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Paper proposal Meaningful community engagement for novice social scientists: building the Luzerne County Immigrant Services

Directory

Bridget Costello, Ph.D. Kings College (Wilkes-Barre, PA)

This paper describes a student service project to construct a directory of local services for the benefit of recent immigrants. For this project, students in an interdisciplinary social science course were required to construct an interview guide to explore the needs of recent immigrants, conduct a brief interview with a recent immigrant to the area / country, and then use the results as a framework for constructing a comprehensive guide to immigrant services for social service providers in Luzerne County and the general public. In this paper, I describe the design of the project, the course objectives that are addressed through this project (including but not limited to applying core social science theories, methods, and concepts, involving students in public sociology, and illustrating concepts of globalization and other contemporary global issues), the community needs that were addressed, and the broader applications of this model as a method for involving novice social science students in not-so-random acts of public sociology. The location of this project Luzerne County, Pennsylvania is salient for two reasons. First, Luzerne County has seen a rapid growth of their Latino population in the past decade, with a substantial proportion being first-generation immigrants. This demographic change has produced new community needs as well as provoked some degree of cultural anxiety amongst the predominately white and working class population of the county. Second, Luzerne County was the location of a major recent battle over immigrant rights and local jurisdiction, when in 2006, Hazleton mayor (now U.S. Representative) Lou Barletta made national headlines by enacting a local ordinance imposing large penalties for anyone renting property or employing undocumented immigrants. This legislation became the model for many

other communities nationwide that sought to augment federal efforts to curtailing undocumented migration to the United States. Barlettas efforts, and the ensuing maelstrom of controversy and national media attention, served to heighten local awareness of immigration issues; students at Kings College (a regional private Catholic college) tend to represent the full range of public opinion, from those who most vehemently support efforts to criminalize the accomplices to illegal immigration to those who are most sympathetic to the plight of immigrants, documented and otherwise. Against this backdrop, fifty students enrolled in Social Sciences in Global Context, an introductorylevel interdisciplinary social science class with a focus on contemporary global issues. As a major component of the course, students were asked to examine the various economic, political, geographic, and social aspects of the contemporary immigration issue in the United States and elsewhere, while at the same time contributing directly to the better provision of immigrant services in the county through the construction of the Luzerne County Immigrant Services Directory. Although the country has many services that address the specific needs of recent immigrants, no comprehensive directory of these services existed for either social service providers or the general public prior to this project, which was developed in direct response to a community need expressed by various service providers and immigrant support groups. Through the various stages of the project, students meet key course objectives such as: 1) gain first-hand experience of key methodological concepts (such as ethnographic interviewing, convenience sample, selection bias, and reflexivity); 2) recognize the local manifestations of global issues (for instance, the causes and consequences of international migration); 3) apply an interdisciplinary social science perspective to contemporary global issues (for instance, students define and evaluate a division of classroom labor for the project based in part on describing how the issue of immigration is important to a sociologist, a political scientist, an economist, etc.). This project illustrates how important and timely community service can be incorporated into introductory sociology and other social science course, while enhancing the rigor of the course itself.