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Empowering Minds and Hearts: A Community-Engaged Teaching Grant Project

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By: Julia Roncoroni, Associate Professor | Counseling Psychology, Morgridge College of Education

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Newspaper with headline "Immigration"

In Winter Interterm 2022, Dr. Delio Figueroa and I shared a transformative educational journey with our students, thanks to the support of a Community-Engaged Teaching grant. The primary aim of this grant was to compensate our exceptional community guest speakers who have been instrumental in enriching our “Immigration Enforcement, Human Rights, and Social Justice” class year after year. In this post, I am thrilled to share the impact of this project, which definitely transcended the classroom.

The course Dr. Figueroa and I led was an intensive week-long exploration of immigration policy in the United States, with a keen focus on undocumented immigrants and the strategies of enforcement at the border and within the country. Our objective was to enable students to critically analyze this complex aspect of immigration policy while fostering a deep understanding of its consequences on individuals and communities.

One of the defining features of our course was the active involvement of four community guest speakers, all advocates and impacted individuals, who generously shared their expertise and personal experiences. Their contributions added a vital dimension to our discussions, making the subject matter more tangible and relatable. One student said, “[Hearing from] community members entrenched in the immigrant rights movement added drastically to the experience.” 

From examining the history and controversies surrounding immigration to delving into the economic, social, and health impacts of enforcement, our students were exposed to a comprehensive view of the immigration landscape. We also had three academic guest speakers, Dr. Rebecca Galemba (DU), Dr. Lisa Martinez (DU), and Dr. Germán A. Cadenas (Rutgers University), who graciously donated their time to enrich our students’ perspective.

This multifaceted approach ensured that our students not only gained theoretical knowledge but also developed a deep empathy for the individuals affected by these policies.

One standout element of our course was the Immigrant Stories Project, where students engaged directly with immigrant communities, conducting interviews that provided invaluable insights. This hands-on initiative was led by Dr. Bryan Rojas-Araúz, a bilingual bicultural Afro-Latino immigrant psychologist. The Immigrant Stories Project allowed students to connect with the subject matter on a personal level, fostering empathy and a deeper appreciation for the human stories behind the policies.

Our community guest speakers played a pivotal role in shaping our students' perspectives. Their stories, expertise, and advocacy efforts underscored the real-world implications of immigration policies. These speakers demonstrated that change is possible through community engagement and advocacy, leaving a lasting impact on our students.

The feedback we received from our students speaks volumes about the success of this project. They praised the course planning and the diverse range of learning mediums. Several students said in their feedback that the course had transformed their worldview, with many describing it as their favorite experience in the program.

In conclusion, the Community-Engaged Teaching grant allowed us to create a learning environment where knowledge and empathy intersected. It facilitated a deep exploration of immigration policy and its real-world impact, making a lasting impression on our students. This project is a testament to the power of community engagement in higher education, and we are excited to continue this work in the future.