Three years in the making, the Gonzales Community Solutions Lab (CoLab) partners students from the Middlebury Institute and two other local higher education institutions with local nonprofits and community leaders with the goal of achieving sustainable, longer term positive impacts in the nearby city of Gonzales. Faculty members from the Institute, California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB), and the Monterey College of Law developed the CoLab concept after identifying a need to build long lasting connections between local communities and faculty and students.
Students from the three schools have the opportunity to propose an initiative alongside a faculty member to collaborate with and benefit Gonzales. The initiatives will fall under one of four categories under the umbrella of community building: linguistic justice, youth empowerment, equitable and sustainable economic development, and legal systems.
Gonzales is a small city reliant on agricultural processing in Monterey County, approximately 34 miles from the Institute campus. “Gonzales is one of the most innovative cities in California, and perhaps the U.S. as a whole, regarding youth development and smart economic development,” notes Institute faculty member Kent Glenzer, one of the co-founders of CoLab. “It’s an ideal place to seek new kinds of collaborations between communities, students, and faculty.” The city has several youth engagement initiatives underway, including a Youth Council, a network for child care support, after school and break programs, and a future Youth Innovation Center.
In collaboration with leaders of the city of Gonzales, the Community Solutions Lab was developed by CSUMB professor Seth Pollack, Institute faculty members Glenzer and Netta Avineri, Institute staff member Carolyn Taylor Meyer, and Mitch Winick and Joseph Belmont of the Monterey College of Law.
“It is so meaningful to be part of the Community Solutions Lab,” says Avineri. “It’s a unique approach to community-engaged research that brings together multiple educational institutions in the region in collaboration with community partners, with a goal of systemic social change. Last academic year, I worked with student research assistants on a project in Gonzales focused on immigration policies and K8 students. This was CoLab’s first project, and our hope is that it was the beginning of an ongoing, mutually beneficial partnership.” Avineri is currently collaborating with students in both the Master of Public Administration and Translation and Interpretation programs at the Institute.
The research, focusing on the impact of immigration policy on elementary school students in Gonzales, investigated potential answers to the question, “In what ways is the current political climate impacting immigrant family K-8 students and their families?” The research team looked into the importance of collaboration among organizations in the community to foster student and parent success, the role that conversations around immigration play in school and at home, language diversity, and access to bilingual resources.
“We can create collaborative space of mutual learning and problem solving, driven first and foremost by community members and their priorities,” says Glenzer. On April 3, 2019 CoLab founders, students from the partner institutions, Gonzales community leaders, and members of the Gonzales Youth Council came together at the Institute campus to discuss opportunities for collaboration and innovation. To stay updated on the initiatives developing from these partnerships, visit the CoLab website.
The CoLab received seed funding from the Community Foundation for Monterey County, and its projects are currently supported by the Claire Giannini Fund and Bringing Theory to Practice.