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A minor advantage: From LAS minor to AmeriCorps VISTA

| Denise Olson

Recent data shows that degrees in broad-field studies like Latin American Studies are outpacing some of the more historically advantageous degrees, like business, when it comes to job placement for graduating seniors. Employers are increasingly looking for global perspectives, cultural competencies, and adaptable critical thinkers — all assets gained in a program like LAS. A student's minor emphasis can also play a significant role in landing that perfect career starter, and a minor in Latin American Studies is proving to be a huge value. 

One shining example of a powerful LAS minor at work can be seen in recent Blugold grad, Morgan Gerke, a 2015 sociology major, who chose a Latin American Studies minor. Morgan took some time to reflect on her choice of LAS as her minor, and to update us on the important work she is doing to provide academic support to Hispanic and Latino students in Louisville.

Morgan Gerke, '15, sociology with a minor in Latin American Studies

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Eau Claire in Spring 2015 with a B.A. in Sociology, minoring in Latin American Studies and Spanish. I declared my degrees in Sociology and Spanish my very first semester of college. Early on, I explored topics within the realm of social justice and researched what was most interesting to me: rural poverty, food culture, and diversity education, to name a few. Adding the Latin American Studies minor was an easy decision because it allowed me to satisfy my general education requirements in courses that interested me. The Latin American Studies program bridged the gap between Sociology and Spanish and deepened my understanding of the Latino experience in the United States.

Soon after graduation, I began working as an AmeriCorps VISTA with Adelante Hispanic Achievers in Louisville, Kentucky. Our organization provides weekly academic and enrichment programs to 135 Hispanic and Latino youth. As the College Readiness Coach, I design programs and collaborations that prepare Adelante students for higher education. Latino and immigrant students face many challenges in their transition to college based on language barriers, family situation, and legal status, so Adelante is there to help. We work hard to prepare students for the ACT, assist them with college applications and essays, and search for scholarships to finance their education. I came into this position with a grasp of the Spanish language, an extensive background on Latin American history and politics, and a passion to work with the Latino community. Though I have gained a great deal of perspective with Adelante, I credit the Latin American Studies program with building the framework I needed to start on this path.

As a Blugold, I was fortunate to spend my final semester of college gaining volunteer experience outside of the United States. With much assistance from the Director of the Latin American Studies program, Dr. Manuel Fernandez, I secured a 3 month internship in Trujillo, Peru with an organization called La Comunidad Que Construimos (“the community we build”). The mission of this nonprofit is to build self esteem and a positive self identity within Peruvian children through daily after school programs. This was my first time ever going abroad, so the culture shock was overwhelming when I first arrived. My host family took me in as one of their own and volunteers from the organization helped me acclimate to the culture. When I was not working at La Comunidad, I hiked in national parks, celebrated Carnaval with the locals, and experienced the beauty of Machu Picchu. Without a doubt, this internship and cultural immersion was the most powerful component of my college career.

What I'd like incoming or undecided students to know about LAS at UWEC is that my experience with the program was overwhelmingly positive. My favorite class was Latin American Civilization, which is arguably the most challenging class in the program as well. Covering the progression of civilization from ancient times up to the present day, this course opened my eyes to the interconnectedness of every culture within the Western Hemisphere. I appreciated the intentional design of each course and how broadly we as students could investigate Latin America. It gave me the freedom to choose from courses in a variety of departments, granting me a truly holistic understanding in this field.