Duke Mag-Student Scholars Teach Immigrants-Jul/Aug 2002-Gazette

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Student Scholars Teach Immigrants

Undergraduates Odette Nemes and Catherine Jones are leading an unusual student-volunteer program that provides free English language lessons to immigrant women in the Durham-Chapel Hill area.

Perhaps the most distinctive aspect of the growing program is that Jones is a Carolina Tar Heel and Nemes, a rising senior, is a Duke Blue Devil. Their new project at Duke was funded in part by a grant from the Robertson Scholars Program, a joint program at UNC and Duke designed to encourage such collaborative ventures between the two schools.

The Duke project was inspired by a similar program begun at UNC in 1999. Both programs are called MANO (Mujeres Aprendiendo por Nuevas Oportunidades, or Women Learning through New Opportunities). Student volunteers work one-on-one with immigrant women, offering practical lessons in English. They meet twice a week during the evening hours, with child-care provided by other student volunteers.

Thanks to these efforts, more than fifty women per week are learning to converse in English with employers, school teachers, merchants, and others, and an equal number of students are learning about the complex needs of the immigrant population.

When Nemes heard about the UNC program, she called on Jones to help her start the same program at Duke. The Tar Heels were happy to share their lesson plans, learning materials, and advice on how to publicize the program through community-based organizations. "It was the first time I had done anything over at Duke," says Jones. "And you know what? It's been great. They are taking the program and running with it."

The Duke project started offering lessons at the end of February. Twelve women showed up the first night and twelve more the second night. Nemes says now that both programs are up and running, they are looking for new ways to collaborate. "We are really looking forward to bringing the women together from the Durham and Chapel Hill-Carrboro areas," she says.

This is just one of ten UNC-Duke projects funded by $25,000 in grants from the Robertson Scholars Collaboration Fund this spring. Others include Carolina and Duke faculty, students, and staff working together to develop joint classes, seminars, conferences, and resources on a range of issues.

Historians John French (Duke) and Sarah Shields (UNC) developed a colloquia series on civil-rights and national-security issues in the wake of September 11. Jeff Whetstone (UNC) and Wendy Ewald (Duke) created a joint course on portraits in photography. Art librarians Patricia Thompson (UNC) and Lee Sorensen (Duke) are working together to introduce graduate students to the art history treasures at the Duke and Carolina libraries. And law students Johanna Hickman (UNC) and Masayo Nobe (Duke) have been working together on their mock-trial competitions.

"We are thrilled to see the multitude of excellent ideas at both universities that will increase collaboration between Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill," says Eric Mlyn, director of the Robertson Scholars Program. "The thirty-three proposals submitted by faculty, staff, and students are evidence of how both universities are truly embracing the idea of collaboration."

The Robertson Scholars Program is a merit-based scholarship program jointly administered by the two universities. The goals are to foster collaboration between the two universities and recruit top students to both schools. The first group of Robertson Scholars--fifteen undergraduates at Duke and fifteen at UNC--matriculated in the fall of 2001. They are taking courses at both universities, participating in special colloquia and joint programs and, during their sophomore year, will live one semester on the campus of the other university.

The program is funded by a gift from Julian and Josie Robertson. Julian Robertson is a 1955 business administration graduate from UNC and Josie Robertson is a member of Carolina's board of visitors. One of their three sons is Julian Spencer '98. Another son, Alexander Tucker Robertson, recently graduated from UNC with a major in history.

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