If taking a trip to Don Pablo’s is the closest you’ve ever been to experiencing authentic Hispanic culture, you could probably benefit from a talk with Laura Jensen. You’d certainly be hard pressed to find a Gustie sophomore that is as passionate about the Hispanic culture and as committed to sharing it as Laura. It is her commitment to this purpose that has earned Laura the prestigious Phillip’s Scholarship. According to the Gustavus website, this award “recognizes and rewards Minnesota private college students who strive to make life better for people with unmet needs in Minnesota communities,” and it is given annually to only six students from eligible colleges in Minnesota.
Laura, a sophomore nursing and Spanish double major from Northfield, MN, received the award in recognition of her effort to develop a program that will help teach Hispanic youth from her hometown valuable leadership skills and cultural perspective. The program, which will be offered to children from grades four to six, includes activities and leadership opportunities. The aim is to help the children develop skills that will allow them to become successful later in life and help them rise above what Laura refers to as “the hand they have been dealt.”
“There [are] a lot of stereotypes telling Mexican children that they’re better off doing handiwork for their entire lives,” said Laura. “They should have their culture, but they should also be able to do what they want to without the limitations that those stereotypes cause.”
Although Laura isn’t scheduled to begin her program until the summer of 2010, she already has ideas for what her classes will offer. Students will be divided into small groups to work on projects and skits, most of which will have a cultural emphasis. Families will be encouraged to provide “ethnic” snacks and music during break times, and kids will be encouraged to talk about the cultural lessons they have learned during the day. Students will have the opportunity to take turns leading small group activities, an approach that Laura feels will help them develop valuable leadership skills. Each week will focus on different themes related to American and Hispanic culture, with titles like “Who am I?” and “The American Culture and Me.”
“[I]t is extremely important that Latino children learn the real history and aspects of their culture in order to build a strong foundation for their personal identity,” said Laura. “I firmly believe that a strong personal identity is important because … goal setting, teamwork and leadership can be achieved more easily.”
Laura has been taking Spanish courses since she was in first grade, but it wasn’t until she left high school that she realized how she could channel her passion to help people.
“My interest in culture has flourished since I’ve been [at Gustavus]. They didn’t really encourage it in my high school—I came from a smaller, mostly white school—but here [at college] there’s been more openness about culture. If you look around at all the events that are going on during the week, most of them are cultural. It’s like a fresh start for me.”
Laura has also been called by her interests in culture and youth education to be involved in PASO (Pan-Afrikan Student Organization) and to be a mentor for her “little partner” Evelyn through the Big Partner/Little Partner Program for the last two years. She can usually be found in the Diversity Center, where she works.
“I’m proud of her, and I love the program she created, and I hope the program goes well for her,” said Rebekah Mendoza, a first-year Japanese Studies major and co-worker with Laura in the Diversity Center.
“She is definitely a goal-oriented person. She knows what she wants and she knows how to get it,” said Ashley DuBose, a sophomore undeclared major also knows Laura from her work in the Diversity Center.
Laura believes her work with underprivileged youth in her hometown is an exciting and important opportunity, but what’s even more important is that she is getting the opportunity to do something she loves.
“It’s hard for me to explain my beliefs or why I’m so interested in culture. I guess passions are like that. Like, for example, I love to dance. Why do I love to dance? I just do. It’s my passion.”