Students studying outside the library

Wofford, Barbas Rhoden recognized by Commission on Higher Education

January 9, 2004

SPARTANBURG, SC – Wofford College and foreign languages professor Dr. Laura Barbas Rhoden have received the 2003 South Carolina Commission on Higher Education Service Learning Award for independent colleges or universities, presented week. Two other awards, to a four-year public institution and to a two-year public institution also were presented.

The Wofford recognition is for Barbas Rhoden’s advanced Spanish with community-based learning project in which students serve as mentors and volunteers for Spartanburg’s Latino community.

Dalton Floyd, chairman of the Commission on Higher Education (CHE) commended the project, which “places Wofford students of Spanish in the midst of the Upstate’s growing Hispanic population for service to that segment of our community and for broadening the cultural understanding and deepening the linguistic abilities of the Wofford students engaged in the project.”

Floyd added, “Some students are researching various aspects of Hispanic life in the Upstate, documenting the Hispanic experience and the Hispanic community’s needs.”

“Professors in Wofford’s foreign language department have always been active in the community,” Barbas Rhoden said, adding that the community service component began when local teachers came seeking interpreters. “Students want to learn Spanish and want to be able to communicate with others locally and internationally. The student interest drove the success of the program. With the Hispanic population booming in the Upstate, it will require more people to know the language.”

The community challenge addressed in the project involves the integration of the Latino community into life in Upstate South Carolina, especially in the fields of education and public health, said Dr. Dan Maultsby, dean of Wofford College. The project, which involves an average of 20 first- and second-year students in a 300-level Spanish language course per semester, includes students working in public schools, in after-school programs for public school students, in free medical clinics, and in English-as-a-second-language (ESL) programs.
“In Spartanburg County, the majority of Latinos are new to the area, and the county experienced a dramatic increase in Hispanic residents between the 1990 and 2000 census,” Maultsby said. “In some elementary schools, such as the ones in which the student work, up to 40 percent of the students are Latino, and the majority come from homes in which English is not spoken. The medical clinics serve both urban and rural populations, as do the ESL programs. Since there are very few bilingual professionals in Spartanburg County, Wofford students help fulfill a critical need in the target community.”

Dr. Lynn Kelley, assistant director of the division of Academic Affairs and Licensing at CHE, said the program is unique and is the first of its kind he knows of being offered by any of South Carolina’s colleges. “The Commission sought to provide recognition on the state level to a program we felt was making a very important impact civically and economically in the community,” he added.

Barbas Rhoden is a graduate of the University of Georgia and received her master’s and Ph.D. from Tulane University. Her research interests include Latin American women writers, ecology and literature, indigenous cultures, and second-langue acquisition. She has authored numerous articles and a book on Central American literature.

The Higher Education Service Learning Award has been presented since 2001 to recognize on a statewide basis the service learning and volunteerism efforts of the state’s public higher education institutions. In 2002, an award was added so that institutions were recognized in the categories of four-year public institutions and two-year public institutions.

Wofford College’s award, presented at the CHE meeting on Thursday, Jan. 8, was the first presented in the new category for independent colleges and institutions. Barbas Rhoden, Maultsby and Dr. Susan Griswold, former chair of the Wofford College Spanish Department, represented the college.