Yanet Velasquez (Bachelor of Arts, Political Science, 2020) clarified her career path, along with a desire to work in the Hispanic community, in Charles Connerly’s course Community Development in the Upper Midwest. Connerly's course is part of the Iowa Initiative for Sustainable Communities (IISC), a community engagement program based in the School of Planning and Public Affairs that partners faculty, staff, and students with urban and rural communities to complete projects that enhance the sustainability of Iowa's communities, while transforming teaching and learning at the university. “Doing this project helped me narrow down what I really want to focus on,” Velasquez said. “I’m hoping to apply to law school and focus my law studies on either immigration or human rights. Or get my Master's and work for a nonprofit related to immigration or human rights.”
Velasquez grew up in Los Angeles before moving to Des Moines at 15 years old. She brought a very different perspective to the class, which sought to produce videos and books to tell the 150-year story of Columbus Junction through interviews and historical artifacts. The video project helped identify a new and changing identity for the community, which involved immigrants and the Latinx population. “I was the only one who’d lived in a big city. An important aspect we learned was how Hispanic communities have gone from urban to rural areas,” she said. Growing up with a strong Hispanic culture in L.A., Velasquez was able to discuss the issues Hispanic populations face in big cities, which differ from the issues facing residents in small towns.
Velazquez was one of three bilingual English/Spanish speakers in the class and this became a vital skill for communicating with residents, many of whom spoke little or no English. “At first we debated about whether we should just do English interviews, but we realized Spanish is very important in that community,” Velasquez said. Conducting some interviews in Spanish enabled the class to hear from the entire community, including Spanish-only speakers. “I thought that made a big impact because we were able to see different perspectives and hear different stories. It would’ve been different if we wouldn’t have been able to tell all of their stories,” Velasquez said.
The process boosted her confidence. “I learned how to communicate effectively with people and how to ask questions,” Velasquez said. “Interviewing people in person really helped with my interpersonal skills.”