Multicultural Community Research: An Interview with Jill Niemeier

This semester, the Cisneros Center for New Americans is offering a service learning class jointly with the University of Arkansas. We sat down with a student from the class, Jill Niemeier, to learn more about what this novel service learning course will offer to its participants and the community more broadly.


What drew you to this class?

I work at the Center for Community Engagement here at the University of Arkansas. That’s the office that now does service learning. Of course when I heard about Service Learning I was really interested in the hands on experience and just getting a better understanding of the social issues that I learn about in class. I think it’s more than just an economics issue. It’s a social justice issue. So it’s something that I’ve become very passionate about with my academics, and studying sociology and also the community service experiences I’ve had. I had never really encountered an immigrant population like the one that is in NW Arkansas. It was something different and new for me when I moved here.

Were there any particular challenges you saw facing the immigrant population that made you convinced of its role as a social justice question?

I am involved with the food recovery program on our campus and we recover surplus food from the dining hall here and we distribute it to people in the community that need it. Food insecurity certainly affects the immigrant population more than non-immigrants here. After learning of the lack of diversity in leadership and the lack of integration- it’s a social health issue. Being socially healthy is just as important as being physically and mentally healthy.

What do you think, as a student, are some of the benefits of a Service Learning class?

Seminars and lectures are important in order to learn the ideas and the theories but what service learning does is give you that hands on experience. Whatever issues you discuss in your classes, you get to see it first hand. Of course you’re doing a public service but I think it’s about what you learn from the communities that you’re working with.

How will this affect you after graduation?

Before I got involved with my service project and service learning, I didn’t have a direct path. Since then I’ve developed an interest in Public Health. It’s just completely shaped the direction that I’ve gone.

Do you think minority populations and health are something that you’ll continue to be interested in?

My interest is in diverse and ethnic minority populations. I’m interested in the health disparities in those communities, including food insecurities because it’s a major aspect of health.

What is the class like?

We will be working closely with EngageNWA, an organization that is trying to increase the leadership diversity in our community. We’ll be doing some research for them which is really exciting because I really enjoy social research and I’ve never done anything that’s had a practical effect like this.

Cisneros Center for New Americans


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