An average Spanish class at the University of Memphis might just be an outlet for Diana Ruggiero’s passions for more culturally integrated and economically stable communities in Memphis.
Spanish 4703 is a service learning class at the U of M. The service learning model is a type of class that is becoming increasingly popular as a way to integrate classroom learning with community involvement and hands on work.
That class, however, didn’t give students the experience they were hoping for according to Bryn Chambers who took the class last year.
“Specific ways to engage and be involved in the communities would have been so useful,” Chambers said.
The way students were responding to the class prompted Professor Diana Ruggiero to begin making some changes.
Ruggiero decided to create the CRuCES, Create Community Engaged Scholarship project and use her class as the facilitators. This collaborative project in the Binghamton area brings together people of different cultures and provides small business microloans for independent artists in the community. The students are responsible for organizing events, appointing community leaders and attending meetings each week at Caritas Village.
This helps the families in the community to connect with each other, start their own businesses, and share about their cultures.
“They [her students] will engage community leaders to help develop the project and to identify, train, and support artisans and community members toward the realization of the project goals,” Ruggiero said.
Ruggireo wants her students to see the culture that is right in their own city and the opportunities to help and learn throughout the process.
“We talk a lot about traveling abroad and how good that is to see new cultures, but what about here in our own communities? How do we bring the change here?” Ruggiero said. “A lot of my students are Hispanic or heritage speakers and have no idea that there is even a place like Caritas Village here in Memphis.”
One of her students, Cidney Thomas is a senior Spanish Major who has a passion for other cultures. She says she loves this class because she can make a difference with the things she is learning.
“I have learned stories and backgrounds of so many different people and that is what I love about this class and this project,” Thomas said.
This project will take 18 months, and according to Ruggiero, like any independent project, the plans are always changing and her days are long.
“At the end of the day, the results are so worth it,” Ruggiero said.
This class is her way of making a difference in real life outside of the classroom.
“It’s a beautiful world and we can say all these things on paper, but I want to connect them with reality,” Ruggiero said.