UMass Boston's independent, student-run newspaper

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

CPCS Connection: The Perfect Cactus

Take twelve students from five colleges three weeks into a semester, transport them 2706 miles to the southwest for three days and what do you get? This is not a fun math problem, but an example of progressive education at work.

One of the purposes of the student centers is to bring a diverse group of students together in an effort to share our cultures, histories, and experiences; and to broaden our understanding of each other for our common good.

This was accomplished through several collaborative efforts-the University of Massachusetts (Boston) and Arizona State University (Tempe); the Colleges of Management, Nursing, Arts & Science, and the College of Public and Community Service; Casa Latina, Student Life, and the Undergraduate Student Senate.

Working with Professor Raul Yberra as faculty advisor from the Latino Studies Program at CPCS, coordinating the project through Casa Latina, the participants set out to do an ethnographic study of Latinos in Phoenix, Arizona with a focus on the recruitment and retention of Latino students. Through the auspices of the Student Senate and the Gaston Institute we were able to make the journey from one environment to another.

The only requirement for inclusion in this joint adventure was a total committed to the work. This commitment involved getting close to subjects in their natural setting and reporting factual observations to those who sponsored the ethnography. Each member of our team was responsible and committed from start to finish.

We utilized a participant-observation strategy to document analyses, interviews on site, and combined observations with participation. This allowed the researcher team the opportunity to develop an insider’s view and to feel what it is like to be part of the group. Our challenge was to combine participation and observation so as to become capable of understanding the experience as an insider, while describing the experience for outsiders.

Participants were able to utilize the skills learned in the classroom and apply them to real life situations. In some situations improvisation was the only tool available. We also honed our collaborative skills as team members in the presentation of a professional level report to policy-makers not only on this campus, but also to the Second Biennial Latino Public Policy Conference in Lowell, MA. In July members of our group will participate in panel discussions at the National Conference of La Raza in Miami Beach, FL. Additional invitations have been received to present our finding to schools in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The trip to Arizona permitted our group to draw upon those who possess an informed perspective those being a collective of eight professors who agreed to present to us, and to be interviewed, and yes, even examined. With tape recorders, camcorders, note pads, and writing instruments our group captured every work and body motion of the Arizonans. Our own experiences, thoughts, and feelings were also being recorded, so that nothing would be left behind or might possibly escape memory. After all, these were highly personal experiences for the researcher, too.

Later, upon our return, computers, projectors, posters, charts, graphs, and speech would be used to report our findings and make recommendation to the university community and to other groups that had expressed an interest in our work.

We found the students at Arizona State University were perhaps the most valuable resource in helping us find the perfect cactus. They provided maps, website, recruitment and orientation packets, poster, menus, personal tours, contact opportunities and networks.

The College of Public and Community Service (CPCS) is about opportunity, inclusion, social change, and personal growth. For this writer, the Arizona trip was a golden opportunity to experience another culture in a different setting with my fellow scholars. Another feature of CPCS is the encouragement of the individual to not only find their voice, but to exercise their voice be it oral, written, or otherwise all.

The CPCS connection benefited our group in ways that have yet to be manifested. Although members of our group have written reports and have made presentations on campus, as well as a regional policy making conference, we can look forward to seeing our students being published before they graduate. We look forward to the day when not only our voices are heard, our works read, and our suggestions implemented, but that we truly live in a society of equality, fraternity, and justice.