilities to see how waste management in the University community works. Students and mentors would also volunteer time towards a activity of managing waste and/or raising awareness about waste.
  3. Role models: introduce SOAR students to Latino role models that will inspire them, entertain them, and provide them with clear examples of how community engagement combined with education can leverage individuals into greater community involvement, thereby building greater communities.
  4. E-books (Kindle, etc.): While the SOAR kids currently have access to traditional books in print as well as computers to some degree, the importance of technological competence/awareness is key to mobilization and access for future generations.

Now what?

In its first several years SOAR has proven itself to be a program worthy of community support. The need that exists for greater integration, inclusion,and access for the first generation children of Latino immigrants in our community is greater than the program alone can currently meet. There is still much work to be done towards both ensuring that the SOAR program can continue to receive the necessary funding to meet the current budget and also continue to develop the program in ways that continue to make it successful and progressive. During our research and work on this team project, we have addresses some very important questions on what possibilities exist for making the program even better than it is. How can we attract investment in this project? Although we are confident that we’ve identified certain key needs, we learned that as students the scope of what ultimately can be done is beyond our reach. Sadly, we were unable to complete the application for the State Farm YAB grant by the deadline on May 2nd, 2014. Perhaps if we had realized the scope of what soliciting a$25k grant involved in terms of research hours and writing earlier in the semester, we’d have had time to develop a team of people to help us with it. The State Farm YAB grant application alone required approximately 25k-30k words of focused text describing the proposal, its objectives, limitations, supporting research, etc. 

Despite our taking on this project due to being passionate about using the fundamental idea of social entrepreneurship to enact a change that we see as being extremely positive in our community, the sheer scope of it was beyond our reach within the time and resources that we ultimately used, which ultimately were 4 months, a good computer, a good internet connection, and our experiences thus far in the service-learning community. Although we were unable to apply for the grant this semester, we feel confident that the work that we have done in identifying key areas in which SOAR can benefit from increased and secure funding is a solid foundation for another group of social entrepreneurs to move forward with enacting a proposal. The work that we have done, if continued upon, can create a lasting value within the community and beyond. The proposal that we have outlined would serve to give greater agency to an entire demographic in the present and the future, enable young academics to prepare themselves for greater and fuller participation in social projects of varying scope due to their experience, and increase awareness of the ultimate value of service-learning pedagogy: the value being one that enacts positive change in communities by tackling problems that have no other solution.

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott


The team project that we chose to do was to plan, promote, and carry out a Spanish-language booth at a community literary event called Read Across America at Lincoln Square Mall in Urbana, Illinois. We had three group members who divided the work amongst themselves early in the semester to carry out the project in the most efficient manner possible. The event allowed us to provide a service to the people of Champaign-Urbana. Our work in the community throughout this semester with Spanish 332 has shown us the number of Spanish speaking individuals in our community.Before the event, we worked to promote our booth by creating a one page flyer that presented our booth in a fun, yet informative way. We then reached out to our community partners, giving out flyers to those we worked with in the schools we volunteer at, as well as other SPAN 332 students and our professor to try and get our flyer out in the community.Regretfully, this part could have been executed earlier, however, to reach a larger amount of people instead of all happening the week of the event. In addition to the promotion, we went out in the community to secure spanish and english books that related to our booth theme by borrowing books from the Center for Children’s Books at the University of Illinois and the Champaign Public Library

Read Across America allowed us to set up a bilingual (Spanish and English) booth so that children and their parents in our community could spend time reading books and doing activities in English and Spanish. We provided books and supplies so that children and their families were able to read and do activities in the language of their choice. The activities were chosen to account for differences in age. Thus, we created spanish word searches, coloring pages with Spanish captions underneath, and a wide array of multicolored storytelling material. The story telling material incorporated farm animals as well as different habitats and things they could interact with such as a feeding station and car, all with Spanish and English captions underneath. We encouraged older kids to invent stories about the animals and to tell them to us in Spanish. When not working on activities with children, we were reading to thein Spanish which was a good means of practice for all of us.

We were able to see families spending time together and learning together. There were families who spoke no Spanish at all who were interested in having our group read them books in Spanish. In other cases, Spanish-speaking families were able to enjoy their favorite children’s books together. Our booth was very popular at the event and we accredit it to the great service that we provided the community.

So what? 

We were aware of the large number of Spanish speakers in the community and that an event where they could share their language with their children would be very popular and needed. Many immigrants come to the country with young children who end up being bilingual or end up losing very much language ability from the country of their birth or their parents’ birth. Often, reading and speaking in another language can be embarrassing or not preferred by that child and so an event like this can really help enforce the idea that speaking Spanish is a great asset to have and encourages them to participate. Additionally, we felt that showing non-Spanish speakers in the community the importance of bilingualism would help them to be more understanding of the Spanish speaking community.

At the Read Across America event, we offered Spanish-speaking, monolingual children a way to actively participate in the event, as well as gave children in bilingual educational programs an opportunity to practice their Spanish. The Champaign-Urbana area has a large Spanish-speaking population and, while the children in monolingual homes may be learning English at school, some children only knew Spanish. Our booth made those children feel more comfortable and willing to participate in the activities. Many of the parents we spoke to also told us that their children were in a special bilingual program where half of their children’s classes were in English and the other half were in Spanish. They were very appreciative that our booth had books and activities in both Spanish and English so that their children could get more practice with Spanish.

Now what?

At the event, we also made the Champaign-Urbana community more aware of our Spanish 332 Business and Entrepreneurship class at the University of Illinois. Many parents asked what organization we were with and this gave us the chance to explain the importance and value of our class. Throughout the event we really utilized our interpersonal communication and leadership skills to interact with both the parents and children. The ability to effectively communicate and demonstrate leadership are skills that the three of us will need in our futures. Our experience with planning and organizing a booth is also one that the three of us can benefit from as wellHopefully this event encourages many more like it to take place. The growing Spanish-speaking community in the Champaign-Urbana area as well as the rest of the United States is an indication of the immense need for literacy among Spanish speakers to encourage participation among young students as well as promote advanced written and spoken language fluency as they grow older. In the future, we hope that more events like this can take place to promote awareness and bring up the discussion of Spanish speaker culture and identity to the rest of the United States.

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Ariel, Linnea and Pamela
Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott


Our group’s goal was to write a case study about Brittany Koteles, a 2011 Illinois graduate who has now focused her life on social entrepreneurship. To begin, we researched Brittany’s work on Ann’s blog and combed through some documents we found online about her experiences and accomplishments. At University of Illinois, Brittany designed her own major: public and community service and well as Spanish. After graduating college, Brittany did a Fulbright in Barcelona and studied the best practices in social entrepreneurship as it relates to Spain. Brittany has helped to author a book called “Changemaking 101” which is aimed at students interested in social entrepreneurship. This book is sponsored by Ashoka University, an organization in which Brittany is very involved helping catalyze social change through higher education. Brittany and a partner created a short film about a man who painted his neighborhood’s stairs in color only to have them painted over by the government. Based on a true story, the goal is to make the story known and bring color into the world. They funded the film through crowd-sourcing on

So what?

Brittany Koteles is a prime example of how we can take our SPAN 332 class to the real world. There are endless amounts of opportunities for entrepreneurship that can be our future. It is important to understand social change and its ability to change our word. From our community based learning, we now have the potential to make a difference. We have experience and common interests that Koteles shared as well. As an UIUC alumni, Koteles is an excellent example of how to get involved in our communities and our world. Building this case study on Koteles illustrated that it is possible to take what we have learned thus far in SPAN 332 to the next level. It is important to see Koteles successes and understand the importance entrepreneurship has for a possible career. Seeing real life examples of success of a fellow Illini student can give inspiration to others that are interested in the same career field. Overall, this project was an interesting approach to learning about new opportunities that exist with entrepreneurship and social change.

Now what?

One of the lessons that we have learned from this project is that we must take advantage of every opportunity that is given to us and utilize them to make a change in the world. Our research with regards to Brittany Koteles has inspired us to not only traverse outside of our daily norms, but also adapt unfamiliar ideologies and states of mind that will be rewarding in the long run. In addition, Ms. Koteles’s attitude towards entrepreneurship and life in general has given us the impression that it is more important to be selfless than selfish and we hope that future SPAN 332 students will be able to take as much out of the case study as we did. Our time with this project has developed us on a professional and personal level and, as we venture on our individual journeys, we know that we will be able to use everything that we have learned from this case study and SPAN 332 as a whole to help ourselves to grow as human beings and to assist others with leaving their respective marks on the world

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Student Attitudes and Spanish Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

While reading through my students' community participation self-evaluations last week, I was struck once again by how students can work with the same community partner and have totally different perceptions of what they did there.
One student wrote about all the different kinds of tasks she did, how she asked for more to do. She even earned the nickname of "The Special One" because the supervisors recognized how much she contributed to the organization during her CSL work. Furthermore, this student worked way more than the required 28 hours during the semester.
A different student who worked in *the exact same place* wrote that there wasn't much to do.
These two students worked in the same place, with the same supervisors, and with the same classroom support.

So what's the difference?

I don't know for sure, of course, but this is my intuition based on many years of experience:

Comfort with ambiguity.

In the classroom, students are used to being told what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and what will happen if they don't do it.

Some work contexts are like that.

Factories. Maybe.

Most work environments are dynamic. Rather than do what you are told, you need to observe, listen, notice patterns, anticipate needs, experiment.

Some students are uncomfortable with ambiguity. They ask their professors, "Will my grade be severely impacted if I don't complete this assignment?" "Will this be on the exam?" "How many words do I have to write?" They see individual course components instead of the learning opportunities. They see a swirl of activity around them in a community organization and say, "There wasn't much to do."

Assigning worth to non-traditional tasks. 

For some people, "work" has a specific look in their mind's eye. Work looks like someone typing on a computer. Getting things done with a client looks like work. Sitting around a conference table and being involved in decision-making. Giving a presentation with PowerPoint. Sitting at your own desk. Wearing a suit. Putting your own, individual creative talents into a project. 

What the first student probably did that the second student didn't do was this: perceive other activities as "work."
  • Building client relationships: answering phone calls, opening doors, exchanging pleasantries, chatting while they wait for their appointment. 
  • Building relationships among colleagues: learning from colleagues' story-telling, listening in on their appointments with clients, jumping in to pull the file that you overheard a colleague mention, asking them about their weekend activities. 
  • Doing jobs that are essential but don't engage your college-educated mind: filling up the paper in the photocopier because you noticed it was low, putting away the files that are stacked on the front desk because everyone is too busy to put them back in the cabinet, deciding to write down instructions for the next new employee for some process that you just had to learn on your own. Those things are work, too. 
The employers I know want people who understand that relationship building is essential to a business' success, who are self-starters, who are interested in the "whole company" and who aren't afraid to do some grunt work. 

That's the kind of CSL student our community partners want, too.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Student Reflection

by Nicole Mathes

A School of Fish

Recently, Ms. Perez’s class got a big fish tank with two clownfish and two snails. I have never seen a class so excited about a fish tank or so interested in learning about the different types of fish, coral, algae, and snails. The students were so eager to learn that Ms. Perez set up a time to Skype the man, Ben, who gave the class the tank and fish (as a background note: from my understanding, there is a company that donates the fish and tanks to schools who apply and ask for the donation and give a specific reason for wanting one. This man was an employee of the company).

Ben was very patient and answered all the students’ questions. Over the course of the Skype session, I learned the following:
  • you cannot put more than two clownfish together in a tank because they do not get along with other clown fish (two is company, three is a crowd). However, they get along with other types of fish.
  • there are SEVERAL types of snails that act as filters. Some snails can live together and others cannot.
  • the snails that Ms. Perez’s class had are vicious snails (if put together with other snails and/or fish, they would eat them), so they live in their own tank—a filter tank that’s connected to the main tank.
  • as pretty as fish tanks look with the colored rocks, coral, algae, and other plants, you should not fill the tank to its full capacity.
  • every single part of the fish tank plus everything inside the aquarium serves a purpose.
But the most important thing that I learned was that the small things make a big difference. I never imagined that having a fish tank in the classroom would have such an impact on the students. This fish tank has encouraged the students to be critical thinkers and scientists, more observant and responsible, and it has gotten them excited to learn. The Skype session lasted for 30minutes, which is a long time for third graders to pay attention. The students had an abundance of questions and I was pleasantly surprised at the types of questions they asked. They wanted to know why clown fish don’t get along, what other types of snails they could have, why coral was good to have in a tank, and why some of the algae looked bent and darker instead of straight up and light. On the wall next to the fish tank I noticed that the students wrote hypotheses about the fish tank such as if you put the fish tank near light, ___ will happen or if you put snails in the tank, ___ will happen. The class has had the tank for a month now and the fascination and excitement is still present among them.

So what does a fish tank have to do with volunteering in the community? Well, a lot actually. In order to have a fully-functioning tank, you need a tank, saltwater, coral, fish food, filters, snails (for some tanks), cleaning supplies, sea plants, and different types of fish, not just one. A community also requires a lot of individual components. For example, the community at Garden Hills needs principals, teachers, secretaries, students, a school, classrooms, school supplies, volunteers, and so much more. You also need a variety of “people” or “fish.” Just as Ben said that clown fish don’t get along if you have several of them together in one tank, a school community will not be successful if you have only teachers or only students, or if you have only girls and no boys. Everyone’s unique talents help make the community function just as different parts of the fish aquarium make it functioning. And, just as the presence of a fish tank had a major influence on the students, one volunteer can make a huge difference in the classroom. I may not have noticed how much of a difference I made in Ms. Perez’s class every single time that I volunteered, but I know that I did impact the classroom overall. So the next time I think that I’m not making a difference or that my presence doesn’t really matter, I’ll think back to Ms. Perez’s class and the fish tank and remember that small things do really make a difference.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Student Reflection

by Kelly Klus

Since I’ve been working at ECIRMAC, I’ve been trying to consciously seek out news about immigration reform—a task for me, that is, unfortunately, easier said than done. With classes, school wrapping up, finals season, I usually find my upkeep of national and global news falling by the wayside.

The rock that I live on isn’t so large; the bubble of my life isn’t so impenetrable that the news about immigration reform in the past two weeks hasn’t squeaked past here and there. I spent the afternoon today looking up ‘immigration reform news’ to supplement and complete the bits and pieces that I’ve heard on the radio and in snippets of the news.

The fact that no real movement has happened to the bipartisan immigration reform bill since last June shouldn’t be surprising, I suppose, based on our political system. The bill, recently passed in the Senate is still being tossed around in the House—even though speaker John Boehner has said, of his GOP party, “I do believe the vast majority of our members do want to deal with this, they want to deal with it openly, honestly and fairly,” (

What will happen if immigration reform is pushed back until 2015 when more republicans occupy the senate seats? What will immigration reform look like then—or in 2016 during presidential elections?

Most of what I was reading was focused on political jockeying and party lines: so-and-so said of his party, this pro-reform republican said this, John Doe blamed Obama, Obama’s saying this but doing this. Now, I know this is largely how our politics works with any controversial issue—but the real stories aren’t with the politicians and who’s talking to whom in D.C. The real stories are about real people who are struggling to figure out how to keep their family together and out of a horrific detention or deportation story—ones that aren’t told nearly often enough and certainly aren’t heard by enough people. The real story is that many of the people getting deported aren’t ‘violent criminals and other public safety threats’ but more likely have children and could potentially gain legal citizenship status under the new bill.

One story I did find particularly interesting was in The AtlanticSpencerAmdur tells the story about how local and state governments in some states havebegun to stop aiding federal immigration police carry out deportations. At a national level, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) depends on local and state jails to detain immigrants as well as interrogates foreign-born inmates in local jails. In the past few weeks, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Denver, and counties in Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and California stated that they would no longer be helping the federal deportation system. Without national support at a local level, it will be hard to sustain the astronomical deportation numbers that this country has seen in the past few years.

After reading article after article about what a small group (ahem, of, for the majority, white middle-aged males) were debating about in Washington, it was cool to read about local systems taking matters into their own hands. Amdur’s article offers (both in his writing and the many links he provides) good insight into the truth about the effects and basic human rights’ violation that can come from bad immigration policy. Particularly informative: his link to a study titled “Victim’s rights unraveling: The Impact of Local Immigration Enforcement policies on the Violence against Women Act,” and his discussion about how current policies encourage racial profiling and crime victims to go unheard.

This article echoed many of the conversations that took place in Spanish 232. Hopefully, whether it comes from Washington or is forced to manifestation by local governments, this country will see some big changes immigration laws and policies. 

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Results: Pinterest Board as Final Exam for a Spanish Community Service Learning Course

Each student contributed five pins that would be helpful to future students. Click here to see the board.
by Ann Abbott

All in all, I am very pleased with the results of the final exam that I gave to my students in the "Spanish in the Community" course. Students had to follow the instructions at this link in order to create five pins and add them to a Pinterest board for the course.

My goals were for students to learn about and experience content curation and to apply those principles in the creation of a helpful digital repository of images and links. Whatever your feelings about Pinterest, there is no doubt that it is a very useful way to organize and contextualize web- and image-based information.

Here are some of my observations about the test, about Pinterest and about the students.

Students' pins reflect what they think is important in the course.


Students pinned resources that provide immigrants' personal stories, myths about immigration, facts about how immigration in this country works, and political context about immigration reform.

Bilingual education. 

When I first began teaching Spanish community service learning, I quickly realized that students do not know what bilingual education is--even if they work in a bilingual education classroom!--unless we explain it to them. In fact, students found this important enough that they included pins that explain what bilingual education is and its benefits.


Faculty often want to skip over this part and get straight to the very important intellectual content the course covers. Stop. Hold on. How are you supporting your students in their language development? You have to address this in every single language course you teach, and it's especially important in a CSL course because students have to use the language with native speakers. Students, of course, know this, and so they included pins about vocabulary (regionalisms they encounter with the native speakers in the community who are from many different countries) and grammar (from general grammar review to very specific grammatical items like "por versus para" and commands).


Beyond the specifics of the Spanish language, students felt it was important to think about language more broadly. They included pins about attitudes towards languages and attitudes towards bilinguals.


Since students spend two hours each week volunteering for their community partner, they included pins on this topic. They pinned resources that explain the benefits of volunteering and specific volunteer opportunities in our local community and in other places.

The exam assessed a variety of student abilities.


Students had to select five, and only five resources to pin. The instructions to the exam told them to frame their choices around this: "What information should a student in this course have to help them work in the community, understand better what they observe in the community and contextualize their learning in the community within regional, national and global forces." You can't pin everything, so students had to choose the most important resources for that specific audience.


Students thought about what information they needed and when. For example, one student listed a language learning site that she finds useful as an every-day tool, throughout the semester. One student pinned something about why volunteering is important so that she could encourage students during those moments when they just don't feel like making the effort to go out in the community. Other students posted immigration facts and myths that students should probably learn towards the beginning of the semester.


Students did a good job of finding serious, reliable sources when the topic was serious. I will have to look at this more carefully, but it seems that no student pinned anything from biased, unreliable sources.

Explain and synthesize. 

Students had to use the brief space within each pin's description to explain the relevance of the source to students of "Spanish in the Community" in a way that was simultaneously clear, compelling and concise. I was particularly impressed by a student who began her pin descriptions with quotes and questions.


In addition to the pins, each student had to turn in a document in which they reflected on why they had chosen each pin and what they had learned from doing this exam. Although that information is not publicly displayed, it forced students to justify their choices and connect them to their experiences and learning throughout the course. Some students tied a pin to a specific lesson in class, or a specific experience in the community. Other pins represented a more over-arching connection to the course.

Create and collaborate. 

In the end, this Pinterest board is more than the sum total of the individual pins, it creates a collective representation of what "Spanish in the Community" is about. And the students created this. They created something that did not exist before, and they created something that has an immediate audience--Pinterest users, some of whom have already repinned a few of the students' pins--and a future audience--next semester's students.

Enhance digital literacy. 

Efforts to develop students' digital literacy are often confined to helping them become more expert analysts of existing digital products. My goal is always to go one step further: to have students engage in the creation of digital products that are informed by their analytical abilities. (This is a criticism that I have about the humanities in general; too often our work ends with the analysis itself. What interests me is what lies beyond critique.)

Click here to see the exam instructions.
The exam has to be adapted to Pinterest's features and essence.

I had to make some adjustments to the instructions to the exam based on problems I encountered within Pinterest.

Group boards. 

When I created the board, I wasn't able to make it a "group board" or an "open board." Pinterest only gave me the option of inviting Pinners. At the time I set up the exam, only one student was following me Pinterest; most of the others didn't even have an account on Pinterest. So the student who was already following me was able to pin her own pins to the board and her name appears with them. The other pins appear as my pins because the other students had to "send" their pins and/or boards to me, and I then pinned them to the SPAN 232 board. This isn't necessarily bad, but it made me be more involved in the creation of the board than I had hoped to be.

Spanish accuracy

However, I ended up involved in the creation of the board anyway because I had to edit the students' Spanish in the pin descriptions much more than I had imagined. There is a fundamental tension that we must address when we teach and assess Spanish community-service learning with deliverable that involve a real audience:

The communicative competence we expect from second language learners in a classroom setting is at odds with the level of written proficiency students need for work that is published and has a real-world audience.

When students write yet another essay for an audience of one (their professor), problems with their Spanish only impact their grade. The impacts of poor Spanish with incomprehensible phrases are more damaging in an exam like this one. This tension, however, should not keep us from innovating in our teaching and assessment methods. Neither, though, can we ignore it.

In the end, it comes down to student learning. I have chosen to create exams that aren't just a document of what students have already learned, but rather an assignment that furthers (hopefully) students' learning. 

I welcome your thoughts and suggestions in the comments. Let's explore this territory together so that we can support our students and each other.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Results of Community Based Team Projects

Students in my SPAN 232 course, "Spanish & Entrepreneurship: Languages, Cultures & Communities," have to do a team project in addition to their 28 hours of community service learning work. These are the results of one of the teams from Spring 2014. The intent is to have them go through the entrepreneurial process on a small scale, create something of true value, and develop their teamwork skills. --Ann Abbott


For our group project in SPAN332, Cassie, Olivia, & I worked with Dr. Darcy Lear and her career-coaching microenterprise:  Dr. Lear offers services such as resume critiques and mock interviews for students transitioning from an academic setting to a professional one.  She uses multiple forms of social media to advertise her microenterprise, including Twitter and Facebook.  Our project with Dr. Lear was three-fold.  

First, we worked with her on her social media strategy.
By sharing and liking her pages, the goal was to help her gain more traffic to her websites.  Second, the three of us sent Dr. Lear our resumes for review.  Using our resumes as examples, she created videos in which she highlighted the changes that we needed to make in order for our resumes to be more professional.  Then, we edited our resumes according to her feedback, and Dr. Lear created a second video discussing what made our resumes attractive to prospective employers.  The last component of our project was face-to-face interviews.  During these interviews, Dr. Lear asked us three or four of the tougher questions that are typically used during the interview process - questions like “What are your weaknesses?”, or “Was there a time when you told the truth and it hurt you?”.  After we gave our first answers, Dr. Lear gave us feedback on what needed to be changed, such as giving more specific examples or speaking more concisely.  

Then, Dr. Lear created videos similar to those she had for the resumes.  There was a video of the “before” interview, in which Dr. Lear highlighted what our strengths and weaknesses were, and there was an “after” interview video, in which Dr. Lear showcases how her advice helps students prepare themselves for entering the professional workforce.  As you will read below, working with Dr. Lear was a wonderful opportunity for us - not only did we gain valuable professional knowledge, but we were also able to help Dr. Lear’s microenterprise grow.

- Elyssa

So what?

Working with Dr. Lear was an enjoyable, mutually beneficial learning experience. I mainly worked on the social media outreach, but I also participated in the resume critiques and mock interviews.

Through Dr. Lear’s social media outreach, she is able to help students learn how to showcase their experiences as they apply for jobs. We were able to help expand the reach of these platforms by helping Dr. Lear create original content that generated more likes on her Facebook page. Students seem to enjoy seeing first-hand examples of mock interviews. However, I also learned that it can be a bit more difficult to encourage the spread of educational content via Twitter and Pinterest. Before this project, I had an account on these two sites but used them sparingly. It surprised me that the posts I shared here generated less views but this could be because students perceive them as more social than professional.

The resume critiques allowed us to better showcase our own skills and helps Dr. Lear demonstrate the value created from a resume critique. In turn, more students may seek out help from career counselors so that they too can improve their own chances of gaining employment in the future.

When we worked with Dr. Lear filming the videos, we were able to improve our own interviewing skills as we provided fresh, professional content. Since we worked on this project, she will be able to post videos weekly through the end of June and will hopefully be able to draw in more visitors still. This also is for the greater good of graduating university students as they consider how to answer tricky questions well during interviews.
- Cassie

Now what?

We and Dr. Lear both benefitted from the project throughout the semester. As students, the lessons we learned in professional development will stay with us throughout our careers.

As we transition from our lives as undergraduates, we will now be able to write more concise resumes with a more professional basis.  However, even if we decide to keep our resumes more academically based or more detailed while we are still students or recent graduates, we have a better idea of what employers in the future might be looking for as we get older. There are many resume-writing resources available for college students that cater to what employers want in a student resume, but far fewer that cater to professionals a few years into their careers.  Learning this information from Dr. Lear will be invaluable for us in the future.

We can also enjoy greater confidence in our interviewing skills after getting one-on-one advice from Dr. Lear - both in real interviewing situations, and when taking advantage of other resources like mock interviews. Personally, I know I would not have signed up for a mock interview like the ones the University offers, just because it would have been too nerve-wracking even without a job on the line. But now that I’ve had the opportunity to do a mock interview once, I’ll be more likely to take advantage of those services in the future, multiplying the effect of Dr. Lear’s interview advice.

As for Dr. Lear herself, she told us that she enjoyed record viewing numbers on her blog pages after posting our resumes. Going forward, this has imaginably given her a better idea of what her readers would like to see, and she can tailor her posts accordingly. Not only have the resume posts attracted more people to her blog directly, but her future posts can attract more readers as well.

We hope that our work has helped both Dr. Lear and her internet readership as much as it has helped us. It seems that the benefits of this project will continue to grow as time goes on, and it was a pleasure to make it happen.
- Olivia