St. Paul, Minn.  Two Macalester College faculty members have been selected as Mellon Periclean Faculty Leaders (PFLs) in the Humanities. Teresa Mesa, senior lecturer in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and Joëlle Vitiello, professor of French and Francophone Studies, are part of a cohort of 25 faculty members from 19 Periclean colleges and universities who have been awarded $4,000 grants that will be matched by their respective institutions. Funding and support for the program are provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and The Eugene M. Lang Foundation.

According to the press release from Project Pericles, which is a national consortium of 30 colleges and universities that are committed to including participatory citizenship and social responsibility as essential elements of their educational programs, the aim of the program is to connect “the humanities and liberal arts learning to challenges facing the wider campus community and society more broadly.” 

In collaboration with community partners, Mellon Periclean Faculty Leaders will significantly revise existing courses or design new ones that incorporate community-based projects addressing at least one of six challenges: climate change, education access, immigration, mass incarceration, race and inequality, and voter engagement. 

Each faculty member has multiple goals that aim to address a need in the community that has been identified by partner organizations; offer students community-based learning opportunities; and develop sustainable, long-term partnerships between Macalester and local organizations. 

Guiding with care

Mesa will use the grant to revamp her upper-level Spanish translation course and will partner with the Minnesota Historical Society and Centro Tyrone Guzman, which is the oldest and largest Latinx service organization in Minneapolis. Mesa has been involved with Centro Tyrone Guzman since 2007, including serving on the board for 10 years, and this long-term affiliation has strengthened the trust and institutional partnership between the non-profit and Macalester so that a course like this is possible. Her students will expand upon her previous work with the organization’s Wise Elders program and with members who have dementia and Alzheimer’s disease by offering translated museum tours for them and their families. 

These seniors are very invisible not only because they are older and don’t speak English, but more than 90 percent have never visited a museum before,” she said. ”To be able to listen and to get the explanation in your own language is a way for you to connect with the history, to connect with the objects, the culture or the state that you are in, but also to see that you are not that different.”

The students will learn about theories of translation and be able to apply them in a real-world setting. 

“When students take a civic engagement class and they are working with real people and doing real interpreting, that’s the big difference,” said Mesa. “You’re understanding that the real world is not necessarily how we work inside the classroom, and I think that’s absolutely invaluable.”

Students will also work to develop a training program for future interpreters at the museum. If Mesa has her way, the class will lay the groundwork for a sustainable program that benefits Mac students, as well as Latinx elders and their families in the Twin Cities area, for years to come.  

“I want to leave this training in place both with Macalester and with Centro Tyrone Guzman, so that we can keep on inviting families with Latinx elders, especially ones with dementia, to the museum in the future,” she said. 

Blending multiculturalism and internationalism

For Professor Vitiello, the grant provides an opportunity to expose students who take her upper-level class to the multiple facets of Francophone cultures and heritage in the Twin Cities and around the country. 

“I want the students to really think about the diversity of heritage that makes up the Twin Cities, as well as American culture, and that while part of it is French, part of it is not just French, it is African, it is Carribean, it is Asian, it is Native American,” said Vitiello. 

Her class will partner with two organizations: the local chapter of Alliance Francaise and St. Paul Academy

Every March, Alliance Francaise organizes a month-long series of events that highlight a French-speaking or French-influenced culture. Past events have focused on Senegal, Cameroon, and Vietnam. 

“I’ve often been engaged with them and I proposed to look at what a variety of cultures have contributed to French heritage in the Twin Cities,” said Vitiello.

Students in her class will work with Alliance Francaise to produce their annual celebration of Francophone culture around the themes of diverse heritages with the inclusion of First Nations, Asian, Middle Eastern, African and Carribean scholars, community leaders and artists. They’ll collect documents and arrange a speaker series all while forging a sustainable, long-term relationship with the organization. 

The students in Vitiello’s class will also partner with students in advanced French classes at Saint Paul Academy. They will work together in small groups to research the Francophone world of and in America, as well as develop units adapted to different proficiency levels. 

“What I hope the SPA students get is a connection to college, and to Macalester specifically, and have an opportunity to be mentored by our students and explore the Twin Cities together,” said Vitiello. 

Vitiello also noted that this course is being developed at the same time when the department is rethinking the requirements for a French major, which has always incorporated a Study Away component. She said this course will provide valuable insight into what a local immersive experience could look like, with the goal to provide more equitable opportunities for students who may not be able to afford the cost of studying abroad. 

“I’m interested in bringing together the internationalism and multiculturalism sides of the campus together and this course allows me to do that,” she said. 

Both Vitiello and Mesa will teach their new courses in Spring 2022. As part of the grant, they will spend 2020-2021 in conversation with their community partners and the Civic Engagement Center to fine-tune their projects and course requirements. 

About Project Pericles

Macalester College is a founding member of Project Pericles, which was started in 2001 by educational philanthropist Eugene M. Lang. According to its mission statement, Project Pericles and its partner schools are “committed to reawakening American undergraduate education to its responsibility to prepare students to be effective citizens and leaders of their communities, nations, and world.” The co-directors of Project Pericles at Macalester are Karin Trail-Johnson and Paul Schadewald.

Learn more about Macalester College at

June 18 2020

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