Michelle Bettencourt, UNC Asheville faculty member in Foreign Languages Department receives first UNC Asheville Community Connectors Award for academic and civic engagement.
Originally from the West Coast, Michelle Bettencourt (and husband, Esteve Coll-Larrosa ’01) made Asheville their home in 1999 when she joined the UNC Asheville faculty beginning her academic career as a Lecturer in the Department of Foreign Languages. While leaving for a brief stint to earn her Ph.D. in Curriculum and Instruction at UNC Greensboro, Michelle quickly returned to UNC Asheville commencing her tenure-track toward full professorship in the Department of Foreign Languages. With a fervent love of the Spanish language, it took little time for her to put her talent and passion to practice by partnering with the Department of Education to advise, mentor, and supervise foreign language teacher licensure students at UNC Asheville.
Unlimited opportunities ahead, she began to integrate her passion for Spanish and Service Learning by creating dynamic courses that ultimately led to the development of “Latinos in Western North Carolina (WNC).” Committed to civic and academic engagement, her creativity and ability to weave together interdisciplinary studies as part of Service Learning has made a tremendous impact in the community. She flawlessly fused the disciplines of foreign languages and economics to create: “Spanish for Business in Economics” where UNC Asheville students create projects that link local Asheville businesses to Costa Rican businesses. Of this effort, she states, “My students and I are currently engaged with ten (10) community partners in the Asheville area and the list continues to grow as a result of their hard work!” Pairing the core elements of Service Learning to fulfill a community partners’ need also helped spawn the creation of her Scholar’s Latino Initiative (SLI), for which she is being recognized as a UNC Asheville Community Connector.
The Scholar’s Latino Initiative was created organically by one teacher’s unrelenting search for help with her Latino students who were failing, not as proficient in the English language, dropping out of school and/or engaging in gang activity. And when the call came in from Marriette van der Sluijs that McDowell High School teacher seeking support for her students from UNC Asheville, Michelle sprang into action with her students to create relevant and meaningful academic activities linking classroom learning to the students’ local community. Despite geography, limited funding and no transportation, Michelle developed a semester-long, Skype-based mentoring program where her UNC Asheville students in SPAN 300 SL were paired with high school students in a “Spanish for Native Speakers” course. “Because SL takes a great deal of time and energy to do it well, I have learned to be more efficient by combining the three areas of focus in our professional lives: teaching, scholarship and service. It is a perfect marriage for me,” says Michelle.
The future of the Scholars Latino Initiative never looked brighter! Michelle is already rapidly at work to build a WNC SLI Chapter based on the original Chapel Hill model where Latino high school freshmen are paired with college sophomores and work together across the span of three (3) years. The fruits of her labor are already afoot as one UNC Asheville freshman (Latina) is a former mentee in the SLI Chapel Hill Program who now commits to mentoring WNC students. When asked the advice Michelle would offer to other faculty about Service Learning and why she accepted the UNC Asheville Community Connectors Award, she quickly said, “The greatest benefit is that no matter what the capacity in which students are involved in the community, one outcome is that somebody’s life will be improved as a result. I am accepting the Community Connectors award and grant because it is recognition of the efforts that local organizations make in our community at large; my role is to bridge our student body with the community.”
Community Connectors are featured quarterly on the websites of the Office for School and Community Outreach Programs and Partnerships and the Key Center for Community Citizenship where their work is showcased and they are publicly recognized and acknowledged for relationships that enrich our local and regional schools and communities. Awardees are honored by the Provost with a UNC Asheville Certificate of Appreciation and also receive a small stipend in the amount of $250.00 to support their continued outreach efforts. For more information, please visit: http://www.unca.edu/admissions/Spotlight