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Centro Hispano Connects UT Students to Broader Community

Through partnership with UT students, along with other local volunteers, Centro Hispano is able to offer free Basic Literacy, GED and ESL classes along with many other programs and services. For a detailed description of other events please visit Centro’s calendar here.

Centro Hispano’s connection with UT begins with Carlos Pinilla,

who is both the Center’s director and a UT alumnus. Pinilla greatly appreciates the capacity that UT students add to Centro Hispano. At the same time, he has seen several UT students develop professional careers based directly on their work with the center.

Pinilla talks about the importance of mutual respect and reciprocity. For collaborative relationships to succeed, he points out, it is necessary to “have a strong partner that believes in you, and look for a mutual benefit for all partners.” Together, Centro Hispano and UT work as a unit to “give our community – one Knoxville community – the opportunity to fulfill its potential.”

Centro ninos 4oopxlRickey Hall, Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion, agrees. “Knoxville has a vibrant Latino/Hispanic community, and Centro Hispano helps our students connect to the community.”

“The Centro /UT partnership has given a number of life-changing experiences to several Language and World Business students,“ added Lisa Parker, Assistant Director of UT’s Language and World Business Program. “Students may begin a bit apprehensive about speaking the language with native speakers, but soon realize how to make the best of the situation and grow from it.”

Professor Michael Handelsman embeds service-learning experiences with Centro Hispano into his Spanish language courses to enhance both language and cultural literacy for his students.  He encourages students with advanced Spanish language skills to think with their Hispanic neighbors as opposed to thinking about them.

“The lesson I try to share with the students is that the difference between these two prepositions will define how they approach the challenge of becoming socially responsible citizens,” said Handelsman. “WITH” offers us the potential to create bona fide community partnerships which break down hierarchical social relationships and create the possibility of learning how to deal effectively and humanely with the many challenges posed by difference and diversity.”

Associate Professor of Law Karla McKanders and her Law Immigration Clinic students have collaborated with Centro Hispano to provide free consultations, referrals, and greater understanding for the immigrant community in Knoxville and surrounding areas in how to address their immigration status, or in some cases how to legalize their status.

400x267-Tayo-Oyeola-on-computer-CHAt the same time, McKanders added, the collaboration has provided law students  with the opportunity to engage in the interviewing process with firsthand involvement with clients, to learn more about immigration issues faced by the growing Latino and foreign-born population in Knoxville, and additional opportunities to interact with community attorneys.

“Making a difference” can happen in broad and small ways,” concludes Hall. “Each student has their world expanded by learning about the Hispanic/Latino culture. Each person in the community that walks through the doors of Centro Hispano may be helped by a student.”

“If even one student can leave their experience with Centro with a broader culture understanding and a better vocabulary, our partnership is ‘making a difference.’”


Elizabeth Burman,

UT’s Collaboration with Centro Hispano was nominated as a Partnership that Makes a Difference. Click here to read more.