In the coming academic year, 37 SMU students from throughout the University will take on special projects of their own design in research, civic engagement, creative work and internships.
They are all part of the 2012-13 Unbridled Project, part of the SMU Engaged Learning initiative. Of the 37 participating students, 32 requested and received grants to complete their projects.
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Three students conducted Unbridled Projects during the program’s first year in 2011-12. The new group represents a more than 1,200 percent increase in participation. As the initiative begins its second year, “we are right where we hoped to be,” says Director of Engaged Learning Susan Kress.
“We’re very excited for the students,” Kress adds. “The University has invested a lot of effort in raising awareness of the opportunities available through this initiative, and those efforts have paid off.”
The students are especially gratified to know that faculty members are interested in their work and support their efforts, Kress adds. “And at the same time, faculty members are excited that this ties in to the ‘engaged teaching and learning’ happening in their classrooms.”
Junior Kimberly Mendoza (above), a double major in biological sciences and chemistry in SMU’s Dedman College, can attest to the importance and inspiration of engaged faculty. For her Unbridled Project, she will research health-related traditions, beliefs and practices in the indigenous Mayan community in Guatemala and evaluate how these values and beliefs occasionally clash with Western medicine. Nia Parson of the Department of Anthropology will serve as her faculty mentor.
During her first year at SMU, Mendoza took Parson’s course “Health, Healing and Ethics,” which examines cross-cultural perspectives on sickness and society. “It was one of the best classes I have taken at SMU,” she says. “Dr. Parson gave me so much insight into health as viewed from different perspectives. She also was very passionate about her anthropological work and health in a global perspective.”
When Mendoza decided to pursue an Unbridled Project, “I immediately thought of Dr. Parson, and she was so helpful to me throughout the application process.”
Mendoza’s mother is of indigenous Maya origin, but fled her native Guatemala during the civil war in the 1970s. “As a result, she did not grow up learning the traditions, culture, values and language that bind this group of people together,” Mendoza says. When her maternal grandmother, also an indigenous Maya, received medical treatment in the United States for a malignant brain tumor, Mendoza experienced first-hand how strongly those traditions and values are upheld. “I also witnessed the dichotomy between my grandmother’s spiritual and traditional beliefs and the Western medical system,” she says.
Through her Unbridled Project, Mendoza seeks to understand how to better relate to those who hold such traditional values and beliefs, she says. She plans to become a physician with an emphasis in global health and hopes to work with Doctors Without Borders.
“It is an intellectual treat for me to mentor Kimberly,” Parson says. “As a medical anthropologist, specializing in Latin America, I know how important and interesting her project is – not only because it illuminates the different ways people experience and think about health in Guatemala, but also because of the implications of this knowledge for our own health care systems.”
Mendoza’s research could help in providing better care for Guatemalan and other immigrants here in Dallas, Parson adds. “It is very gratifying to see Kimberly bringing together her family’s ties to Guatemala and her educational experience here at SMU.”
The Office of Engaged Learning provides institutional support for SMU’s Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), created as part of the University’s reaccreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS). “Engaged Learning Beyond the Classroom” allows all SMU undergraduate students to participate in at least one extensive experiential learning activity prior to graduation. - Kathleen Tibbits
Click here to see the entire list of students receiving a grant.