Academics and Research / Magazine Feature

Students learn change comes through knowing the community

Pioneer Leadership Program students are learning that building relationships is an important step in affecting community change.

In the required Models of Community Change course, they are asked to identify areas of tension or conflict — such as a shortage of clean water — then go into a community and conduct one-to-one interviews with people who face these obstacles daily.     

The interviews and the relationships that are formed essentially become research, says instructor Eric Fretz, director of DU’s Center for Community Engagement and Service Learning. From this information, students develop action plans aimed at confronting problem areas and improving the community.

The course is part of a year-long sequence, during which students will work with the community to implement their plans in the winter and spring quarters. 

“You have experience talking with your friends, but these [interviews] are more formal,” says Gerrod Moltza, a sophomore business management major.

“You want to figure out how this person can use you.”

Sophomore criminology and psychology major Melissa Gomez and her two group partners, Maria Leon and Tonya Luna, are working with elementary students at Denver’s La Escuela de Guadalupe. Gomez and her partners are creating a tutoring program and fundraising techniques for the school.

The group’s hope is to  address this problem: new immigrant students in this community feel they cannot receive the same education and don’t have the same opportunities as American-born students.

“We wanted to find a way to incorporate the issue of immigration and education because we know if we start at an early age, we can better help them get to college,” Gomez says.

Fretz previously taught the course at Michigan State University and Naropa University. 

This article originally appeared in The Source, December 2006.

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