CSU students focus on international community engagement in Todos Santos

Todos Santos students

Story by Kelsey Hussey

Fourteen Colorado State University students recently stepped out of their comfort zones for a course that allowed them to engage with youth living in the communities surrounding the CSU Todos Santos Center in Mexico.

“The thing that I will carry with me on this trip will definitely be the connections I made with the kids,” said Chloe Beardsley, a CSU chemistry student. “Getting to know them and hearing about their dreams and aspirations was so rewarding. It really made me feel like the whole thing was worth it.”

The two-week “Youth and Family Engagement” course was offered by the Department of Human Development and Family Studies and took place in Baja California Sur, Mexico, in May. The CSU Todos Santos Center offers an outlet for students to grow as global citizens by experiencing another language and culture.

Faculty members Jen Krafchick and Janina Farinas, along with Director of Summer Session Initiatives Anne Van Arsdall, worked to develop the course with Todos Santos Director of Special Projects and Partnerships Kim Kita.

Assessment, outreach

During the course, some students focused on conducting in-depth needs assessments for youth in the community, while other students piloted different outreach programs. Prior to departing on the two-week course, the students and faculty prepared by familiarizing themselves with the Mexican culture and subjects such as parenting, impacts of health care, leadership and international development. By cultivating discussions around these topics, the group felt prepared to appropriately engage with the local communities around the Todos Santos Center.

Once they arrived at Todos Santos, the students took Spanish classes in the mornings and then split up in the afternoons to engage with elementary and secondary students. While visiting the schools, the CSU students used hands-on models to interact and communicate effectively.

“We focused on learning about students’ concerns, challenges and hopes for the future,” said HDFS doctoral student Hannah Saunders. “We did this through interactive, therapeutic ‘games’ that allowed us to gain information in a more enjoyable way, in contrast to question-and-answer methods.”

The students also took time to visit the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional in La Paz to learn about higher education and explore collaborations with their faculty and students.

Community ties

This newfound perspective on community-based research helped the CSU students find importance in listening and engaging with the community before anything else. Most importantly, the students and the community started to feel welcomed and comfortable in the new setting.

“I felt like part of the community rather than just a visitor,” Van Arsdall said.

Students at Todos Santos

In addition to visiting youth in schools, the CSU students were involved in local events organized at the CSU Todos Santos Center. These events included a community fiesta and a panel of community service professionals, featuring health care, education and human services providers. The events encouraged community engagement with the surrounding towns and shed light on some of the issues faced by youth and the community.

The faculty were pleased to see the CSU students move from a place of uncertainty and unfamiliarity to a place of more confidence in language skills and forming connections with the young people.

“I think the biggest impact is seeing the effectiveness of our community engagement model in real-time. Prior to this trip, I understood it in the abstract, and I believed it could work, but now I have actually used it and can see the positive effects for myself,” said Saunders.

‘Special place in my heart’

Although the Todos Santos course spanned only two weeks, the exchange of knowledge from each community was truly rewarding for faculty and students alike.

“Todos Santos has a special place in my heart,” Krafchick said. ”The people we worked with were wonderful, and it’s a special community that is striving to connect with their youth. This course inspired me to want to learn more Spanish to have the ability to communicate more efficiently with other communities.”

“In order to learn about a culture, it is important to get to know the people that live it, and we definitely started that process on this trip,” Saunders added. “I am by no means an expert on the local culture now, but it was incredible to experience it on such a personal level with the youth we got to know.”

Todos Santos Center intern Elena Kalahar plans to continue the work begun by students in the course, interacting with the youth and connecting to the community. Kalahar will employ the community-based model in hopes of seeing positive changes in the community.

Thanks to the CSU Todos Santos Center, students were able to go outside of their element and feel connected and part of a different community.

The Department of Human Development and Family Studies is in CSU’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

About the CSU Todos Santos Center

The Colorado State University Todos Santos Center is the university’s first international location and is core to CSU’s mission of teaching, research, service, and outreach.

The Center provides opportunities for CSU students and Baja California Sur residents to collaborate with local partners and businesses to identify needs, conduct research, and produce impactful outcomes.

CSU’s vision in Todos Santos is to cultivate generations of global citizens and to be a part of creating thriving communities through collaboration, experience, and exchange of knowledge in areas such as agriculture, infectious disease, elementary education, environmental and social sustainability, wildlife ecology, veterinary medicine, and public health.