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Kicking Off “Semester of Relationship-Building” with City of Gonzales

March 3, 2020

Staff and faculty from the Middlebury Institute joined colleagues from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) to kick off “semester of relationship-building” with City of Gonzales.

Staff and faculty from the Middlebury Institute joined colleagues from California State University Monterey Bay (CSUMB) to kick off “semester of relationship-building” with City of Gonzales to explore options for increased involvement, research and classes.

On Friday, February 21st, the city management team in Gonzales organized a full-day schedule of events to connect “Faculty Fellows” from both institutions with community leaders to promote meaningful collaboration. The faculty have made a commitment to take a deep dive this spring, and learn more about the city and its people, with the goal of exploring new ways to get involved with the community. Representing the Middlebury Institute were founding members of the Community Solutions Lab (Co-Lab), faculty members Netta Avineri and Kent Glenzer, Director of Immersive Professional Learning Carolyn Taylor-Meyer, as well as Institute Faculty Fellows Anne CampbellMahabat Baimyrzaeva, and Gabriel Guillen. Also in attendance was special guest, Dean of the Institute and VP of Academic Affairs Jeff Dayton-Johnson.

“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 Glenzer. “It’s an ideal place to seek new kinds of collaborations between communities, students, and faculty.”

Gonzales is a small, tight knit city in the Salinas Valley, reliant on agricultural processing in Monterey County, approximately 34 miles from the Institute campus in downtown Monterey. Founded by faculty members and staff from the Institute, CSUMB, and Monterey College of Law, the CoLab seeks to build sustainable, long-lasting and impactful partnerships between local academic institutions, non-profit organizations, and city management in Gonzales.

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. 

— Professor Kent Glenzer

“Salinas Valley is like the Silicon Valley for vegetables,” Gonzales Deputy City Manager Mark Hartunian told the group during roundtable discussions about the region’s strategic location for research and development. The agenda for the visit also included a bus tour of the town, presentations from the city management team about key projects and priorities, a lunch debrief session, site visits, a presentation from Youth Council members and alumni, and a networking social hour. The group left Gonzales with greater insight into the community, its challenges and successes, a filled with excitement for the future. As Sara Papineau-Brandt, recreation coordinator said: “In Gonzales, lots of things are not ‘impossible.’”

This initiative is made possible in part by the Claire Giannini Fund.


Institute Students, Faculty Collaborate with Local Peers in Community Solutions Lab

April 24, 2019

(From left to right) Professor Netta Avineri with CoLab student participants Miranda Meyer MAIEM/MPA ’18, Lucia Soca MPA ’18, Desmond Iriaye MAIPD ’18, Mariel Rowe-Heupler MATI ’19, John Ellis MACI ’19.

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.”

Professor Netta Avineri

“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.

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.

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