Emory Report
October 23, 2006
Volume 59, Number 8


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October 23, 2006
Service and learning SHINE in tutoring program linking students and immigrants

BY kim urquhart

The Sudanese woman shyly walked to the chalkboard where she slowly spelled out the day’s date for her English 1A class. Project SHINE coach and Emory student Allison Ball nodded encouragement and demonstrated the subtle movement of the tongue needed to make the “th” sound in “October 17th” as the woman—a refugee who has been in the U.S. for 10 years but who speaks almost no English—struggled to pronounce the words.

As part of the nationwide service-learning initiative known as Project SHINE, Ball visits this DeKalb Technical College classroom each week to tutor the students—the majority of whom hail from Asia, Africa or Latin America—as they learn English.

Project SHINE, which stands for Students Helping in the Naturalization of Elders, links college students with immigrants and refugees as they pursue greater fluency in English and full citizenship.

As social safety nets for non-citizens remain tenuous, students such as Ball help fill the gaps left by funding cuts in English as a Second Language programs by providing individualized coaching in these often larger classrooms.

Ball, a senior in international studies who plans to teach English abroad, has built camaraderie with her students, who are close to her age. “We go back and forth communicating by gesticulating wildly, but we understand each other,” she said.

Ball’s class is the exception; most other Project SHINE sites cater to an older population. Older immigrants face particular challenges as they navigate the complex path to U.S. citizenship, and risk losing important benefits such as Medicaid or food stamps if they fail to obtain citizenship by age 65.

Launched in 1997 at Temple University, Emory is one of 18 colleges and universities that have started SHINE programs across the country. In Atlanta, Emory has teamed up with Georgia Perimeter College to work with refugee agencies, ethnic organizations and community centers. At Emory, Project SHINE is a collaborative effort facilitated by the Office of University-Community Partnerships (OUCP) and the Emory College Language Center.

Intercultural and intergenerational, SHINE brings essential services directly to immigrant communities. The need is great: Metro Atlanta is home to nearly half a million immigrants. Nearby Clarkston is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the country, and Emory students staff a Project SHINE site there as well.
Last year, more than 500 Atlanta-area learners benefited from tutoring, and eight elders have become U.S. citizens since the program’s inception, said Sam Marie Engle of the OUCP.

SHINE volunteers, who serve two hours a week for 10 weeks a semester, work with elders in small groups or one-on-one, creating comfortable learning environments and individualized lessons. They may also serve as teacher’s assistants, translators or site coordinators.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for students to connect to the real world inside the context of their own learning and make a difference for the communities in which they will be working,” said Project SHINE faculty liaison and board member, Vialla Hartfield-Mendez, a senior lecturer in Emory’s Spanish department.
Hartfield-Mendez has been working with Emory faculty members to create links between classroom teaching and relevant field experience for students, who can either participate in SHINE as part of certain coursework or as a volunteer.

“Emory students have the opportunity to put their classroom learning to work in real world settings, making their knowledge matter right here, right now,” Engle said. Students gain knowledge of diverse cultures and life experiences, develop skills beyond the textbook, and find a powerful way to reinforce their academic studies.

And the benefits go both ways. “SHINE helps Emory students acquire new perspectives about people from other nations and other cultures,” Engle said. “In exchange for being helped with learning English and U.S. civics, the elders teach the Emory students lessons about survival, strength, resilience, and about cultures and values that may be very different from theirs.”

Though only in its second year of operation, the program will become a permanent offering of OUCP. “SHINE has proved to be an important means for the OUCP to attract faculty and students from the humanities to participate in our efforts to enhance Emory’s engaged scholarship and learning activities in the greater Atlanta area,” said Michael Rich, associate professor of political science director of OUCP.