Across Minnesota private colleges, students learn a lot outside of classrooms. Time spent in working with local communities, undertaking projects and building relationships has a huge benefit for college students. Meet three students who have taken their college educations to a deeper level by what they’re doing off-campus in the community.
Anna Martínez-Pacheco, a 2022 graduate and legal studies major at Bethany Lutheran College, appreciates the importance of community. As a child, Martínez-Pacheco’s parents were deeply engaged locally as pastors in rural Cuba. But her parents faced political persecution that prompted her family to come to the Unites States when she was 15. Martínez-Pacheco recalls how adapting to a new language and culture while not knowing anyone presented numerous obstacles — but also opportunities.
One such opportunity was the chance to apply to Urban Ventures’ Act Six program, which prepares high school students for college success and community leadership. Martínez-Pacheco was accepted as an Act Six scholar and started at Bethany Lutheran College, a partner of the Act Six program. Once at Bethany, Martínez-Pacheco quickly became immersed in campus life. But she was eager to further connect with the broader community.
That opportunity came last summer through an internship with Urban Ventures’ south Minneapolis farm — the very same community that first welcomed her as a high school student. She spent her summer helping to grow fresh produce and assisting with the Farm Stand program, which combats food deserts in the Twin Cities. Martínez-Pacheco says her work — whether on campus, in her community or among farm fields — affirmed that she belongs. “All those have been more than just accomplishments, they have been the things that told me, ‘you can do this,’” Martínez-Pacheco said.
Witnessing the barriers to accessing healthy, affordable food has further fueled Martínez-Pacheco’s goal to one day attend law school and use her skills as both a Spanish and English speaker to work in partnership with community members to navigate complex systems. Recently, Martínez-Pacheco even gave back to the Urban Ventures community that has helped her in so many ways, as she delivered remarks at an Urban Ventures fundraising event. “College has prepared me in many ways, obviously academically is one of them,” she said. “But I think that it ultimately comes down to the people you get to know, the connections and the opportunities you seek and actually get to have.”
Before she graduated this spring, Sophie Hansen challenged herself to apply what she was learning in her studio courses at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD) in her hometown. A fine art studio major, Hansen responded in 2020 to an opportunity to create a community-centered installation at the airport in Green Bay, Wisconsin. “I decided to put together my first proposal ever, which included submitting a portfolio, detailed budget and project outline. I actually got the project!” Hansen shared.
Using her skills as a student, artist and entrepreneur, Sophie wanted to celebrate togetherness, inclusivity and diversity within the Green Bay area. She collaborated with volunteers from local organizations to plaster cast the hands of community members for the airport installation. Hansen understood a community-centered art piece in a public space needed to be accessible to all people, so she intentionally engaged with community members with varying identities, including diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, age, ability and gender. She also hosted outdoor events where local residents could work in partnership to create a second portion of the piece.
The project helped shape Sophie’s understanding of community, particularly the one she grew up in. “I realized the importance of community. It was a really lovely point of connection. I learned a lot in that process,” Hansen reflected.
Hansen also recently participated in MCAD’s Art in Community course led by faculty member Aki Shibata. Hansen partnered with classmates and members of the Little Earth and East Phillips communities of Minneapolis, including members of the Native Youth Arts Collective. Drawing upon her experiences in Green Bay and following guidance from Shibata, Hansen developed her skills even further. This time, she worked with her classmates to be very intentional about earning trust and building a greater sense of community across different and multiple communities. “I learned how to involve everybody in the decision making. Once we were able to get to know each other and understand who we all are, we were able to make art together.”
At Augsburg University’s Sabo Center for Democracy and Citizenship, students come together to address public issues, make change and build democracy. Zinnia Koy, a junior this spring at Augsburg majoring in sociology and minoring in environmental studies, has used the Sabo Center to put their passion into practice.
As a second-generation Southeast Asian immigrant, Zinnia grew up connected to the concept of growing their own food, a practice passed down by their grandmother. That understanding of locally grown food contributed, among other experiences, to a passion for food justice.
For the past two years, Zinnia has developed their passions for connecting with community through the Campus Kitchen program as a Leaders for Equity, Action, and Democracy (LEAD) Fellow, which is a paid internship program offered through the Sabo Center. In their role, Zinnia leads food distributions to community members of the Cedar Riverside neighborhood and older neighbors living at Ebenezer Towers in Minneapolis. As part of Augsburg’s Campus Kitchen, food is either made from scratch or sourced from overstock food from local food access and food justice organizations or Augsburg’s own campus.
Zinnia looks forward to interacting with people at community sites served by the program, including the Brian Coyle Center, a nearby community site of Pillsbury United Communities. One of Zinnia’s favorite things about their experience is sharing a sense of community while supporting causes they care about, such as food justice and environmental justice. “Augsburg has a distinct, nonstigmatized version of food justice,” Zinnia observed. “That has helped me better understand food justice and is something I’m interested in further exploring.”