Students work with local national parks to update visitor materials

Photo of Park Ranger with AU class

The College of Liberal of Arts is known for engaging students in the classroom, as well as connecting them to the community. A recent example of this began in 2016 when Dr. Jana Gutiérrez Kerns, a professor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, was contacted by a park ranger at Horseshoe Bend National Military Park. National Park Ranger Eric Frey reached out to Gutiérrez Kerns as part of an initiative to make parks more accessible to a diverse public. To accomplish this, they asked Gutiérrez Kerns if she would be willing to translate important documents into Spanish for them. Gutiérrez Kerns was interested in taking on the project but wanted it to be more than a professional favor, so she decided to incorporate the project into her Spanish Translation and Interpreting class the following spring. Gutiérrez Kerns said she was excited to take on such an assignment. “It’s our duty to educate and to learn from the community at large as a land-grant institution,” Gutiérrez Kerns said. 

The class was tasked with translating three different types of documents into Spanish: a pamphlet, a children’s activity book, and an audio guide for cellphones. While each document came with its own difficulties, the audio guide had several unique complications. Since it was oral text, a transcription first had to be made in English. Perhaps even more taxing was that it wasn’t just a single recording. Gutiérrez Kerns elaborates, “They had it like a cellphone guide, so you had to call in every time. Sometimes once you called, it wouldn’t let you call again, so there were some mechanical issues there.”

The project was split between five different groups of students, and she knew that it would be difficult to maintain a seamless voice throughout each document they translated. “The worst thing you can have with a translated document,” Gutiérrez Kerns says, “is that it feels like a translation.” 

Not only did the class do work for the park, but they also had the opportunity to visit the park which gave them a better understanding of their intended audience.

“One of the best things about parks is that they are great place for families,” Gutiérrez Kerns said. “We want more families to feel welcomed at the park, and that’s why we’re so committed to the project.”

The battle of Horseshoe Bend was one of the most pivotal battles over the course of the Creek War, and Gutierrez said that it was important that these families will be able to learn a bit more about Alabama and American history through the park. 

“This project is more than just translating materials for Spanish speaking visitors; it is also connecting Auburn students with the National Park Service and Horseshoe Bend NMP,” National Park Ranger Eric Frey said. 

The work of Gutiérrez Kerns and her students has started to branch out to other historic sites. Another park ranger, Camille Vincent, has recently contacted Gutiérrez Kerns, and she agreed to provide translative help for the national monument of the Tuskegee Airmen, the Tuskegee Institute, and the historic trail from Selma to Montgomery. “My feeling is that there’s going to be a bit more available in Spanish than our previous project, but we always have to work with what we’re given. We’re setting that up for next semester, and we’re fully committed to nurturing this university-community partnership and to furthering our students’ growth as language service professionals.” 

Not only does the work done by Gutiérrez Kerns and her class help the Latinx community by making these historic sites more accessible, but it also greatly helps the students participating in the course.

“We have noticed an increase in the students’ meta-awareness,” says Gutiérrez Kerns. In addition to submitting critical analysis essays and oral presentations throughout the course, students were asked to write a transformative reflection essay in Spanish at the end of the service-learning project. Gutiérrez Kerns continues, “A lot of times, what they observe is, ‘I’m not ready to translate into Spanish. I need more.’ That’s a huge reality check to have.” This reality check has caused several students to seek out other opportunities to gain experience in translation such as with a Spanish-Language Podcast done by the AU athletics department. 

“The students wanted to do more and become real advocates for the language,” says Gutiérrez Kerns. 

Taylor Mackowski, a student of Gutiérrez Kerns, says of her experience, “I loved this class. Not many classes give you the feel of the work you’ll be doing once you graduate.”

Going forward, Gutiérrez Kerns wants to test the added level of language proficiency her students are gaining through this service-based learning experience. She is currently working with a colleague and linguist named Dr. Gilda Socarrás to develop a meta-linguistic study that will be able to track the students’ improvement with the language over the course of the semester. “We’ll give the students a test at the beginning of the semester and then a test at the end of the semester when the project has been completed.” 

“When a land-grant institution like Auburn University builds a relationship and plays an active role in its community, everyone benefits,” Gutiérrez Kerns said. 

Written by Dillan Wright, an undergraduate student majoring in professional and public writing whlie minoring in both creative writing, and philosophy and religion. 

Last Updated: December 13, 2018