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New courses incorporate service

Justin Tardiff | Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Last spring, the Center for Social Concerns allocated four $2,500 grants to faculty members developing courses that combine community service and research projects.

The faculty members selected to receive the grants were: assistant professional specialist and concurrent lecturer in Romance languages and literatures, Isabel Jakab, philosophy professor and fellow of the Reilly Center for Science, Technology and Values, Edward Manier, visiting assistant professor of anthropology, Kimbra Smith, sociology graduate student, Xochitl Bada and assistant professor of anthropology, Karen Richman.

Using the grant, Jacob expanded her Conversational Spanish course, allowing students to build their oral proficiency while servicing the area’s Hispanic community.

Through the Community Alliance to Serve Hispanics (CASH) students participate in weekly experiential learning sessions with native speakers off-campus, doing such work as teaching English as a Second Language at the CSC-sponsored Robinson Community Learning Center, tutoring Hispanic students, working as an interpreter at the Saint Joseph Clinic, the Indiana Health Center, and the Memorial Hospital, or teaching Spanish to the children of Notre Dame’s faculty and staff at the Early Childhood Development Center. For those who wish to remain on-campus, opportunities for teaching English to Hispanic members of the University’s staff are also available.

A native of El Salvador, Jakab has been integrating experiential learning into her classroom since she was a 1983 Notre Dame graduate student, believing that such interaction suits the needs of both the Hispanic and student populations.

“The Latin community needs to learn the language of this country to be successful,” she said. “They cannot work in an office, or even a factory sometimes. We have here American people who know their language and want to learn a second. It is an exchange of languages. Both groups benefit.”

After a year of busing prisoners from the St. Joe County Work Release Center to Sunday Mass, Manier decided to develop a course in which students could visit and work with recovering addicts in institutions throughout the community.

Manier feels that the course, entitled “Addiction, Science and Values”, will not only get students interested in how the brain works, but will serve as an invaluable learning experience.

“Working with recovering addicts is like going to boot camp to learn why human beings need the virtues,” Manier said. “These students will need to learn how to be real friends to the less fortunate, as college educated ‘dependency workers.’ That will require and provide a lot of self-knowledge.”

As of yet, specifics of the training program and community work are undefined, but there have been strong initial responses from such local organizations as the Life Treatment Center, the St. Joe County Court Substance Abuse Program, Michiana Dismas House, and the Rescue Hope Mission.

Smith and Bada used their grant to create a course aimed at finding the root of unemployment and discrimination problems within the heterogeneous immigrant community of Elkhart.

Working collaboratively with the anthropology and sociology departments, the Center for Social Concerns, the Institute for Latino Studies and Kristin Shrader-Frechette’s course on Environmental Justice, students will hold extensive interviews with immigrants and “conduct ethnographic research to find the best ways of advertising labor clinics to affected populations.”

Their findings will be outlined in policy recommendations given to those community organizations that serve the immigrant population, such as the local Catholic churches and La Casa of Goshen.

“Eventually, we hope to start a community-based organization that will be internally run,” said Smith. “The policy recommendations are intended to help us accomplish that goal.”

Richman’s grant course will explore the Mexican migrant population of South Bend through the use of ethnographic research of the community’s households, businesses, media organizations and social service agencies.

These new additions to Notre Dame’s academic offerings will open up new opportunities for students of all years and improve relations with the university and community.

“We know that student learning is enhanced in community-based learning courses,” said Mary Beckman, associate director of academics at the CSC. “We also want to encourage in students a commitment to become involved in their own communities, not only while they’re in school, but when they leave the university as well.”