December 2, 2002
UCSC undergraduate takes tech skills to Hmong,
Latino youth in Fresno
By Jennifer McNulty
Sociology major MaryJane Skjellerup is reaching out by reaching back--to
Fresno High School, that is.
|The students in the Community
and Technology Leadership Program are preparing oral histories of
members of the Hmong and Latino communities in Fresno, and will
produce two short video documentaries about their subjects. The
documentaries will be posted on a web site--which the students will
design--about cultural awareness.
Skjellerup is using the power and allure of technology to introduce
Hmong and Latino youth in her native Fresno to what's available for
them at the university.
Skjellerup, a graduate of Fresno High School and a senior at UCSC,
has single-handedly launched the Community and Technology Leadership
Program to encourage Fresno High students from disadvantaged backgrounds
to get on track for college.
She uses a combination of hands-on training in sophisticated digital
media technology, mentoring, and academic advising to give teenagers
a taste of what's available to college students.
"I want to encourage kids to come to the university by giving
them skills that will boost their confidence and make them feel unique,"
said Skjellerup. "I want to show them we're willing to invest in
Skjellerup says UCSC attracts idealists, and she has coupled her own
idealism with activism. With little more than her own commitment and
minimal start-up funds from UCSC's Global Information Internship Program
(GIIP), Skjellerup went back to her hometown with a proposal Fresno
High administrators jumped at.
"This is the first time we've ever done anything like this, but
it has been very worthwhile," said Fresno High business computer
technology teacher Helen Herzog, who coordinates the project with Skjellerup
with the support of her department chair, Delaine Zody. "A lot
of our students have a very narrow vision of the opportunities open
to them after they graduate from high school. This has opened their
eyes to the options that are available for them. MaryJane has been a
great help and an inspiration to them."
Herzog and Zody selected six high school students who came to UCSC
for a two-day summer workshop. Tapping the two-inch-thick training manual
she put together for the workshop, Skjellerup describes a daunting itinerary
that covered college admissions, a campus tour, web and graphic design
instruction, and a daylong hands-on digital film and editing course.
With that introduction, the students returned to high school this fall,
where they are working with Skjellerup and their teachers on community-service
projects to prepare oral histories of members of the Hmong and Latino
communities in Fresno. The group will produce two short video documentaries
about their subjects and post them on a web site about cultural awareness
they will design and launch.
"There are 40,000 Southeast Asian refugees in Fresno. There's
tremendous cultural diversity all around them," said Skjellerup.
"But when I ask the kids if they know their own parents' stories,
they say 'No.' They don't think it's important. I want to change that."
Skjellerup says it is "refeshing" to work with high school
students. "They learn so fast compared to adults," she said.
Now that they've gotten a taste of technology, Skjellerup hopes they'll
stick with it and see college as a way to build their expertise. So
far, the program is a hit, with all participants saying they want to
return next year to help the "new kids."
If she can secure funding, Skjellerup would like to expand her program
next summer to a two-week residential workshop with five students from
six schools. Herzog, too, would like the program to continue, with Skjellerup's
protégés working one-on-one next semester to share their
new knowledge and skills with Herzog's other students. "The students
are learning the newest technology--technology I hope they'll share
if we are able to purchase the necessary software licenses and upgrade
our equipment," said Herzog.
Skjellerup's passion for learning is matched by her desire to make
the world a better place, so designing and launching the Community and
Technology Leadership Program came naturally. From the beginning of
her own years at UCSC, she has approached college as a model hands-on
learner. She discovered GIIP (pronounced "jeep") during her
sophomore year and has used it as a platform for action ever since.
"Sociology is one of the majors that lets you know about the problems
in the world, all the inequality," said Skjellerup. "When
it comes to really accomplishing things, people can get lost between
their ideals and the implementation of real change." GIIP, she
said, is "a mechanism for change."
UCSC sociology professor Paul Lubeck launched GIIP in 1998 to address
growing inequality in access to information networks and global communications.
Lubeck couldn't be more pleased by Skjellerup's enthusiasm, and the
difference she is making for young people in Fresno.
"MaryJane is amazing," said Lubeck. "She has really
taken the ball and run with it. Now she's taking the GIIP vision into
the high school, and that's incredible."
By giving Hmong and Latino students at Fresno High the tools of high-tech
communication, Skjellerup is contributing to GIIP's mission to "democratize
"Globalization is not just about making financial transactions
easier," she said. "It's a whole new playing field, and if
you don't know the rules, you have no chance of succeeding. We're helping
people learn the rules."
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