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Center for Engagement and Community Development

Laura Kanost receives Excellence in Engagement Award

Written by Logan Falletti

Laura Kanost, associate professor of Spanish in the College of Arts and Sciences at Kansas State, has been awarded an Excellence in Engagement Award for her project, “Language and Culture with Community: Conversation, Bilingual Leadership, and Translation through Service Learning.” The award is provided by the Office of the Provost and the Center for Engagement and Community Development. It recognizes initiatives that demonstrate innovative and/or sustained efforts in university and community engagement, positively impacting both university and community partners.

Before she began teaching at K-State in the fall of 2007, Kanost met with Trisha Gott, Lynda Bachelor, and Mary Hale Tolar of the School of Leadership Studies. She knew she wanted to integrate service learning into her classroom and make connections with Spanish-speaking community organizations. She developed projects for all her classes, and the ties she made to the community are growing stronger every year.

“Dr. Kanost has been an early adopter and champion for service learning and engagement as a high-impact teaching practice for undergraduate education. This commitment to teaching and engagement broadly has led her to a series of rich and developing community partnerships,” said Gott in a letter of recommendation.

Long-term partners include the Manhattan Public Library, where students created Spanish language materials and an annotated list of bilingual picture books. The group has donated over $1,000 worth of translation services since 2010 to the Manhattan Crisis Center. In collaboration with the Spanish Club, they held “Español for Everyone” children’s programming at the Boys and Girls Club. Students translated documents for the local court system and Flint Hills Adopt-a-Family. Even the equestrian team worked out a partnership with the stable employees, building a vocabulary of horse-related words.

Before I started working at K-State, when I was a graduate teaching assistant, many of my students said they never used their Spanish outside of the classroom. I could see their lack of self-confidence, and if they had more opportunities to use it outside in the community they could improve. Even if they don’t speak it perfectly, they can do a lot with what they have,” said Kanost.

Kanost also heads her own Connecting Across Topics (CAT) Community, in which she mentors first-year students enrolled in both Spanish 4 and Leadership Concepts classes. In January 2014, she led the Spanish in Action CAT Community on an immersion course in Atenas, Costa Rica. While volunteering to paint a local nutrition center, they polished their language skills by communicating with local volunteers and supervisors. Collaboration between members grew as well, as they adapted to a new environment and listened to the needs of the community expressed in its native language. The project has been proposed again for next year.

She states that her biggest challenge is time.

“We don’t have a service learning office like some universities or one community organization that works with Spanish-speaking people. It’s important to keep communication going with all [projects.]… Our main goal is to keep going, and find a way to make it sustainable. Translation is an area I would like to see developed more in our department,” said Kanost.

Kanost has also been recognized as a Campus Compact Engaged Faculty Fellow for 2013-2014.