Spanish Professor Receives Service-Learning Award from Indiana Governor

Author: Chris Milazzo

Marisel Moreno

In recognition of her collaboration with a local community center, Marisel Moreno, assistant professor in Notre Dame’s Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, has been named the 2011 recipient of the Governor’s Award for Service Learning.

The annual service awards, Indiana’s most prestigious honor for volunteer work, recognize individuals and organizations for “contributions of time and talent to the betterment of their communities.” Moreno and six other recipients were honored October 13 at the 2011 Governor’s Conference on Service and Volunteerism in Indianapolis.

Moreno was nominated for her pioneering work creating the first senior-level Spanish literature course in the College of Arts and Letters that features a required community-service component. Students from Moreno’s fall 2010 and spring 2011 service learning classes spent at least two hours a week at La Casa de Amistad, a local outreach center for young Latinos in South Bend, Ind.

Shared Learning

Moreno received a course development grant from the University’s Center for Social Concerns (CSC) to create the fall 2010 course, called Migrant Voices. Grants from the Institute for Latino Studies (ILS), where Moreno is a fellow, and from the College of Arts and Letters’ Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts funded development of a follow-up course, called Race and Ethnicity in U.S. Latino/a Literature and Community-Based Learning.

“Dr. Moreno has dedicated incredible energy and passion to these classes—and to working collaboratively with their community partner, La Casa de Amistad,” says Rachel Parroquin, assistant professional specialist in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures and director of Spanish service learning at the CSC.

“To do service learning well requires academic rigor that incorporates the service into the content of the course and vice versa,” she says. “Dr. Moreno really entered into the spirit and challenge of service learning, revamping considerably her courses and integrating the service into the structure of the course.”

Moreno, who is offering the courses again in the 2011-12 academic year, says La Casa provides an excellent opportunity for her students to better understand the assigned readings in their social, economic, political, and racial contexts.

“The pedagogy of community-based learning (CBL) strives to offer students the opportunity to step beyond the walls of the classroom and supplement the material we cover in class with what they are learning from their interactions with the community,” Moreno says.

“For me, the most important aspect of CBL is to provide a semester-long, mini-immersion experience that allows my students to simultaneously learn about the challenges faced by the local Latino community and to hopefully help the children they work with by instilling in them a love for learning.”

Shared Goals

Altogether, Moreno’s students in the College of Arts and Letters logged 700 hours at La Casa, volunteering with the Crece Conmigo (Grow With Me) afterschool program for children in kindergarten through grade five and the Adelante America (Forward America) tutoring and leadership development program for students in grades seven to 11.

“La Casa de Amistad is an under-funded nonprofit organization that serves an average of 1,200 families per year,” Moreno says. “Part of the learning process for my students has been to gain a better understanding of the many hurdles that small nonprofits face today.”

The Notre Dame students were able to produce measurable results for La Casa. Overall retention rates for both programs jumped from 20 percent to nearly 65 percent. Moreover, 62 percent of Crece Conmigo students and 74 percent of Adelante America students saw an improvement in their GPAs.

Another goal of the course, Moreno says, was to “design a concrete and practical product from which La Casa and the community can benefit.”

Over the course of the academic year, her students worked with La Casa to publish two bilingual children’s booklets featuring art from Crece Conmigo participants, a literary magazine featuring work from Adelante participants, and three ILS Student Research briefs. Moreno’s students also kept journals during the course of the semester, regularly incorporated reflections about their service into discussion of the literature they were reading, and wrote final papers about their experiences.

Shared Credit

Moreno says that she is honored to have won the Governor’s Award for Service Learning but that it represents more than her work alone.

“This is a recognition of the effort of many people, including each one of my students and the staff of La Casa,” she says.

“I really hope that ¬this award brings attention to the dire need this community has in terms of mentoring and tutoring of underprivileged children, and that students and faculty at Notre Dame realize how much we, and the community, stand to gain from similar partnerships.”

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