Pitzer’s Community Engagement Center Encourages Student Involvement Off-Campus

Pitzer College’s Community Engagement Center (PCEC) has been working with the city of Pomona’s Economic Opportunity Center (EOC) since 1999, not long after the organization’s foundation, to help serve the members of the community surrounding the 5Cs.

“We have had faculty, staff and students working directly with them every semester on shared visions of collaboration around education, research, advocacy, and community building,” wrote urban studies assistant professor Tessa Hicks Peterson, the assistant vice president of community engagement at Pitzer, in an email to TSL

PCEC and EOC have worked together on various projects, such as English as a Second Language education and a garden. CEC’s Urban Fellow Javid Riahi PZ ’11 said that students have also taught English to day laborers who are waiting on street corners to be picked up by employers, usually for construction work.

“We are also starting computer classes … so during the week we teach them how to log on to Facebook to talk to their family back home, how to use Craigslist, how to make a résumé online, whatever they want to do,” Riahi said.

Peterson said that students and community members learn a lot from each other. 

“Both students and community members … have worked together over the years to change policy, strengthen community presence and involvement, change attitudes about immigration and xenophobia, and connect people who may have never met otherwise to build reciprocal exchanges of knowledge, time, experience and friendship,” she said.

Jose Calderón, a professor emeritus of Chicano Studies at Pitzer who helped found PCEC, said that work by college students can play an important role in communities. 

“Right outside of our colleges are our communities that are facing many, many difficult problems—the problems that we often study in the classroom,” Calderón said. “Colleges can really play a role in filling a gap, where often most communities don’t have the resources that they needed to change their conditions or to tackle the problems they are facing.” 

Calderón also noted that the collaboration allows students to expand their methods of problem-solving and their understanding of issues within their community.

“Both can really benefit so that the curriculum in the classroom is not separated from the changes that are needed in the community,” he said. “This can really help the students to learn about the history of the community they are working with.”

Eddie Gonzalez, the assistant director of media studies production and a community organizer at PEOC, also spoke of the long-term benefits of the collaboration between PCEC and EOC.

“I think [the collaboration] is important because it gives the workers opportunities to be part of a program from beginning to end and lets them know that anything is possible, that maybe one day they’ll go back to their home of origin and say, ‘Hey, this is what I have learnt back in the U.S., and here I am trying to start my own enterprise, my own business,’” Gonzalez said. 

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