When Rossy Toledo designed curriculum for her Intermediate Intensive Spanish for Communications course 10 years ago, her students learned all the concepts a communications major would need to market to the Hispanic population. After a few years, she discovered the need to provide a more hands-on experience for her students.
“Students read and learn communications, marketing, and advertising concepts, as well as explore the impact the growing Hispanic population of East Tennessee has on local business models. They did not, however, have the opportunity to apply the skills they learned in the classroom to real-world situations,” says Toledo, senior lecturer of Spanish in the Department of Modern Foreign Languages and Literatures. “I started looking for community partners interested in marketing their product or service to the growing East Tennessee Hispanic market.”
Students have worked on projects from promoting fuel efficiency to advertising community resources. This year, Toledo and her students collaborated with WonderWorks in Pigeon Forge, which bills itself as “an amusement park for the mind.” The attraction combines education and entertainment with over 100 hands-on exhibits.
The semester-long project provided students an opportunity to apply their language skills to a real-world project by designing a Spanish-language flyer promoting WonderWorks and talking directly to the Hispanic community about the park. The end product was an advertising campaign for the Hispanic community the students presented to the client – WonderWorks – at the end of the semester.
Chris Siler, a student majoring in Spanish and a local business owner, found the experience to be very beneficial to both his academic career and his business.
“It’s one thing to learn a language in a vacuum, but to get your brain thinking about how to put your course load to work makes it sink in,” Siler says. “I never realized I was making my company unattractive to the growing Hispanic population. When we began to look at some things that would help WonderWorks, I quickly looked at my own business and realized we were getting caught in the same pitfalls. I look forward to making some changes and tapping into a new customer base.”
Katelyn Robinson, a public relations major, needed to fulfill her foreign language requirement before going abroad. When her advisor told her about this course, she jumped at the opportunity to take a course that would also help her in her chosen field of PR.
“This class was great because it utilized my major while learning a new language. Being able to do all the things I would normally do in English and then taking my learning further was very rewarding,” Robinson says. “I am glad UT offers a foreign language course specific enough to learn about the importance of communications strategy.”
Another course Toledo brings hands-on learning to is her Intermediate Spanish Honors course, which is designed to meet the more rigorous needs of honors students. After teaching the course for a couple of years, however, Toledo realized the students needed more of a challenge. Armed with a Teaching for Innovation grant from the Teaching and Learning Center, Toledo came up with an idea to have students conduct interviews with the local Hispanic community.
“I believe that in the current political climate, the spoken histories of the Hispanic community needed to be recorded somewhere, so this semester students designed and conducted interviews and recorded them using the Story Corps app,” Toledo says.
Students met and conducted interviews with members of the Hispanic community at Centro Hispano, a nonprofit organization that helps the Hispanic community by promoting empowerment and civic participation of the multicultural community through education and social services.
“The project itself was very fun and interesting,” says DJ Garcia, Spanish honors student. “I was a bit anxious prepping for the interview, but once we started, I felt more and more comfortable speaking in Spanish and even started asking questions that weren’t on my list.”
During his interviews, Garcia discovered there were several people who had struggles similar to his parents and family.
“It reminded me of my trips to Mexico and how close my family was as a whole,” Garcia says. “It changed my perspective entirely and made me appreciate my parents’ sacrifice even more.”
Kristen Peterson was not very thrilled to learn she had to interview a fluent Spanish-speaker – in Spanish.
“I was so nervous because I did not think I was good enough to hold a 20-minute conversation with a fluent speaker,” Peterson says.
When she met her interviewee, Jose, she relaxed and enjoyed hearing his story.
“It was very inspiring. He faced so much adversity and hardship in his life, but he still continues to work very hard and have a positive attitude,” Peterson says. “I truly believe that people who do not want immigrants in our country should talk to an immigrant and understand their story. You realize they are real people trying to be successful and make a good life for themselves. They work so hard for themselves and their family. I really enjoyed talking to him.”
The Centro Hispano project provided a bridge from classroom learning to real-world learning, an important piece of the experience-learning puzzle. Students apply cultural awareness to design the interview and use their command of Spanish to listen and understand the response.
“Research has shown that hands-on, experimental learning not only makes students feel more engaged, but also helps them retain material as they connect what they are learning to real life. My classes serve to introduce students to situations they will face on the job market,” Toledo says. “Experience learning is a very important part of higher education. UT benefits every time students have the opportunity to get their hands on something real through a program or course.”