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Stepping Outside the Classroom and into the Twin Cities: Lessons in Cross-Cultural Communication

December 14, 2016

The best teaching can happen outside of the classroom—that's why Dr. Laura Pigozzi is bringing an integrated approach to service learning to her students in Writ 3562W: Technical and Professional Writing. By giving students the opportunity to produce informative pamphlets for members of the Twin Cities Latino community, Pigozzi hopes that her students learn how to work with clients, develop nuanced audience analysis, and communicate cross culturally. 

In partnership with the campus-wide organization Community-Engaged Teaching and Learning Faculty Fellows Program, Pigozzi and other instructors across campus are taking their courses into communities for service learning. Service learning is defined as a teaching and learning strategy that incorporates meaningful community service with instruction and reflection. 

Pigozzi has been involved with the Twin Cities immigrant Latino community for the past four years. Her research encompasses the topic of consent: "consent for trial clinical trial inclusion, clinical consent, and health information as well. So I know the community and the community leaders," states Pigozzi. During her time working in these communities, she noticed that "the participants of these focus groups really wanted information on certain topics, such as nutrition and diabetes." Pigozzi began brainstorming ways in which both her students and members of the immigrant Latino communities she was serving could benefit. 

Students attended mass at a Twin Cities church which serves a large population of Latino immigrants. Pigozzi chose this approach to introduce the two groups because she wanted her students to experience "a ritual that's very important for them [members of the Latino community]." After mass, students went to the church basement to talk to community members about their experiences so they could decide on what deliverables they could craft in order to best suit their client's needs. 

Four brochures written by students. From left to right: brochure on nutrition, brochure on mental health, brochure on diabetes, and behind those three, a brochure on starting a business.
Examples of deliverables produced by students.

Throughout the duration of the course, students in Pigozzi's section of Writ 3562W worked with five community liaisons as points of reference. Students corresponded with their liaisons via electronic memo, helping to build a client-based relationship. They were organized into five groups and researched the following topics: mental health, nutrition, diabetes, starting a business, and getting around without a car— subjects that community members specified they needed information on. By having topics be informed by community members, the current power structure is interrupted. 

To complete the course requirements, each student in a group researched a sub-topic and wrote an analytical report. Examples of sub-topics under mental health include adult and juvenile mental health, stigmas and awareness, treatment and resources. Students then reconvened as a group to create informative brochures and packets, which they then presented to the community members. 

Through the process of writing an analytical report and working with a client to produce deliverables, students gained real-world experience. Course outcomes also include producing written work that is stylistically‐appropriate and free of grammatical errors, analyzing audiences and adjusting communication for varying audiences, as well as identifying and analyzing potential ethical issues, i.e. misinformation, confidentiality of information. The service learning approach strengthens the relationship between the University of Minnesota and local communities and allows students to exercise civic responsibility and obtain professional experience in the field of technical writing.

This story was written by an undergraduate student account executive in CLAgency. Meet the team.