Why Service Learning? Cisneros Center and University of Arkansas Offer Novel Course in Immigrant Integration


This semester, The Cisneros Center is teaming up with the University of Arkansas to provide a course that will teach comprehensive survey and research methods, cultural competency, data analysis, and presentation skills with a focus on immigrant integration. The students will be gathering research on boards, commissions and committees in the Northwest Arkansas area, and identifying those that are interested in diversifying their membership. They will also conduct interviews with key leaders in the nonprofit sector, the municipal governments and the immigrant community. The purpose for this project is to create a network of leadership opportunities for immigrant residents as a way to amplify their position and voice in the community.

Northwest Arkansas has seen a fast-paced increase in immigrant residents since 1990, and foreign-born residents now make up 11.25% of the population. With the surge of new immigrants, it is essential that the community develop increased civic participation by immigrants and promote a stronger connection to the community. The data collected during this project will be used to bolster the work of EngageNWA Partnership Immigrants from Abroad Pillar, a coalition of over 40 organizations working in unity on retaining and recruiting diverse talent to NWA. Additionally, the students will become familiar with the work of the Cisneros Center for New Americans, a nonprofit organization dedicated to immigrant integration.

What is Service Learning? And more importantly, what difference is it going to make with overall student comprehension?

According to Christine Cress, author of Service Through Learning, the concept of “Service Learning” is to engage students with community service activities with intentional academic learning goals and opportunities for reflection that connect to their academic disciplines. By immersing students in the very communities and concepts they’re learning about, students will gain first hand experience in methods of immigrant integration. Not only will the broader community benefit from the research these students collect, but evidence suggests that the students themselves may benefit as well.

A study was conducted by the Virginia Commonwealth University to compare the academic success of students who participated in service based learning to those who did not. The study found, that Service Learning Students, “...earned more credits, had a higher average college GPA, and graduated at a significantly higher rate than did non-SL students, despite having greater financial need while enrolled.” And according to Cress, “[SL-Students’] academic and social self-concept is higher, they tend to be more ethical in their decision making, their tolerance and empathy is improved, their societal and community issues is broadened, their cognitive and problem-solving skills are more advanced, and their interest in influencing positive social and political change is increased.”

This mutually beneficial course will create an opportunity for students to contribute knowledge to an active coalition in Northwest Arkansas that is focused exclusively on integrating immigrants in the region while also helping students develop their community understanding and improve their overall academic performance. The knowledge base that these students will acquire as the course unfolds will be key in the immigrant integration discussion for years to come.

Cisneros Center for New Americans


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