Leading change

And learning through hands-on involvement

Community health senior Lidia Hernandez volunteers, teaching family nutrition at the YMCA.

Cal State L.A. community health senior Lidia Hernandez volunteers at the Weingart East L.A. YMCA branch, teaching family nutrition courses. Her participation with the branch began as part of a class assignment, but she and a classmate have continued to dedicate their time to the branch and the community.

Building on a belief that Cal State L.A. is a part of its East Los Angeles community, every quarter faculty and students engage in hands-on learning projects that take them beyond the campus to share knowledge and foster civic responsibility in their neighborhoods.

“It’s a wonderful experience,” said Cal State L.A. community health senior Lidia Hernandez, who has volunteered throughout the year at the Weingart East L.A. YMCA branch. “It’s so different to talk about community health in a classroom and to actually experience it. To interact with people, answer questions and put programs into effect.”

With a fellow classmate, Xochitl Garcia, Hernandez has helped lead family obesity awareness and health education courses through a program called MEND (Mind Exercise Nutrition Do It). Even though their required coursework is completed, the two have carried on their commitment to the branch.

“It made me see what community health is all about. It’s not just creating a program and implementing it, but actually seeing people come in and change—to see them living happier and healthier lives,” Hernandez added. “I’ve been impressed with the kids telling their parents how to lead healthier lives.”

The branch’s healthy lifestyles director Raquel Delgado, said the two students have “really owned the project” and are reaching out to entire families, helping to create healthier family units as a whole.

In the last year, CSULA students from across disciplines have participated in such activities. They have organized college admissions workshops, initiated community education programs, helped clean up Los Angeles beaches and streets, and even employed skills in graphic design, teaching and grammar.

“Through these opportunities our undergraduates realize that they can change a situation. They can make a difference in their community now,” said Associate Professor of Chicano Studies Valerie Talavera-Bustillos, who uses community engagement opportunities a basis for field projects in her education courses.

The University’s Office of Community Engagement and the Educational Participation in Communities program, she says, help develop these meaningful, collaborative learning experiences.

“It really bridges their academic learning to social issues,” Talavera-Bustillos said. “In our readings, we talk about social critiques of institutions, but with these projects, we are allowed to really apply theory and knowledge and put it into practice.”

CSULA business majors Jennifer Herrera, Aida Lopez and Nicole Gonzales participate in a beach clean-up.

More than 50 Cal State L.A. students, faculty and friends helped clean-up Dockweiler Beach in Playa Del Rey this spring. A group of the University's lectures decided in the fall to adopt the beach to better engage their students in learning through community service and activities.

Lecturer Lollie Ragana and others echoed her colleague’s sentiments, deciding to adopt Dockweiler Beach in Playa Del Rey as part of the California Coastal Commission’s Adopt-A-Beach Program, so that entry-level English students could connect environmental writing and readings to their daily lives. In April, more than 50 CSULA students, faculty and friends dedicated a Saturday morning to collecting trash along the beach.

“This brings the readings and materials to life,” Ragana said. “The information becomes tangible and real to the students, so thinking, and therefore writing improves. They care about what they are saying because they have a personal stake, and make an extra effort to ensure that their thoughts are presented clearly.”

Not to be overlooked in this work, though, is the benefit to the community. As with any successful partnership, the goal of Cal State L.A.’s community engagement or service-learning projects is to educate and serve.

“There are so many successes that come from Cal State L.A. students spending time here,” said Weingart East L.A. Executive Director Victor Dominguez. “Their involvement has definitely broadened the scope of services we provide for our community; they have personally touched a number of lives.”