Communication and collaboration can often be as difficult to organize in a large university as it is in establishing agreements between nations. At UNM, El Centro de la Raza, the Hispanic student support department; Chicano/Hispano/Mexicano Studies, the academic Hispanic department; and the Southwest Hispanic Research Institute, the Hispanic research arm, have joined forces to aid education, research and student opportunities on campus.

The three entities are signing a Memorandum of Understanding on Thursday, Sept. 20 from noon to 1 p.m. in the Student Union Building atrium. The signing, a featured Hispanic Heritage event, also presents entertainment from a group of mariachis.

Signing the MOU are the directors of each department: Verónica Mendez-Cruz, El Centro, who also serves as special advisor to the president on Latino affairs; Christine Sierra, SHRI, and professor, Political Science; and Irene Vasquez, Chicano Studies and associate professor, American Studies.

This is the first time in UNM history that three women have headed these organizations, Sierra said. The MOU formalizes how SHRI researchers and Chicano Studies faculty will work directly with El Centro and other students on specific initiatives.

Vasquez said, "The MOU is a broad and general agreement of cooperation and collaboration. There is a sharing of time and resources on the part of all of the entities especially as this pertains to how to develop a community based learning model in an academic environment that draws on best practices in the areas of student support, undergraduate student research and academic success."

The MOU outlines a course geared toward collaboration, "Community Based Research and Learning Initiative" (CBRLI). "CBRLI It is a mechanism for academia and community to work together to improve educational opportunities for Latino students to close the achievement gap and increase post-secondary, recruitment, retention and completion," it reads.

SHRI researchers and Chicano Studies faculty will work directly with El Centro and other students on specific initiatives.

CBRLI, as a bridge between UNM and the community, will provide professional learning opportunities that aid in student success while also providing valuable services to community partners.

"Research and learning activities will be aimed at understanding an improving equity, development and sustainability within the social cultural, economic and political contexts of local communities in New Mexico," it reads.

"We see this as a way to bridge the Hispanic achievement gap and serve the community," Mendez-Cruz said. "When undergraduate students have access to research faculty, they become engaged and the likelihood of the students continuing with their education, and even considering graduate school, increases," she said. The initiative could have a statewide impact, she said, because the students will have workforce preparation. "They will become ambassadors for the community," she said.

Jorge Garcia, senior program manager at El Centro, said that students will become engaged in the life of the community through public participation. CBRLI also gives students professional development opportunities and a chance understand, inform and shape public policy. "It's about conducting research on communities that results in a contribution to the larger well being of the community," he said.

Students can sign up for a class that will provide them with research, presentation and networking opportunities. The course, Community Based Learning in Chicana/o Hispana/o Communities is being taught this fall by Francisco Uviña-Contreras, part time faculty in Historic Preservation and Regionalism in the School of Architecture and Planning. The course engages the students in a project in the Atrisco area of Albuquerque's South Valley. They will identify and then work with a specific non-profit agency. Each will provide 31 hours of service learning and community engagement, during which they will research, investigate and map the South Valley. Those who are in the program for a year will develop and present a research proposal that will be brought to fruition in spring 2013.

The course has 17 students, Uviña-Contreras said. "Eight of those in this first cohort have made a full year's commitment. It's an internship project that is rigorous, intensive and research based. Each student received a stipend of $4,000, which we got from the Student Fee Review Board," Mendez-Cruz said.

Another group of seven in the course each received $1,000 from the UNM Center for Regional Studies. "The course is completely integrated. Students are working in teams and sharing research," Uviña-Contreras said.

Vasquez said, "The CHMS course is the bridge that ties the three entities together. The CHMS 384 course enrolls 17 students who are in two cohorts. One set of students are placed at community based organizations and non-profits and are engaged in service and research. Another set of students is working on a community based research project as a collective. The funding sources are different. Both groups meet together every week in a classroom setting with the CHMS instructor and an El Centro staff member to dialogue on community based learning in New Mexico. The dialogue is a collaborative learning experience and resource for students and the instructor.

Both sets of students are offered similar support structures. SHRI will identify faculty mentors to work with students enrolled in the course. In the spring, we expect students to present their research projects." She added that her agreement with the Center for Regional Studies for the funding they provided, is to highlight CHMS student research projects on their website and at a public event in the spring.

Mendez-Cruz added, "We see potential in the program to share resources and expertise to improve retention and graduation rates. That is very exciting to all involved."

Media Contact: Carolyn Gonzales (505) 277-5920; email: