Maria Silva is assistant director for community engagement for USD’s Center for Community Service-Learning (CSL). The 2012 USD alumna works with faculty who integrate community service learning to their courses. She helps to build relationships with community partners, creating meaningful experiences for faculty, staff and students. As a student, Silva worked on immigration issues, and now as a program director she facilitates border immersion experiences. Inside USD asked her about her CSL role and special immersion trips.
Community engagement is something you know well because of personal and professional experiences before, during and after you attended USD. What, in your opinion, is the right mindset for effective community engagement?
When I was 18 I decided to take a year off before starting college to live in community with the Raramuri Indigenous of Chihuahua, Mexico. The time I spent in that village taught me more than I learned, and probably will ever learn, through books or school. It also brought to light my vocation for community engagement. This experience will forever ground and humble me in my work; in my opinion, that is the proper mindset for effective community engagement.
How fulfilling is it to work at your college alma mater — with CSL/CASA staff that are also USD alumni — and know that the difference you facilitate strengthens both yours and the university’s relationship with the community?
I am a proud Torero and will always be grateful for the learning and growth I experience on campus. CSL/Center for Awareness, Service and Action (CASA) played a very important role in my college career. The center was my avenue to the type of meaningful community engagement and relationship building that I experienced in my gap year. I couldn’t feel more blessed, or fulfilled, than to be able to continue this work and foster these experiences for new generations of students.
A March Spring Break student immersion trip to Nogales, Mexico and Arizona combined community engagement and immigration education with activities via USD’s Outdoor Adventures. It was also a personal trip for you. What were some impactful aspects of the trip?
Nogales is home. My parents and extended family live there; the USD group actually stayed at my grandparents’. Similar to other border towns, Nogales houses the reality of two intersecting political systems, economies and cultures. It nurtures the experience of an immigrant community that continues to dream the American Dream, in spite of the suffering that often results from our broken immigration system. Most impacting of all was seeing students step into the experience of my community without holding back, sitting in solidarity without judgment, and learning the value of presence. Sharing this with my family and community partners made it all the best.
CSL staff and USD students were in New Orleans for the annual immersion Spring Break trip and this year it coincided with Easter. What can you tell us about the trip?
We attended an Easter Second Line! The theme for this year’s immersion is “Expanding our Community” as coined by Vera Warren, one of our beloved NOLA community partners. We learned and experienced how different partners expand their community through their unique practices, which began with a yoga session for intention setting. We were fortunate to work with such amazing people and to have earned their friendship and respect.
What are some of your favorite local community collaborative examples as a USD student and now when you are facilitating faculty and students for a class?
I led the Migrant Outreach Program, a Ministry of the Mt. Carmel Parish, during my college years. USD’s role at the time was to build relationships through language exchange; students practiced their Spanish with migrants while they practiced their English. The Parish Ministry has since shifted its efforts to the Mexican state of Oaxaca, home of the majority of migrants we worked with at that time. I was recently approached by the Parish to incorporate an Oaxaca immersion to CSL’s Border Immersion Program. We are making this opportunity available to student leaders this summer and hope to fully institute it in the future. There are endless possibilities when we trust the community to drive our work!
When you can break away from the great work you do at USD and in the community, what hobbies or activities do you indulge in for yourself?
Bike riding has become one of my favorite hobbies. I started slow and am still learning to navigate traffic and bike lanes, but it is somewhat addicting and I love it. I also love to cook. If I had the time to do so, I would cook breakfast, lunch and dinner every day. Unfortunately that is not the case, but I do enjoy exploring San Diego’s restaurants. Our city has a lot to offer!