Engaged Faculty Spotlight: Community-Engaged Language Courses

This month we spotlight faculty members who are engaging students with language skills with the local community.  
December 8, 2022

This month we spotlight faculty members who are engaging students with language skills with the local community.  

Nidia Schuhmacher, a senior lecturer in Hispanic Studies, has been at Brown for almost 20 years and in 2015 received the John Rowe Workman Award for Excellence in Teaching in the Humanities. She is currently teaching HISP 0710E - Introduction to Professional Translation and Interpretation. Her interest in translation began during her undergraduate degree in Argentina where she was a technical translator and interpreter. HISP 0710E also responds to her desire, supported by her department, to meet the interests of students who wanted further work in their language competence before proceeding to upper division courses. In addition, she wanted to connect the academic work with the Providence community through partnerships with organizations caring for the underserved Hispanic population. This in turn would allow students to put language learning into practice and help them advance their skills .

Developing the course required at least a year of connecting and planning with the community, while also considering the learning objectives and appropriate pedagogical approaches and content (e.g., regarding specific places, audiences, and registers) of a course theoretically grounded. Students are paired with local community organizations such as Rhode Island Free Clinic and Clinic Esperanza as well as Center for Justice and Inspiring Minds, to name a few, to provide interpreting services with primarily Spanish-speaking clients. The documents and other written materials students translate for their sites are long-lasting contributions to the community.  This work can be emotionally and mentally draining for students, and often raises issues of identity, privilege, and stereotypes, so Schuhmacher asks her students to spend time journaling about their experiences and bringing any concerns to the class. She wants her students to leave the class knowing that they are impacting those around them as they learn–and some students have continued to volunteer with their community partners well beyond the course.

In 2014, Dr. Patricia Sobral, a distinguished senior lecturer in Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, developed POBS 1740 - Artful Teaching: Intersecting the Arts with Foreign and Second Language Acquisition. Sobral created the course due to the numerous requests she received from her students interested in learning more about her pedagogical approach and wanting to use it in their teaching. Students in the humanities, and many other fields, including the sciences, often take this course. One of her students, Alexa Ara ‘22, a double concentrator in Education Studies and Portuguese and Brazilian Studies, encouraged her to convert POBS 1740 into a Community-Based Learning and Research (CBLR) course. Through a year-long student-professor partnership supported by a CBLR Fellowship, they identified City Year as their primary community partner. Students are involved with developing workshops and training for City Year fellows to prepare them to engage with Rhode Island schools, particularly the many English Language Learners and their families. Through this course and the students’ “micro-teaching” experiences, Sobral seeks to develop reciprocal partnerships, artful educational practices, and a strong sense of community that assumes community members know best what they need. She keeps in touch with many students who often communicate how the practices learned in POBS 1740 apply to other contexts. City Year staff see lasting value in the professional development offered to their teams. During the summers, Sobral leads workshops and supports teacher institutes in integrating the arts into the curriculum.

Virginia Krause, Professor of French and Francophone Studies, developed FREN 1410 - The Refugee Experience: Displacement, Migration - as a humanities course examining the history of asylum post-World War II as well as figures of migration and displacement more generally. Krause has taught it herself multiple times and more recently, while department chair or on sabbatical, mentored graduate student instructors Mary (Laurin) Williams and Sophie Brunau-Zaragoza. In addition to seminar-style discussions of works by Hannah Arendt, Assia Djebar, Albert Camus, and others as well as close study of two documentary films, the course is grounded in a partnership with Women’s Refugee Care. This Providence nonprofit organization serves refugees–and is led by two refugees from Central Africa, who are themselves French speaking. Students have taken on a wide variety of projects, including producing videos for the organization (e.g., the video featured here), tutoring children, and organizing a Congolese dance performance fund-raiser on campus. “Creating this course has taken me far afield from my research specialization (I am a specialist of Renaissance France),” Krause notes, “but the course has been particularly meaningful for me, and I believe, for the students.” It has also helped “this relatively young organization to grow and establish itself.” When in-person engagement was not allowed due to Covid-19, Krause and the Women’s Refugee Care directors agreed to cancel the Fall 2020 course, but the long-standing collaborative relationship returned to its regular rhythm in Fall 2021 and 2022