VISTA Spotlight: Michael Peters
July 24, 2015
I am living and serving in Morris, MN at the Office of Community Engagement at the University of Minnesota Morris (UMM). The VISTA project here is now called the Morris Intercultural Education Initiative (MIEI) which encompasses all of the work that the University and the local Morris Area School District are doing to improve community outreach and better serve children whose parents' first language is Spanish. Year 1 of the VISTA project comprised of an extensive research project that came up with a list of ten recommendations for the school to implement and so most of my work over the past year has been working with the school district to address those recommendations. We were able to create a Latino Parent Advisory Group as a monthly meeting with an interpreter where a representative from the school would meet with Spanish-speaking parents to talk about any concerns they had and also to educate them on various aspects of the US school system. I have also been working with two UMM faculty to develop a workshop series to recruit and train volunteer interpreters and translators to work with the school and other community organizations. Even though it's the very end of my VISTA term, I am probably the busiest right now coordinating with the school and other community partners to write a grant application that would provide a community cultural liaison to act as a full-time liaison for the Latino community of Morris. This is the number one priority for our project as much of the sustainability of the VISTA project will be taken over and expanded on by the cultural liaison.
I was recruited to apply for the VISTA position by my predecessor, Keni Zenner. I was giving my senior research presentation as a student at UMM on bilingual education in linguistic minority communities which just so happens to be the focus of Morris' VISTA project. Keni approached me afterwards and told me that I had to apply for the position and so I did. This whole year has been me diving into the practical, real world aspect of what I was studying in theory before. I've learned an incredible amount about the politics of education, public schools, and how to work for positive change in a very small community. It has also given me a much broader understanding of this place that I've lived in for six years now than I ever had as a student.
I am not entirely sure yet what I will be doing once I finish my VISTA service. I lived in China for a year when I was a student and so I have applied to a few jobs that would send me over there, but I have also applied for an open staff position here at the Office of Community Engagement as well so there are a few different directions that I might go. I know now that I do want to pursue a career in inter-cultural work; whether that would mean staying in Minnesota or going abroad is something I don't know. One of the best benefits of being a VISTA is just having some time to think about what direction I want to go with my life.