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College grants focus on local area

Megan O'Neil | Thursday, March 3, 2005

A few months ago, Elia Sanchez was just a regular senior at Saint Mary’s. Now, with the help of a grant from the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership (CWIL), she is putting her Spanish skills to work as the student coordinator, anchor and producer of a local public television program “Imagen Latina.”

CWIL has created a new grant opportunity for Saint Mary’s faculty and students like Sanchez, designed to facilitate projects between the local community and the College.

The “bridging college with community grant,” which is co-sponsored by the office of civic and social engagement, provides up to $2500 for faculty-student teams to collaborate with a community member or organization on educational initiatives.

Since its birth in 2000, CWIL has awarded dozens of grants related to its mission of instigating intercultural engagement at Saint Mary’s. The center often provides money for students traveling abroad and faculty research in intercultural studies.

According to Bonnie Bazata, director of community connections for CWIL, this is the first time a grant has been offered specifically tailored for projects within the Michiana area.

“One of the outcomes is we will have deepened our relationship with our community, and the community will have a deeper knowledge of the College,” Bazata said.

Six proposals submitted since the start of the semester have already been accepted and are underway, and six more are “in the pipelines,” Bazata said.

Sanchez is the student organizer for one of the projects already begun. She was approached in the fall by political science professor Marc Belanger and Jesusa Rodriguez, director of “Imagen Latina,” about contributing to the show.

The program, which airs Thursday and Sunday afternoons at 5:30 p.m. on Comcast channel 99, is targeted at the local Hispanic population and has a viewing capacity of 880,000 people. Content includes practical information such as changes in immigration laws and how to survive the cold weather.

“It was bridging with the community and I had been looking for a way to work with the community,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez seized the “Imagen Latina” opportunity, for which her CWIL grant provided $2500 to purchase production equipment. Once her project is done, the equipment will belong to the College.

She called the grant opportunity “phenomenal” and said the experience she is gaining is invaluable. As part of her work with the television program, she recently presented a grant proposal to the South Bend mayoral office that was promptly approved.

“The types of skills we are learning are basically untouchable,” said Sanchez, and said that this knowledge can’t be found for undergraduate students anywhere else.

Sanchez added that the people in the community she has met through her work with “Imagen Latina” have been “inspirational and motivating.” The first Saint Mary’s student-produced segment airs today.

Communications professor Susan Latham was told that her bridging grant proposal on communicative disorders had been approved Tuesday.

Working with Saint Mary’s students in the communications and social work departments, Latham is launching a program to educate local parents on communication development.

“The goal of this program is to provide training to important people in the child’s life so they can provide language training throughout the day,” said Latham.

The program will be based at St. Joe’s Health Center, also know as the Chapin Street Clinic, but will include house visits.

The departments “give (the students) a wonderful opportunity to work in schools and in hospitals … but what is always missing is the parents’ perspective,” said Latham.

Latham and participating students are using connections the social work program already has with students in the community to enter homes and assess the needs of parents, she said.

Bazata said these programs are proof that the grant will bring many more original project proposals to CWIL and the community than she could develop alone.

“I’m thrilled [with the proposals so far],” she said. “[They are] far more creative than I could come up with just sitting here.”

The proposal must include, among other things, an inter-cultural aspect, and must be based in Michiana.

“We are looking for a creative idea, committed partners and something feasible within the time frame [of the school year],” she said.

According to Bazata, the project idea usually starts with one individual who must then approach potential partners.

“It has to be triangulated,” Bazata said. “There has to be a student involved, there has to a faculty member involved and there has to be a community member involved.”

Once the project is completed, participants are expected to reflect on the experience and then share it with others, Bazata said.

“They have to submit a written report,” she said, “and we encourage them to do some sort of other sharing with the Saint Mary’s community.”

CWIL also provides a retreat at the end of the year so those who worked on projects can meet and interact with one another.