This summer, a dozen professionals from the judicial system and the Social Work field will receive a graduate certificate from a unique program at St Joseph College in West Hartford.
The Latino Community practice program started two years ago under the direction of Lori Gardella, Professor and Associate Dean of Graduate Studies at St Joseph College. Gardella says the program was shaped using input from Latino organizations around the state.
She says the program is the first of its kind because it focuses on bi-lingual professionals.
"There is no career path or credential for bilingual professionals and the bi-lingual professionals feel as though they would like more recognition but also more education to be more effective."
The program also teaches students to be more culturally competent. Gardella says just because a student knows Spanish doesn't mean they understand every culture in the Latino population.
"So if I'm a health care provider, and I'm Puerto Rican, I may have a deep understanding just from life experiences of what that community's assumptions, beliefs, values are about health and healing but that might be quite different from assumptions from the Mexican community or Dominican community."
"I was born in Puerto Rico, i came here when I was twelve. I always felt like I had to put my language to the side to learn English so this was an amazing opportunity for me to start working on my skills again."
Sonia Contreras is one of the students who works for CT's judicial branch. She oversees alternative to incarceration programs in the community. While a majority of the students in the graduate program come from a Latino or Hispanic background, the program also appeals to non-native Spanish speakers like Suzanne Andrea who works in the Public Defenders office.
"To some extent those classes have been as close to immersion without being in another country. Although it's sort of a bi-cultural immersion because there are people with a lot of different cultures there. You know even when people are talking informally it's partially in English and partially in Spanish. So it's been invaluable for me."
She and two other students completed a final project to help the CT Department of Veteran Affairs improve outreach to Latino veterans. Andrea's partner on the project, Irma Grimes says the website will help agencies who don't necessarily have bi-lingual staff on hand.
"One of the things we are going to include on the website is some statistical information about the culture itself so that service providers can read that and maybe figure out a better way to address the needs that Latinos have."
Grimes and the other graduating students will discuss their final projects at the Caritas conference, a community outreach initiative at the College tonight.
Associate Dean, Lori Gardella hopes to expand the reach of the program, especially those professionals that can help address disparities Latinos face in healthcare and education.
St Joseph College is also launching an undergraduate version of the program this fall to prepare students to enter bi-lingual professions when they graduate.