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Cynthia Siemsen Sociology comes to life The homeless line up outside Torres Community Shelter in Chico. The door opens and Sharina Jackson, a student vol- unteer, greets a homeless man with a smile, a kind word, and basic ne- cessities like soap and shampoo. She is joined by other CSU Chico students, all in their 20s, who also hand each “guest” plastic containers, not exceeding 25 pounds, which store most of their worldly goods. Cynthia Siemsen, chair of CSU Chico’s Department of Sociology and a California Faculty Association member, proudly watches her students perform service learning that connects classroom learning with hands-on experience. “This is a powerful way for students to learn sociology,” says Siemsen. “Every time students learn a theory, they have to analyze homelessness and/or mental illness in this class. They can understand firsthand, through volunteer work with the homeless, how this theory comes into play.” Armando Hernandez Taking it on the road His students are an unlikely group of champi- ons. Many are English lan- guage learners from East Los Angeles. Most are short of credits they need to grad- uate from Schurr High School in Montebello. But when the high school Armando Hernandez Montebello Teachers Association students enroll in Armando Hernandez’s auto shop pro- gram, they get on track to graduate. They enter na- tionwide competitions to make cars run on green technology. And they beat stu- dents from top universities. Hernandez, a member of the Mon- tebello Teachers Association, teaches auto shop during the school day. But it’s his Transportation and Energy Program (TEP), an after-school voca- tional skills intervention program for struggling students, that’s getting at- tention while it prepares students for the future. Every year, TEP students design and build an energy-efficient vehicle for the global Eco-marathon Americas contest sponsored by Shell. In 2008, his students designed a car that ran on liquid petro- 12 California Educator | DECEMBER 2010 • JANUARY 2011 leum gas and won first place in that cat- egory at the event, outperforming teams of engineering students from UC Berke- ley and Louisiana State University. This year, students are hard at work he has created. They receive credit for “dual enrollment” at both high school and college campuses. Since he also graduated from Schurr High School, Hernandez feels an obliga- tion to give back. “I was a struggling student myself,” he explains. “I was not on a track to graduate, and had to attend adult school. But I went on to be successful, and I was the first in my family to graduate from college.” He credits his former ABOVE: Luis Campos diagnoses a problem in Armando Hernandez’s award-winning auto shop program at Schurr High School in Montebello. on a car that runs on biodiesel — or cooking oil used for frying. Students are learning chemistry as they convert cooking oil to biofuel, says Hernandez, who also incorporates traditional sci- ence, math and English standards into his curriculum. Hernandez encourages students to enroll in three nearby community col- leges through a matriculation program auto shop teacher with giving him motivation. “He used to joke with me that someday I’d come back and teach auto shop. I said, ‘You’re crazy, I’d never want to do that.’” Now it’s his turn to motivate others. “Mr. Hernandez is an inspiration to us,” says Chris Ortiz, a senior. “He pre- pares us for the outside world. When we go to competitions, people look at us like we’re a bunch of bad kids or trou- blemakers because we’re from East Los Angeles. But they stop looking at us that way when we beat them.” Cynthia Siemsen California Faculty Association At the end of the semester, each student writes a paper connecting their experiences at the shelter to what they have learned in class. Their papers reveal that volunteering at the shelter has made the course ma- terial relevant, deepened their understanding of theory, and even in- fluenced their career paths in the nonprofit or social services sector. They are also proud to be part of a class that has contributed more than 350 hours of service to a worthy cause in their community. exp The students’ T-shirts have a quote by sociologist C. Wright Mills on the back: “Neither the life of an individual nor the history of a so- ciety can be understood without understanding both.” They selected the quote because their perspective on society has changed dramati-

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