Spanish Program Engages Latino Community

In Spanish for the Service Professions, students with service-oriented career interests converse with native speakers and participate in service learning.

Learning Spanish should be more than just academic, according to professor of Spanish Leona Martin. At Susquehanna, it leads to engagement with the Latino community—an experience available through Martin’s Spanish for the Service professions course and Susquehanna’s annual Latino Symposium.

In Spanish for the Service professions, students with service-oriented career interests converse with native speakers and participate in service learning. Last fall, many students fulfilled the course’s service component by working one-on-one with ESL (English as a Second Language) students in the Shikellamy and Selinsgrove school districts. For example, Susquehanna students created and implemented SUPER SEALS, an ESL/ELL (English language learners) study program for students at the Selinsgrove Intermediate School. They also conducted a workshop at Milton High School to generate interest in postsecondary education among Latino students.

During a class trip to Reading, Pa., students discussed local political issues with Michael Rivera, a Latino politician. In New York City, they toured Spanish Harlem and met with Willie Perdomo, a renowned Latino poet famous for his performances at the Nuyorican poets Café on the Lower East Side. Perdomo then visited campus in the spring as a poet-in-residence.

“We were immersed in the culture of those living in los barrios del Spanish Harlem,” explains Jessica Zigarelli ’12, who majored in elementary and early childhood education. Zigarelli came to appreciate that, “Spanish is a vast language, with several dialects and different cultures representing the one language.”

By the end of the course, students had gained “a cross-cultural experience which will provide the background needed to interact with Latinos in many different settings,” Martin says.

This cultural appreciation is promoted throughout campus during the annual Latino Symposium. In its 17th year, the symposium explored the theme Fearless Latino Voices with students continuing their tradition of contributing to symposium activities. For instance, Lecturer in Spanish Kimberly Kaler’s Intro to College Spanish II class created a Day of the Dead display on the lawn outside the Charles B. Degenstein Campus Center. The Hispanic Organization for Latino Awareness (HOLA) hosted a dance workshop and the evening gala dance at TRAX, Susquehanna’s on-campus nightclub.

“There’s not that big of a Latino population on campus, but [the symposium] brings us together and gives us a voice,” says HOLA’s president Roger Manzano ’14, a business administration and theatre performance major.

The symposium also featured a luncheon honoring promising Latino high school students, called “Luces en la comunidad,” which translates to “lights in the community.” The event built upon the connections that Martin’s Spanish for the Service professions class made with Latino populations in local high schools.

The course and the symposium both show the department’s commitment to taking students beyond textbook knowledge and into interaction with the Latino community. Spanish graduates often keep up this commitment in their own careers, particularly those who go on to teaching positions with programs such as Teach for America. These students long to teach “the importance of recognizing the growing Latino community in our country,” says Martin. “That says a great deal.”

Contributing writers to The ’Grove section are Karen Jones, assistant director of media relations; Megan McDermott ’14, a creative writing and religion major from Lewisberry, Pa.; Dalton Swett ‘13, a creative writing major from Effingham, N.H.; and Elise Tomaszewski, a creative writing and German major from Selinsgrove, Pa.

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