Two Mary Baldwin professors spent Spring Break developing connections that will enrich classroom and on-site learning thanks to a new funding stream administered by the Spencer Center for Civic and Global Engagement.

spencer_patinoBrenci Patiño, assistant professor of Spanish, and Doris Dodson, visiting assistant professor of social work and field work coordinator, are the first recipients of grants from the new High-Impact Engaged Education Fund. The fund accomplishes one of several goals of the Spencer Center Endowment, created as a priority of the college’s current multi-million-dollar fundraising effort, Ever Ahead: The Campaign for Mary Baldwin University.

Patiño, who joined Mary Baldwin in 2011 and has taught U.S. Latina/o Literature and Culture for three semesters, will use her grant to refine the itinerary for a proposed new Spring Break or May Term course to explore Latino culture in New York City. Patiño traveled to the Big Apple in March to scope out potential locations for her class to visit, including neighborhoods such as Manhattan’s Loisaida and Washington Heights, and cultural centers such as El Museo del Barrio and The Mexican Cultural Institute of New York. She also envisions students attending lectures at Columbia University and the City University of New York as well as a live performance at Repertorio Español.

“My hope is that students will further understand the complexity of Latino histories in the United States, as well as their varied and unique cultural contributions,” Patiño said.

“It could also be an ideal opportunity for Latina Mary Baldwin students to engage with communities that represent their homelands, without leaving the country,” she said.

Dodson returned just days ago a trip to Haiti, during which she started a network of contacts to lay the foundation for a proposed social work field practicum in that country. Social work students often express an interest in international activities, Dodson said, and Assistant Professor of Social Work Mary Clay Thomas established a successful program in Honduras a few years ago by. Dodson’s goal is to create a long-term relationship with the community of Cherident, Haiti, which will be key to an effective practicum program.

spencer_dodson1“This Spring Break trip was invaluable in helping me consider how we can customize our future field practicum,” said Dodson, who traveled with two current social work students, Mary Baldwin Director of Physical Therapy Kai Kennedy, and other Mary Baldwin students and faculty.

Dodson’s own experience provides a compelling testimony for the value of studying abroad.

“I participated in a service-learning trip to Mexico as an undergraduate, and it was life-changing. It was during that trip that I became determined to be a social worker,” she said. “Field instruction is the signature pedagogy of the bachelor of social work. This kind of opportunity increases students’ confidence in working with diverse populations and helps promote the Mary Baldwin value of global citizenship.”

Steve Grande, executive director of the Spencer Center, is encouraged by the generous gifts that made it possible to offer these inaugural grants. As the endowment grows, funds will also be employed to sustain study abroad and civic engagement scholarships for students as well as to enhance the artist-in-residence program.

“The goal of the fund is to support the creativity that our faculty brings to their teaching by providing resources that will allow them to connect innovative experiential elements with their courses,” Grande said. “The range of grant applications reflected our faculty’s desire to continually seek creative approaches to helping students engage with complex topics.”