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University of Arizona students walk in Tucson

Students in the University of Arizona Department of Spanish and Portuguese’s Critical Service Learning Program participated in a three-day delegation with BorderLinks, an educational network in Tucson, to learn about the complex issues surrounding immigration and the U.S.-Mexico border. The program connects students with local organizations for community-based projects, outreach and internships, and it will be expanded campuswide as one component of the new Project ADELANTE.

University of Arizona

The University of Arizona is placing special focus on its Hispanic and Latino students from the borderlands, launching Project ADELANTE to promote engagement and persistence among its minority learners and create collaboration among teaching, research and service in the region.

Project ADELANTE: Advancing Culturally Responsive Place-Based Educational Opportunities for Latinx Students in the Borderlands, is funded by a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions Program.

The grant will run for five years starting this October and will support around 1,800 students, according to the university’s announcement.

What’s the need: The University of Arizona became a Hispanic-serving institution in 2018. In fall 2021, around 27 percent of Arizona students were Hispanic or Latino, and of them, 40 percent were first generation and 78 percent were Arizona residents.

During the 2020–21 academic year, Arizona HSI fellows Lysette Davi and Daniel Martinez published a report exploring binational collaborations at the institution for research and service experiences for students. Their research found there were dozens of campus groups and around 100 employees involved in projects at the U.S.-Mexico border but little cohesion across that work.

As a result, university leaders compiled stakeholder ideas to create the proposal for Project ADELANTE, providing unity across teaching, research and service at the borderland.

How it works: The project has three components: internship and career readiness programming, professional development fellowships for staff and faculty members, and a first-year writing program.

Project ADELANTE will connect undergraduate students with local businesses and nonprofits as part of the Critical Service Learning Program, supporting student internships with 60 organizations in the region.

“The central objective of the Critical Service Learning Program is to provide students with community experiences and reflection opportunities that examine community needs, the importance of civic engagement, and social justice issues affecting ethnic minorities and marginalized populations in Southern Arizona from the context of their particular field of study,” says Ana Cornide, faculty lead on Project ADELANTE.

During the service-learning program, students learn to identify and build authentic relationships as they engage with community members, with a priority on inclusivity, equity and listening to marginalized voices.

Starting this year, students will take a career-readiness course prior to participating in the internship. To be eligible to participate, students must also demonstrate Spanish proficiency.

The first-year writing program will center on the Latin American “testimonio” tradition of personal narratives.

“Testimonio is a Latinx tradition and a form of literature as witness,” Melani Martinez, senior lecturer in the English writing program, said in the university release. “Testimonio is a very different kind of reflection. It brings in more opportunities to talk about student experiences regarding justice, student experiences regarding their cultural or ethnic heritage.”

Any undergraduate student can participate in the writing foundations course to count for their general education requirements, but it will be aimed at Latinx, first-gen and low-income students, Martinez says.

“To support these students, the project will expand the number of writing program instructors teaching borderlands-focused writing courses but will also provide professional development opportunities for all writing program instructors to better incorporate culturally responsive curriculum in any writing class,” Martinez adds.

The fellowship program will support 30 faculty and staff members annually, broken into three groups of 10 across the term. University employees who regularly engage with low-income and first-generation Hispanic students will be eligible to participate as fellows.

During the fellowship, faculty and staff members will participate in educational workshops and trainings, mentorships, and experiential learning opportunities in the borderlands.

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