Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Student Spotlight: Carrie Casady

by Ann Abbott

As I have written here many times, it is always a pleasure to hear from former students because:

  • I simply enjoy hearing about their lives, their careers, their paths.
  • I think that they make wonderful role models for our current Spanish students.
So I was very happy to hear from Carrie Casady. Take a look at her trajectory as a student and as a graduate. Is there anything that you would like to emulate? Don't forget that networking is a very important part of what you should be doing while you are a student--could you add Carrie to your network?

Community Service Learning (CSL) Information

  • Spring of 2010 (SPAN 232) I did my community service at Leal School working in the kindergarten classroom. Highlights from this work for me were helping the kids to read and seeing them progress in Spanish and English.
  • Spring 2012 (SPAN 332) I did my community service at ECIRMAC, which helped me to use my speaking skills in an office setting, as well as understand the experience of refugees in Champaign/Urbana.

Other Information

  • I feel that the CSL coursework has immensely informed my career and education decisions post-undergrad. These two courses gave me experience and proof of how my Spanish/Latin American Studies education could be put into practice in the real world. Academics aside, I also had fun doing a lot of  the service work as well! I would love to continue incorporating community service and helping others, while using Spanish, in my future career.
  • I studied abroad Spring 2011 in San Joaquín, Costa Rica. I also studied abroad as part of GLBL 298 winter break course in Nicaragua, with a community service (NPO) focus.
  • I have been working for the past year at the Greater Illinois Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society as their Latino/Hispanic Outreach Coordinator. I work in the community, and also helped to organize and execute a national focus group program for Spanish-speakers living with MS. The results of this study were presented at a national consortium and will hopefully help the society to expand their resources for Hispanics living with MS. I'm hoping that a social work degree will help me to advance a career in the non-profit world. 
Take a look at the way Carrie describes her CSL work at the Refugee Center and Leal School. How have you represented your CSL work on your resume? On your LinkedIn page? Make sure potential employers know that you have worked independently in bilingual and bilingual client-based situations.

Congratulations to Carrie on her continued good work in her job, and good luck to her as she eventually pursues her goal to obtain a Master's in Social Work. She is a bright example of how we can continue to engage with the Spanish-speaking community after graduation and on the job.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Career Services and Community Service Learning: A Clear Connection

by Ann Abbott

Sometimes, the right question is posed to you and answering allows you to reflect on all the disparate things you've been working on and see within them a common thread. 

This was the information I was asked to respond to today:

Following is a description of the Career Services Council (CSC):
The Career Services Council serves as a forum for career service, career counseling, and pre-professional practitioners to review current developments in the practice of career planning and trends in the economy and environment which relate to students’ post-graduate outcomes.

The Council members collaborate in offering common services and programs that serve the general university community and advocate for the essence and value of career services to the University of Illinois. The Council reviews policies and procedures which clarify and document the work of the various career offices on campus in their efforts to effectively and efficiently serve students, employers, and the university community.
If you are interested in becoming a part of CSC , please send us a paragraph about how part of your job aligns with the CSC mission.

This was my response:

As Director of Undergraduate Studies, part of my job is to help students conceive of Spanish as a major/minor that has viable career outcomes. (This is sometimes a perspective that differs from faculty perspectives, and I would welcome the support and suggestions of the CSC on this and other struggles.) My teaching and research also make connections between academic life and careers: I integrate community service learning into my courses (e.g., "Spanish in the Community") and teach languages for specific purposes courses (e.g., "Business Spanish" and "Spanish & Entrepreneurship"), and several of my publications have explored the central, yet often ignored, role of student professionalization in community service learning. You can see my CV and publications at this link. Among other things, I teach my students about social media marketing (in Spanish and English), and I use social media myself to speak to students about career options and career preparation. Here are some examples:
I hope this information is pertinent and helpful.


What would your response be?

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Reflection Prompts to Guide Your Community Service Learning Course Design

by Ann Abbott

During the 2014-15 academic year I traveled to many universities and met many creative people doing very meaningful work with their language students.

I also took a very careful look at many course syllabi. They all were interesting and reflected the instructors' deep subject knowledge and intellectual curiosity to take a journey with their students. That is the kind of course we would all like to create!

There were also red flags for potential issues in community service learning (CSL) courses. I don't have all the answers, of course, and my course design can look very different from someone else's and yet both be very successful. Still, in the spirit of critical reflection that is the backbone of a good CSL learning experience, I offer a few key questions that you can ask yourself about your CSL course design.

What is the organizational capacity of your community partner(s)?

You need a true partner, so ask yourself these questions. Does this organization truly have the existing capacity to support and supervise your students? Do they have a dedicated volunteer coordinator? Do they regularly receive volunteers? If not, do you or your university have the resources to help with this? Do they have the space in their offices for your students? Can they track your students' time and work? 

What is the time-frame of your students' work?

Some Spanish CSL courses are designed for students to do ongoing work all semester long, and some have a reduced start and finish timeline. Furthermore, your community partners' work that students collaborate on might be ongoing, daily tasks for the organization, an ongoing specific project, a short-term specific project or even a one-day event. All of these time frames are valid, as long as they meet the learning objectives you have set forth for your students and meet your community partners' needs. My Spanish CSL students have worked in all these formats--and they all offer good, unique learning experiences. I undestand that there is legitimate concern about universities that live by the semester and communities that don't. It's a true concern. But good planning and communication with your community partner can emiliorate this temporal mismatch.

Will you eliminate any course content?

I sometimes see wonderful course syllabi and calendars that are unfortunately too jam-packed. Often this happens when you take the syllabus for an existing course and then layer CSL on top of it. Take a deep breath and cut. I know it hurts. I know it's all important. But there is a limit to how much content and course components we can pile into a course--and cram into students' brains. Give your content some breathing room. And don't forget, you can save some of the things you cut and assign them as reflection prompts, individual research projects, etc. In other words, if you simply cannot bring yourself to eliminate content, think about redistributing and reformatting it.

How will you handle students' critical reflection?

You know that critical, structured reflection is an essential component of any CSL course. But have you thought about how you will lead students to this? Let me just suggest that students benefit from well thought-out prompts that guide students through these three steps: What? So what? Now what? (I'll share my prompts in a future post.) And here's another idea: take the paper assignment(s) that you currently use in your course and edit the instructions so that they cover the three steps. In other words, don't drop what's already working well for you or add CSL assignments to an already full course: weave CSL into it.

What terms will you use to describe students' work?

Look through all your course materials, and if you find the word "volunteer," replace it with "CSL work." This is a subtle, but important change. Some students (and some faculty) object to "forced volunteerism." But they aren't volunteering; they are doing a learning assignment. Think about it like this: we call it "undergraduate research," "volunteering in a physics lab." Keep the focus on the learning. That's what we're all here for.

What system will you use to track students' CSL work?

One concern I hear a lot is: how will I know if my students are truly doing their work in the community? There are many answers to that question, but the most important is that your community partner needs to be your partner on this and have their own system for volunteer tracking. I add two other layers to this:
1. Students must update their worklog on our wiki weekly, simply stating the time they worked and a short sentence about the work they did.
2. Students must complete a community participation rubric and turn it in along with their midterm and final exams. 

We carefully design reflective activities for our students. Hopefully these questions will help you reflect on your own course design. Remember, CSL courses are always a work in progress because we deal with real people in real time in complex situations. If you need a hand or someone to simply bounce ideas off of, email me at I always say that I don't have all the answers, but I do have a lot of experience that can be useful. I hope you'll reach out!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Continue Your Community Service Learning with an Internship

by Ann Abbott

Did you enjoy working with the community partner in your Spanish community service learning? Do you think you could contribute even more, now that you know more? Are you looking for an internship?

Now you can continue doing the work that you did in your Spanish community service learning, legitimately call it an internship and receive academic credit, all at the same time.

Here's a note from Dr. Kirstin Wilcox (
ENGL 199-INT (CRN 63954; I'm starting the paperwork for a permanent distinct course number).  It's limited to students who have located an internship for Fall 2015 and requires the instructor's permission (mine!), but I'd be happy to grant permission to students in any humanities department who want to take it--particularly those in unpaid internships.  I can envision students who've taken your service learning course and want to keep working with their community organization coming up with their own project-based internship arrangement with the organization and then taking the internship seminar alongside.  
And then what? Do you know what you will do after graduation? Do you know how you can get a job and continue using your Spanish?

The English department has that covered, too. Here's another note from Dr. Wilcox:

Career Planning in the Humanities is being offered twice in Fall 2016: once in each eight-week session: ENGL 199-CP1 (CRN 65313) and ENGL 199-CP2 (CRN 50105). We've had some trouble lining up the attributes for these classes, so if you run into trouble with either of them, let me know. All the assignments have a lot of latitude for students to research and write specifically about the career paths that interest them.  Last semester I ended up having a significant bloc of art history majors, so I was able to research some resources and links specific to art-history-related fields that they could use as a starting-point.  I'd be happy to work with you and Beth to identify similar resources that might be of particular interest to Spanish/Portuguese majors. 

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Law and Spanish Community Service Learning

Read the letter from a former AmeriCorps worker and notice how the tasks he/she describes overlap with the kinds of work that our Spanish CSL students do at the Refugee Center and at La Línea.
by Ann Abbott

[Scroll down to see an update.]

I have been thinking a lot lately about Spanish for the Professions, Languages for Specific Purposes and where they fit in our Spanish curriculum. There's a lot to consider:
  • Student interest.
  • Faculty acceptance/resistance.
  • Our instructional capacity.
  • A model that is uniquely "Illinois."
Several Spanish students who are also preparing for jobs in the health professions have begun organizing and making their voices heard. They want a medical Spanish course!

But I also know that we have many students who are thinking that law school could be in their future. I don't want us to build a medical Spanish course just because those students are the loudest. (Although, of course, I like that they are making their wishes heard!) We need to think "big picture" and design a curriculum for students who will be going on to any number of professions and probably changing professions over the course of their lives, too.

So it was interesting to me to have a telephone conversation the other day with someone who is looking at one of my former students for an Americorps job. The former student whom they would like to hire is an excellent candidate because of her personal qualities and a combination of experiences that she has had during college. But, she's also attractive to this organization because she has experience from her community service learning (CSL) courses working with Spanish-speaking clients doing exactly the kind of work they do. That is a powerful testimony to the important pre-professional training students receive in our Spanish CSL courses.

In other words, 

Even though "Spanish in the Community" isn't a "Legal Spanish" course, people who work in the legal world value students' service learning experiences.

This should give us reason to think deeply about the overlap between Spanish for the Professions and CSL. We should also think about how to help students understand that their CSL course can be a "Legal Spanish," "Medical Spanish" or "Business Spanish" course by the kinds of tasks they do in the community, even if that isn't the title of the course.

Having said all this, I'd like to share more information about this particular AmeriCorps opportunity in the hopes that any former Spanish CSL student will consider applying. This particular job is advertised for this year, but even in the future students should look into this opportunity.

In the email, Mr. Pisha sent me more information (but I wasn't able to post the pdfs), and he wrote: 
Applicants are encouraged to contact me directly first, though they will have to go through the Americorps program directly to apply. Best wishes, Schuyler Pisha, Esq.Legal Director - Immigration Law ProgramsCatholic Social Services1600 Bay St.Fall River, MA 02724(508) 674-4681

Massachusetts Legal Assistance for Self-Sufficiency Program
Member Position Description

Position:                    AmeriCorps Legal Advocate
Reports To:               Partner Site Supervisor and/or Designee
Coordinates With:    All employees engaged by the Partner Site Legal Aid Organization
including attorneys, paralegals, secretaries, and volunteers on site, and the MLASSP AmeriCorps program staff.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance for Self-Sufficiency Program (MLASSP) is a full-time AmeriCorps State program funded through the Corporation for National and Community Service and administered through the Massachusetts Service Alliance.  MLASSP contracts with 28 AmeriCorps volunteer legal advocates (members) to provide legal assistance in civil matters to eligible low-income clients through our partner Legal Aid Organizations (partner sites).  Members serve at the partner legal services organization under the direct supervision of a legal professional (supervisor).  In other words, the AmeriCorps members’ year of service is performed for MLASSP through the partner site legal aid organizations. In AmeriCorps terms MLASSP is a “scattered site” program in which members serve in low-income communities throughout Massachusetts but come together as an AmeriCorps team to meet common performance objectives through participation in MLASSP AmeriCorps activities. 

The following are guidelines of the primary duties of the AmeriCorps members. MLASSP is funded through AmeriCorps to address the national priority of housing assistance. Each member shall have his or her own specific service goals determined individually with his or her supervisor and written in his or her individual Service Plan.  Should the member serve at a partner site that does not routinely do intakes, the site supervisor will make every effort to provide the member with the opportunity to experience the intake process.  AmeriCorps members shall also fulfill additional, secondary duties assigned to them by their supervisor and actively engage in MLASSP AmeriCorps as outlined below and in the member and partner contract. 

  1. Assist Partner Site Attorneys in interviewing at least ninety (90) potential clients for legal assistance in civil matters by screening clients, utilizing those methods of intake and case management prescribed by the partner, including entry into office legal software as needed 
  1. Assist legal professionals in providing counsel or brief service to at least seventy-five (75) lower priority civil cases including housing assistance to economically disadvantaged individuals.  Included in these cases, members will provide the resources needed to access appropriate housing for at least fourteen (14) economically disadvantaged individuals, including homeless individuals, elders, and/or veterans.
  1. Assist Partner attorneys in preparation and representation of at least thirty (30) high priority civil cases as indicated by the site supervisor and/or designee. Included in these cases, members will provide eighteen (18) economically disadvantaged individuals, including homeless individuals, elders, and/or veterans, the assistance they require to transition into or be maintained in safe, healthy, affordable housing. 
  2. Coordinate with and assist other Partner staff to provide high quality legal assistance to clients, including coordination of program-wide activities, for example, community legal education.
  3. Develop and maintain a working knowledge of community needs, desires, and resources   and establish meaningful working ties with community groups of and for the poor in order to assist them in realizing their legal rights and to make them aware of the services the Partner offers.  Utilize this knowledge to assist in expanding the range of services available to clients.
  4. Participate in community legal education activities, including designing pamphlets and making presentations to groups in the community.  Assist in the development and delivery of clinics for clients as needed.
  5. Coordinate at least one local or regional community outreach event that addresses a pressing civil issue in the community, thus allowing the partner site to expand its ability to provide much needed services. 
  6. Recruit, train, support, and manage five (5) volunteers who will serve approximately twenty hours (20) each to further the outreach of the partner site.
  7. Develop and improve competence in working with those significant cultural groups that reside in the area of service.
  8. Negotiate on behalf of eligible clients with landlords, government agencies, utility companies and others as necessary.
  9. Undergo ninety (90) hours of directly supervised client activities by a legal professional.
  10. Complete monthly reflective narratives, end-of-year written essay and exiting paperwork, and attend all MLASSP and AmeriCorps specified events.
  11. Improve skills and knowledge by regularly reading relevant legal materials and engaging in legal activities that the Member has performed few times previously or not at all.  Request training when needed.  Conduct legal research.  Assist in the preparation of reports on issues affecting low-income people.
  12. Develop working relationships with social service and governmental agencies offering services to clients.
  13. Maintain accurate and complete files, including complete recording of client and volunteer activities for statistical purposes.  Timely prepare and file such reports including weekly timesheets, monthly narratives, exiting paperwork and all others as are required by the AmeriCorps program policies and/or the Partner’s policies.
  14. Participate in Partner program activities, including case review, unit meetings, and staff meetings.  Represent partner site in statewide activities such as coalitions and statewide trainings.
  15. Use generally any available language skill, which she or he possesses to assist clients; however, translation activities shall be commensurate with the member's knowledge and experience and with the demands of his/her other activities and with the approval of the legal supervisor.
  16. Use best efforts to develop proficiency in the job-related software used by the Partner.

Update: Here's a message from the student.
"I did hear back from the AmeriCorps position in Massachusetts and have accepted that position. I am very excited, as this was my first choice for next year (and I kind of fell behind on many other applications myself!). I'm not sure what he told you about the position, but I will be working in an office that does immigration law, so I'm very excited to take some of the experiences from your class with me to that new environment and see how it suits me.
Schuyler Pisha actually emailed me to extend the offer the day that he spoke with you and said that you provided a glowing recommendation, so I did want to thank you so much for your role in helping me get this position. I also spoke extensively about my experience with La Linea in my interview, so again, thank you; I am so grateful to you and for your class for providing me with the experience that I needed to get this position. I'm still not sure where I'm going long term, but the experience has been very important for me in thinking about ways that I can take my education and passions forward into a workplace and career."

Monday, June 8, 2015

Student Reflection

by Nicole Tauster

Last semester (Fall 2014) I took SPAN 232 with Ann and this semester (Spring 2015) I was able to take SPAN 332. I immensely enjoyed both classes and would thoroughly recommend them to anyone! Not only did I learn a lot inside the classroom, both from Ann and my classmates, but with the unique opportunity to volunteer outside of class I really broadened my horizons.

Both of these courses are designed to teach us about the Latino immigration in the U.S. and even more specifically in our local community of Champaign-Urbana. In class I learned about the countless dangers immigrants face just trying to reach the U.S. and the myriad of problems that await them when they do arrive. I learned that the U.S. has made it nearly impossible for anyone to enter the country legally or become a legal citizen and that is why so many immigrants are here illegally. Out in the community I learned that many immigrants are honest, hardworking people who want nothing more than to be here legally and receive the rights they deserve as human beings. I learned that even though many people think illegal immigrants aren’t contributing to our society and economy, it’s just the opposite. They work, earn paychecks, and part of their wages go to state and federal taxes, just like everyone else’s. I learned so much about these people, but I also learned about myself.

I always knew I wanted to work with people—I am, after all, the definition of a “people person”—but now I have considered working with immigrants, or at least educating others about their plight. I learned that speaking Spanish with people is something I want to keep doing. Because of this I decided to apply to jobs to teach English in Spain after graduation. I am happy to say I was accepted to program through CIEE and will be headed to Madrid in Fall 2015! And I am also happy to say that I think the things I learned in SPAN 232 and 332 and the skills I gained from volunteering in the community will only benefit me and aid me in my job next year. Working with adults and children alike and with many diverse people from backgrounds very different than mine has been preparation for what I think I will face in Spain. So take these courses—and take them seriously! Ann makes them very fun, but think of them as more than just class credits. Ann—and her wonderful classes—may just open your eyes and change your life!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Unaccompanied Migrant Minors and Chamapaign Urbana

by Ann Abbott

Around this time last year, the headlines were screaming almost every day about the "crisis" at our border, especially about the children from Central America who crossed multiple borders, on their own, to read the United States.

In one year, the memory has faded for most people.

In one year, there is still much work to be done. Thankfully, we have very dedicated people in the Champaign-Urbana area who are making things happen for the unaccompanied minors who are in our town.

Above, you can read what these children have to say. What they think. What they fear. What they hope for.

Here, you can read a statement from CU Immigration Forum about these children.

Monday, June 1, 2015

Student Reflection

by Nicole Tauster

The Power of Speech

I’m sure I have posted about this on this blog before, but I just have to reiterate the power of being able to speak to someone in their native language. Think for a minute about someone who is an immigrant in this country… They might not know English very well, even though that’s all they hear day in and day out. They might get berated for not learning English now that they live in the United States, even though our country doesn’t have an official language. So now imagine what it must feel like when a stranger actually speaks to them in Spanish (or whatever their native tongue is). It must be such a relief! Maybe it feels like they are being accepted for they are, maybe it feels like you’re extending an olive branch of sorts to them… I can’t quite be sure because I have never been on that side of such an exchange, but I can tell you what it feels like to be the person who reaches out.
Let me tell you, it is a wonderful feeling to see that other person’s face light up with recognition when you speak to them in their native language. When they smile because you are taking the time to ask them questions about themselves or their family, you feel like just maybe you made a small difference in their day.

And let me also tell you that this spans all ages and genders, it doesn’t matter. Last semester when I took SPAN 232 I volunteered at ECIRMAC (the Refugee Center) and worked mainly with adults. This semester I volunteered at the Crisis Nursery for SPAN 332 and interacted with young children. But using my Spanish skills had the same effect in both places: it seemed to put people at ease. At first the kids at the Crisis Nursery would be wary of me and pretty quiet, but once I started engaging them and speaking to them in Spanish, they opened up. It was like watching a flower bloom right before my eyes and soon they were chattering away to me and we were playing side by side. It was the same thing with their parents; sometimes they had to wait around while the staff gathered things/papers for them when they came to pick up their children. When this happened, I usually tried to talk to them in Spanish. Since I had spent most of the day with their child or children, I would comment on things I noticed or ask them questions about their kids. Spanish-speaking parents are just like any other parents: they are proud of their children. So when I commented to one mother that her daughter was a good big sister to her brothers, or how I noticed her son really liked to open and close doors, she smiled and laughed and relaxed. Then we could actually engage in conversation. I imagine she probably had a bit of a wall up, like many might if they feel like outsiders, like her children did with me at first. But speaking Spanish to all them made a difference.

So just consider that in the future. If you have an encounter with a Spanish-speaking person—whether it’s a 4-year-old child, a peer, a parent, or an elderly person—do NOT be afraid to use your Spanish skills! You may find you put them at ease with something as simple as speaking to them in their native language. And trust me, the looks on their faces will make it totally worth it.