University of Cincinnati Utilizes Technology, Talents to Support Recovery Efforts in Puerto Rico

"I could see myself as a young student in their shoes,” says Erynn Masi de Casanova, associate professor of sociology and director of the Kunz Center for Social Research at the University of Cincinnati. “ I was looking to be involved with the relief effort in a way that utilized my skills.”

de Casanova says she was excited when she read the Office of the Provost’s call for Spanish-speaking professors to remotely teach students in Puerto Rico so they could continue their studies and complete their degrees.

Erynn Casanova
Life in Puerto Rico post Hurricane Maria is far from what it once was. Hurricane Maria pummeled the island on Sept. 20, 2017, leveling communities and knocking out power to more than 3 million residents. Large pockets of the island are still without power. Thousands of children have not been able to attend school, and families struggle to rebuild.

To assist in the recovery efforts, UC’s Office of the Provost offered faculty a $2,500 stipend to teach introductory courses online utilizing video recordings and video conferencing tools. The effort at UC was spearheaded by Keisha Love, associate provost for faculty development and special initiatives, and UC Blue Ash assistant professor of Spanish, Maria Ortiz, who collaborated with a colleague at CUNY to create a network of Spanish-speaking professors to remotely teach students in Puerto Rico.

Interested faculty were required to submit a course syllabus and brief statement outlining their qualifications and desire to participate. A committee, led by Love and Ortiz, reviewed the submissions for consideration.

“We were so lucky to have the support from UC’s Office of the Provost. The University of Cincinnati is setting a precedence in education, and I am so proud we can bring light into the challenging times, said Ortiz. “Puerto Rico is my home, and the fact that we can do so much through education has been my biggest motivator. I know this is key to getting the community there back on track.”

Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies for the Department of Anthropology Leila Rodriguez taught an introductory cultural anthropology course as part of UC’s outreach efforts.

 

"I am from Latin America. I have good friends there, and this allowed me to help in a way that not everyone else can,” says Rodriguez. “Plus I enjoy teaching online, and I don’t get to teach courses in Spanish very often.”

Rodriguez and de Casanova provided about five hours of instruction per week between early November and early December 2017. Originally, their two classes included about 20 students, but many could not regularly participate because the electricity was out or due to lack of internet access.

  

"Life challenges also got in the way,” says de Casanova. “Students were needed to care for sick family members, or they had to work.

To accommodate the life struggles faced by her students, she would often teach them one-on-one.

"I really enjoyed talking about the assigned readings and discussing the basic principles of sociology in a more personal way than I would in a traditional class setting. It forced me to build more flexibility into my classes, which are usually very structured, and that allowed me to teach students at their own pace. I hope to work this style of teaching in to other classes I teach.”

Rodriguez says teaching online provided new experiences for her too.

"I found that students tend to be more engaged and participate in discussions more when held online rather than in a classroom,” said Camille Carreras, a student at University of Puerto Rico’s Carolina Campus, who participated in Rodriquez’s anthropology class.

She says, “It has been a very satisfactory experience, and I would recommend online learning over and over again.”

Carreras says if she has the opportunity to take an online class again during this challenging time, she would do so. "I am thankful to have a roof under which to shelter even if we still don’t have water and electricity. The most beautiful thing is to see our people in unity, doing each step to rebuild Puerto Rico.”

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