Students in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s (UAB) College of Arts and Sciences are applying their knowledge and skills in real-world settings through a collaborative service-learning partnership between the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and the Alabama Interfaith Refugee Partnership (ALIRP).
In Fall 2021, Lourdes Sánchez-López, Ph.D, professor of Spanish in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, taught SPA 485 Spanish for Leadership at the Workplace, a capstone course for the Applied Professional Spanish major concentration. In the course, students develop leadership skills, explore career pathways, and practice their applied professional Spanish through service-learning. Since the course has a strong emphasis on service-learning, Sánchez-López connects students with well-established community partners to explore and transform Birmingham’s linguistic landscape. By doing so, the students—alongside the community partner(s)—make public spaces more accessible, inclusive, and welcoming to the Spanish-speaking community.
In the fall, Sánchez-López connected 15 of her students with the ALIRP, an interfaith group of religious leaders and laypersons who help refugees and asylum-seekers. Throughout the semester, students translated the organization’s website and other resources to Spanish to make the information accessible to ALIRP´s Spanish-speaking refugee families—many of which are from Central America—as well as for Spanish-speaking volunteers.
“This service-learning project is meaningful, and it contributes greatly to the transformation of Birmingham´s linguistic landscape,” said Sánchez-López. “The Applied Professional Spanish students made an important contribution in our joint journey to more equitable access to resources for all. I am very proud of each one of them.”
One of the course objectives for SPA 485 is for students “to acquire a more profound understanding and appreciation of one´s own community.” According to Lindi Deboer, a recent UAB alumna who participated in SPA 485, the course clearly achieved that goal.
“My time working with the ALIRP was a humbling and rewarding experience. I was able to learn about the pressing issues impacting immigrant families, as well as the support the ALIRP gives them,” said Deboer. “As a Spanish major, being able to help Hispanic immigrant families by translating the ALIRP’s resource guide was very special. I could not have done it without such an amazing team—Lisandra Carballoza Quesada, Dalton Scott, Jane Vines, Lynda Wilson, Katherine Fulcher, and Dr. Sánchez-López—who were very encouraging, attentive, and compassionate.”
The team at the ALIRP also viewed the experience as a success. Specifically, Lynda Wilson, president of the ALIRP, believes the partnership helped the organization reach more people and deepen its impact.
“These resources will be extremely helpful for ALIRP volunteers and asylum-seeking families that we serve,” said Wilson. “Thanks to this wonderful collaboration, the ALIRP will be able to expand its reach to the Spanish-speaking community in Birmingham and beyond. We are extremely grateful to Dr. Sánchez-López for her leadership in developing this collaboration!”