Field Immersion in Nicaragua Leads to Hands-on Learning

March 9, 2011

Last summer Dr. Matías Fontenla, Assistant Professor in the UNM Department of Economics, along with Benjamin Waddell, PhD Candidate in the UNM Department of Sociology, led students into the field as part of a newly-developed course, "Sustainable Development in Central America: Growth, Poverty, and Inequality in Nicaragua." The syllabus explains that the course was created to offer students a way to take "a hands-on approach to understand failed development and economic growth, poverty, and the deep social inequalities that affect our world and most importantly, on solutions to these problems." As Fontenla prepares to lead students once more into the field, it seems clear that the hands-on learning approach has proven invaluable to those involved.

Many students who participated in the course last summer remain personally moved by the experience. "They got to learn by seeing and doing. We visited places during the day and talked to people. In the evenings I lectured. It gave context to theory. What is perhaps more amazing about these students is that many of them are now taking action, participating in development solutions," Fontenla said.

Indeed, as a result of last year's field immersion experience, several students have taken action by supporting a housing project jointly sponsored by the UNM branch of Nourish International and the UNM Latin American Sustainability Association (both student-led organizations). This joint collaboration has begun working with Casa de la Mujer, a non-profit organization in Nicaragua. UNM students are raising funds, and will participate in the construction and improvement of houses for women and their families.

Fontenla notes that "Nicaragua is extremely poor, and women are among the most vulnerable in a very traditional society that still treats them as second class citizens." Casa de la Mujer addresses these inequalities by ensuring that the deeds for the newly constructed homes are transferred to the female heads of households. "This is tremendously important for so many reasons," Fontenla said. To date Nourish UNM remains nearly two thousand dollars short of their fundraising goal for this housing project. Visit their website to learn how to make tax deductible donations.

The course "Sustainable Development in Central America" was developed with support from the Latin American and Iberian Institute. It is currently cross-listed with Political Science and Sociology. For more information, visit Fontenla's website or the course Facebook page.

This information was provided courtesy of Dr. Fontenla, Casa de la Mujer, and UNMToday.