Spanish for beyond the classroom

By Michelle Chung ’20

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Across almost all professions, obtaining a job is becoming increasingly difficult and competitive. Especially in the fields of medicine, business and law, candidates are expected to have actual professional experience before being hired. Internships and volunteer opportunities, however, are hard to come by, and classroom work is sometimes not enough compared to real, hands-on work experience.

Hispanic Studies Professor Luisa Briones-Manzano has begun an initiative to help students obtain professional experience through her course titled “Spanish for the Professions” with the help of the Levitt Center, which offered her a grant to teach the course. As a part of the course, students meet twice a week to discuss articles that pertain to medicine, business or law. During this time, students also role-play conversations using grammar found in those professions. As part of the course, students complete at least ten hours of mandatory community service.

“My goal is to create a course of social justice in relation with environmental issues and to incorporate experiential learning in the community through three areas: medicine, business and law” Professor Briones-Manzano said. She explained how the course originally focused on teaching vocabulary and grammar used in those specific fields through in-class texts and exercises. 

Through Professor Briones-Manzano’s new proposal, however, students not only have opportunities which they can actually perform volunteer work, but also gain new perspectives on how their work impacts the world around them. Professor Briones-Manzano hopes that students “utilize the course as an effective and innovative tool for social change” and that it will “[prepare them] with academic and analytic knowledge of practical focuses arising during the 21st century in the areas of medicine, business and law.”

As a part of the community service requirement, students work with social services in the Utica area through non-profit organizations, including organizations such as Academy of Science or Hamilton Microfinance. By working with services in specifically the Utica area, the professor hopes that students can create a relationship with the Latino community using their knowledge of the Spanish language.

Pre-med and Spanish major Emma Weller ’19 thought the class would be a great way to combine her two interests and prepare for her future career, especially as for her, “[the class] offered practical applications of the Spanish language.” 

“My favorite part of the course was the mandatory community service. I ended up volunteering with Project Shine and went to an adult education center,” Weller commented. Project Shine is a program in Utica where volunteers teach English to refugees and immigrants. “There, I helped immigrants from all over the world learn English. These people had come to America for various reasons and wanted to learn English so that they could get jobs or go back to school. All of the students that I helped were resilient and admirable. They came to a place where they didn’t know the language and or any other people, to help their families.”

Biochemistry and Hispanic Studies double major Emily De Jong ’19 also takes the class. 

“My favorite part of the course was having debates with other students on controversial issues, or on issues that I never realized were controversial,” she expressed. “This class opened my eyes to the impact of cultural differences on how we work, communicate and interact. During the discussions, instead of speaking to focus on verb tenses and adjective agreements, we spoke to make a point. We spoke with conviction and excitement, and the language became a tool instead of a barrier.”

Through courses such as “Spanish for the Professions,” students have the opportunity to actively help their community reach social change. By volunteering, they also gain professional experience for their future careers. Such social innovation projects are great ways for students to become more prepared for the real world, and for others, especially in the community, to benefit from the help of Hamilton students.

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