The Office of Community Engagement invites CSUN students, faculty and staff to rise and become active contributing citizens, flourishing in reciprocal community partnerships. We create high impact community engagement practices based on the principles of reciprocity, viability, and community connectivity.

Summer 2020

Matadors Engage in Civics and Democracy Through CSUN Act Now Events

CSUN Today recently wrote an article about CSUN Act Now! Read the article below to hear about the purpose of Act Now, as well as some of the many initiatives and events that will be happening this upcoming election season! Get involved!

CSUN Today: “Matadors Engage in Civics and Democracy Through CSUN Act Now Events

What You Need to Know About Voting By Mail in November Election

CSUN communication studies professors Jessica Baty-McMillan and John Kephart III were recently interviewed by CSUN Today about what you need to know about voting by mail! See what they had to say below:

CSUN Today: “What You Need to Know About Voting By Mail in November Election

CSUN Community Engagement in the News: Matthew Contreras

CSUN Senior Matthew Contreras was recently awarded the Roz Wyman Democratic Youth Leadership Award at the Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s JFK Awards. Contreras has participated in multiple service learning projects with Community Engagement, and epitomizes what it means to be civically engaged and serve as a leader in the community.

See what he had to say in his acceptance speech in the article below.

LA Blade Article: “Matthew Contreras Picks Up Torch Passed by John Lewis”

CSUN queer studies class brings in the community with their zines and playlists

The Sundial Article by Michaella Huck, A&E Editor

View more photos here.

Four in 10 LGBTQ youth don’t feel accepted in the community they live in, according to a study conducted by the Human Rights Campaign. A CSUN Pop Music Queer Studies class, QS 204, led by Matthew Clements, a professor of Queer Studies, set out to help LGBTQ youth find themselves and remind them they are not alone. 

Clements partnered with the social service agency Penny Lane Centers and the CSUN office of Community Engagement to create a project that would allow students to use their creativity in a way that could provide support to the LGBTQ community. Penny Lane Centers works heavily with families and provides health programs for adults and children, especially foster youth. The class provided deliverable “zines” — or mini magazines — to reach a larger audience and playlists to the youth as a way to provide support.  

When Clements started teaching queer studies in 2014, he aimed to create a classroom environment where lived experiences and the intersectionality between race and sexuality would remain the primary focus in his teaching.

“I wanted a highly intersectional kind of curriculum. Queer studies provides that to a large degree,” Clements said. “I also wanted to take a stand where I could reject and actually stab away at a deficit perspective, the idea that individuals who have marginalized identities are in some way experiencing or living an experience that is a deficit in comparison to other people.” 

In the fall student started learning about a musical style known as queercore or homocore, a twist on classic punk music centered around queer musicians targeting a queer audience. One large facet of the music was the incorporation of zines, allowing the music to reach a larger audience. This strategy by queercore gave Clements the idea of incorporating a service-learning project focused on intersectionality in the classroom. The idea stemmed from the fact that queercore artists began making zines and queercore was one of the only musical genres that did this. Clements tried to capture this idea on a smaller scale. He thought if queercore was a queer group reaching a large audience of queer people, what would be the benefit of a queer classroom reaching a queer youth audience? 

According to the project’s rubric, “groups generate a multi-faceted online zine incorporating DIY-style wording, texts, illustrations and extensive playlist(s) and videos of queer songs as a way to support, build and normalize emerging queer identities in a contemporary, racially diverse youth audience.” 

Students split into groups of eight and spent the semester working on ways to make the project more engaging to their audience. Each project had a mission statement attached depicting in words what the groups hoped to accomplish. 

“We hope to convey a sense of queerness and unity with our zines and that our playlists are filled to the brim with jammable queer songs,” one zine‘s statement read. “Being queer can be utterly terrifying but a completely beautiful experience. No matter how you choose to express your identity or identities, what matters is the happiness and love you can feel within yourself and towards yourself.” 

Many zines showed iconic LGBTQ musicians like Frank Ocean and Tyler the Creator. Others showed art and gender-inclusive photography. Playlists incorporated the work of endless albums with queer artists including, “That’s So Gay” by Pansy Divison, one of the first openly gay rock bands. 

The students’ projects didn’t end as a classroom social experiment. The student’s zines were sent out to Penny Lane Centers as a way to reach the LGBTQ youth that the center works with. In addition, the students’ zines are showcased on the San Fernando Valley Pride website. 

Each year, members of the San Fernando LGBTQI+ Coalition and Clements, who serves as an adviser, put on an event at the Van Nuys Civic Center for Pride Month. This year, it went virtual and Clements thought of it as a great opportunity to tie their social service back to our CSUN community by adding the project to the Valley Pride website. This served as a way to further connect LGBTQ youth across the Valley as they enjoyed the event together virtually. 

Clements’s work has made an impact. The project has now reached over 18,000 site engagements so far. 

Clements explained the class will continue to do community engagement work in his classes, however, he will adapt his engagement style to what is most suitable to the needs of local LGBT advocacy groups. 

“The question I always bring to the table is, ‘How can we use the resources that I bring to the class environment to continue to serve?’” Clements said. “I always see (community engagement) is important to students in the classroom because it makes learning practical, it makes it real life.” 

Spring 2020

“Promotores de Bienestar Mental”
(Mental Wellness Promoters)

Dr. Alejandra Acuña, PhD, LCSW, PPSC teaches SWRK 602-Advanced Practice with Urban Families at CSUN. Her CSUN MSW students have created bilingual (Spanish/English) videos accessible to Spanish-speaking audiences about mental health topics that can be used for psycho-education and training purposes. Please check out their YouTube Channel with all their work below! Support them by subscribing to their channel!

Link: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQsFfkggDtj2u3HFLJpwfJA/videos


The Mask Making Project

Finding an alternate service-learning project for students in my HSCI 313: Health Administration course was challenging.  I wanted my students to still have experiences that were relevant to health care organizations, interprofessionalism, multigenerational groups, and cultural competency.

Knowing that COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the health care field, I am offering my students (3) alternatives to complete their service-learning. The first alternative is for students to blog. Via blogging, they are gathering and providing information about resources available for individuals in the area. They are also blogging about being mindfully healthy, creating virtual friends, and posting healthy recipes to promote wellness.  The second alternative experience provides the students with the opportunity to complete online interprofessional modules via Arizona State University’s Center for Advancing Interprofessional Practice, Education, and Research (CAIPERS) and receive a certificate of completion.  To complement this experience students are also watching videos on dementia care and participating in online discussions on how health care teams are vital in the provision of care.

The last alternative service-learning experience which I want to spotlight is the mask-making project for health care professions.

Since I am not a sewer, and I understand how important it is that our frontline health care professionals are protected I am participating in this experience along with my students. Students are making masks and providing them to health care organizations or health care providers. Students are creating a minimum of 10 masks to be donated.

I want to share this with the Office of Community Engagement as I am extremely proud of my students and I think this truly needs to be recognized.

The following student, Kathy Perez was the first to complete the project and make her donation. I have more students who are in the process of completing masks, and I am working right along with them making masks for both those on the front line in health care and with Metro Transportation.

I am so proud of them and their commitment to service-learning during the COVID0-19 pandemic.

Stay Safe and stay healthy everyone,

Carmen Saunders-Russell, EdD, MA, CRA, RT(R)(M)
Assistant Professor
California State University Health Science Department

California State University, Northridge
CA Campus Compact – Youth Voice ~ Youth Vote Student Fellows
Spring 2020

Leslie Aguirre is a third year Political Science major and Sustainability minor at California State University, Northridge. Her passion for community building and promoting civic engagement began in 2016 as a high school senior— where she served as president of three clubs and volunteered at local campaign offices. Leslie’s roots instilled a deep sense of responsibility and good stewardship for the betterment of her community. Leslie’s undergraduate career has been characterized by continuous involvement in her campus community as the President of the Political Science Student Association, Chair of Legislative Affairs for Associated Students, and various other leadership opportunities. Leslie currently serves as a member of the Legislative Affairs committee and the Vice Chair of the Social Justice and Equity committee at the California State Student Association, working to uplift the voices nearly half a million students in the California State University system. Leslie is a fierce advocate for students and is driven by her mission to illuminate her peers to the true power of their voice and their vote.


Diana Vicente Santiago is a fourth year Marketing major and Management minor at California State University Northridge. Her passion for leading change and representing her colleagues began in middle school. Since 6th grade, Diana has been involved in student government through various positions. During her undergraduate career she has been involved in over 10 clubs and organizations. As a senior, she ran and was elected into the position of Associated Students President, representing over 36,000 students at a campus, state and national level. Every day in office she advocates for student success in and outside the classroom. She believes that students’ success is a reflection of our nation’s future. She continues her work by representing our CSU students as a Board of Director for the California State Student Association, providing students jobs and learning about what it means to be a servant leader.


Spring 2019

Spring 2019 Grant Recipient Spotlight Series: Professor Gretchen Macchiarella 


 Los Angeles’s diversity shows in many ways — the languages spoken, the food and the stories being told.  Stories, reflecting the community’s voices, were either told within communities verbally or via local newspapers, which had a larger outreach. 

However, newsrooms have been shrinking, even those in Southern California. News outlets have resorted to downsizing in order to keep the business going. Remaining journalists became even busier, having more stories to cover. Inevitably, communities’ stories become increasingly unrepresented as reporters may not a deep connection or lack the time to develop one with the communities.

One way to alleviate this issue is to get student journalists involved. Student journalists have strong connections and accessibility to their communities, thus amplifying voices and stories that would have gone unheard. This is one of the cruces of Professor Gretchen Macchiarella’s JOUR 325 Multiplatform Storytelling class.

The class, which had a community engagement component, was partnered with the Southern California Newspaper Group (SCNG). Macchiarella and the company worked together to create the class’s theme and topic, “Launching into Life in Los Angeles”.

“It’s about young people trying to get on their feet as adults and the things that make that hard and wonderful in LA. So we’re trying to raise up voices, especially in the communities that my students actually live in,” explained Macchiarella.

Students, who hail from different parts of LA such as Lancaster, Downtown LA and El Segundo, talked to people from their community about various issues, ultimately tying in together with the theme of living in LA.

“So (students) are talking to artists, college graduates, a lot of them have found people who moved into LA from other places and they’re talking about migration, immigration, along with human stories, as well as housing costs, job availability, all those things,” Macchiarella said.

Macchiarella’s choice of partnering with SCNG, the parent company of outlets like LA Daily News, Orange County Register and Daily News, was so that students would not be constrained geographically to a community they were unfamiliar with. Secondly, the company needed LA content, which was what students could provide.

Partnering with the company gave the class “a gravity of publication”, according to Macchiarella. Students got to work with editors from the company, who gave critiques on the content students produced. Cutting corners would thus have heavier consequences as students will be held accountable by the company and their own communities.

“It holds the student more accountable to themselves to produce work that they really care about,” Macchiarella said.

Another crux of Macchiarella’s class was the opportunity for students to be exposed to the different skills needed for digital news production. The news industry is adapting to the changing market, where customers are more likely to consume media digitally instead of traditional print media. Digital has broken the barriers down between the different categories in news, thus creating an intersection of skills needed when working in the industry.

Students got to practice these technical skills during the last six weeks of the course by mimicking a newsroom, culminating with content production for SCNG. Students were split into teams, rotating through the different disciplines of video, web and print.

While the mock newsroom arrangement helped students get a sense of how a newsroom functions, a change had to be made in the midst of the project due to a complication.

“(Students) were each producing one story of their own instead of passing content back and forth. So we had to adjust that on the fly, but I think we’re getting toward a way that will make more sense,” recounted Macchiarella. “I could see in the future, more of an outline coming from the partner that we’re kind of filling, as opposed to this time we’re sort of like, coming up with a bunch of content and handing it to them, and they have to sort through and figure out what it looks like on their end.” Macchiarella also hopes to continue the project with SCNG or other outlets that require in-depth coverage of communities in LA in the future. 

Over the summer, the student-produced content will be published online, hopefully, if SCNG chooses to do so. Voices from the underserved communities will be amplified, their stories for many to read and discover.

Community Engagement Research & Service Learning Symposium 2019 


Symposium attendees listening to the opening speech given by Director of Community Engagement, Dr. Jeanine Mingé.


The “Community Involvement for a More Sustainable Future” project’s table set up.

Sunlight and chatter filled the main lobby at the Great Hall of the Soraya on April 25 as students gathered around their tables, where they had laptops, posters and copies of their work. One group even spruced up their table with a tablecloth, flowers and a pitcher of fruit-infused water. The different choices in set up not only reflected the students’ creativity, but the diversity in disciplinary fields and projects at the Community Engagement’s Research & Service Learning Symposium.

The symposium is an annual event organized by the Community Engagement office, celebrating the students’ works. Students, nominated by their professors for the event, had to present to two judges on their community engagement projects. As the event was also open to the public, students were eager to share their thoughts and experiences with anyone who was interested about it.   

Graduate students Lauren Thomas, Tara Donikian and Luis Hernandez , whose project title is “An Empowered Transition: A Group Curriculum for LatinX Immigrant Teenagers”, worked with community partner Child and Family Guidance Center to create a group curriculum for the organization’s clients.

The “An Empowered Transition: A Group Curriculum for LatinX Immigrant Teenagers” group at their table. Courtesy of Karen Chavez Valle.

“(The organization’s client population) is 95% Latinx community, very large portion of that Spanish-speaking,” Thomas explained. “One of the needs that they’ve addressed with us is that they need some form of group or therapeutic intervention that addresses teenage individuals that are immigrating from Mexico to the United States, in order to reunite with their parents who immigrated before them, from several years before.”

Beside the group stood an art piece — bright paint splattered across a 24 inch by 36 inch canvas. The piece was from an activity designed to focus on the expression and release of trauma and trauma-related emotions.

“The idea (of the activity) being that each balloon is filled with paint attached to the canvas, with each balloon stating different words, emotions, triggering memories that are related to their trauma narrative,” Thomas said. This activity is done in a group setting, the clients popping the balloons with darts.

“But as they go through and pop the balloons, it reveals a beautiful art piece. So really pulling together the idea that emotional expression can be an absolutely messy experience but it can create something very beautiful,” she said.

This is the first time that Thomas, Donikian and Hernandez are presenting at Community Engagement’s Symposium. When asked what’s next for the project, Hernandez said he hoped that the group gets to do more presentations on it.

“Especially with this curriculum, it reaches a very important population and demographic that isn’t being addressed as much in the research or just in general,” he said. “Hopefully, we can share this with as many people as possible, as many ways as possible, in order to hopefully support that process. Because it is a difficult process, that transition from country of origin to this country and the whole separation issues and all that stuff.”

For some students, their project topics were inspired from causes that are near and dear to their hearts. One example is Alyssa Granillo’s research project, “Improving Quality of Life Through Aquatic Exercise: Experiences of People with Mild Alzheimer’s Disease.” The project was done with CSUN Center of Achievement, where undergraduate students worked on a one-on-one with clients — community members who have disabilities like stroke, brain injury and multiple sclerosis.

“I wanted to take this class (KIN311) because of my experience with my grandma having Alzheimer’s Disease,” Granillo said. “Just in general, seeing my family members get older and wanting to better understand how to provide care for them.” While she has not conducted a study based on her research yet, Granillo hopes that it will provide an insight on how aquatic exercise can improve clients’ quality of life.

Lilia Gonzalez with the map of Exide’s impact zones she created with the Geographic Information Systems software.

Another example is Lilia Gonzalez’s project “Imagining Futures: Collective Self-Determination and Self-Reliance through Community Gardens” with La Cosecha Colectiva, a decentralized community garden program. The organization’s project focus aligned with Gonzalez’s beliefs, which were shaped by her experiences with barriers she’s faced as a single parent, non-traditional student when searching for housing, employment and access to healthy food.

“If you try to access food programs like CalWORKs, you open yourself to random investigations, which was what happened to me when I went to apply. I was opened to a random investigation,” said Gonzalez.  “I had a fraud investigator officer come to my door with a badge, knocking on my door like he was going to arrest me. Already, you know, living in South Central, where we see and are exposed to these things, of course my children were scared. This cannot be the way to access food. We have to do something else.”

The community gardens project was developed in response to a Wal-Mart corporation that wanted to move into the neighborhood that is already surrounded by heavy industries. The aim of the gardens is to alleviate the community’s reliance on big corporations, thus empowering the community and shifting agency back into their own hands. However, the community was not able to grow produce on their own land, using raised beds for the community gardens instead.

The map of Exide impact zones, created by Gonzalez. Courtesy of Lilia Gonzalez.

Produce could not be grown without using raised beds as the soil was contaminated by toxins released from a battery recycling plant owned by Exide. Pointing to her screen, Gonzalez gave an example of how one parcel of land’s soil contamination level of 8 ppm did not meet the agricultural standard to grow food, 5.6 ppm. Yet, the parcel was not prioritized for clean up as priority is only given to a parcel with higher contamination level. Gonzalez used the software Geographic Information Systems to map out Exide’s impact zone and pollution burdens, giving the community a visual of what’s going on.

“If we look at all of these things, the community’s able to connect the dots and see this is about survival, this is about resisting, this is about access to healthy food, this is about toxins, and all of these things,” said Gonzalez.

Through this experience, Gonzalez was able to get hands-on experience on how to implement a community garden project and she is already working on a continuation of the project, but in a different community — her own.

“Where I live now, we’re going to replicate this and create our own community food garden,” Gonzalez shared. “We’re partnering with different organizations in the community, such as Youth Justice Coalition.”

At the end of the event, the winners of the Symposium were announced. The Graduate Award was a tie between projects “The Power of Language” by Leticial Quezada, Carol Morejon and Elizabeth Figueroa from Professor Tyutina’s SPAM 609 class and “Small Operations with Large Implications” by Melanie Zecca from Professor McNamara’s EOH696A&B class.

First place for the Undergraduate Award went to the “Vanuatu Gardening Project” by Chris Gutierrez, Wendy Sotelo, Kainalu Chun, Maico Santos and Ashley Jaron from Professor Drake’s GEOG 497 class.

The Undergraduate Award’s second place was a tie yet again, between the “Comparison of Immediate Gait and Balance Outcomes” by Isabel Lorimer and Danica Marie Tolentino from Professor Jung’s KIN311 class and “Los Angeles Emergency Preparedness Guide” by Katherine Hawley and Alexandra Menchaca from Professor DiMarco’s ART 396SD class.

Lastly, third place ended with a tie yet again, between “Spatial Variability of Soil Moisture Content” by Taylor Borsuk from Professor Giraldo’s GEOG 404 and “Peer-to-Peer Nutrition Enrichment” by John Poglodzinski from Professor Duran’s FCS 408 class.

Spring 2019 Grant Recipient Spotlight Series: Professor Jennifer Pemberton 


(Left to right) Briana Mills, Arielle Rapaport, Alexandra Garcia and Professor Jennifer Pemberton at the 2018 National Sexual Assault Coalition in Anaheim. Courtesy of Jennifer Pemberton.

It all started with an opportunity. Professor Jennifer Pemberton felt that graduate students in her EPC 670C Psychoeducation and Process Groups in Family Counseling were disconnected, working individually on their therapy curriculum. 

“I felt like for a student to put in all this time and all this energy into a product like a group curriculum, it needed more purpose, more meaning, more life,” said Pemberton, who comes from a community non-profit agency background.

Hence, when the opportunity came for Pemberton to do a community engagement project, she took it, partnering her class with Child and Family Guidance Center last year. Based on overwhelmingly positive student feedback from last year, Pemberton decided to apply for the Spring 2019 Community Engagement grant, continuing the project and partnership with Child and Family Guidance Center.

Child and Family Guidance Center (CFGC) is an organization that serves the underserved communities of San Fernando Valley and Antelope Valley. They provide various programs such as individual and group therapy for adults and individual, family and group therapy for children and young adults. Pemberton knew of the organization as she is the liaison for Strength United, a trauma agency in the Northridge community. She chose to partner with the organization as they were open to incorporate group treatments and because she has an established relationship with them.

The organization and the students work together to produce group therapy curriculums that serve the needs of the organization’s clients. The organization provides a list of group therapy curriculums that they need for certain groups, such as LGBTQIA and parents with kids who have experienced trauma. The students get into groups of four or five and choose the topic that most aligns to their interests.

In the event that their interests do not align with the topics, students may create their own topic and propose it to the organization. During the pilot project last year, a group proposed a suicide survivors’ group which was accepted by the organization as it was relevant their clients’ needs.

This year’s five groups are grief, divorce, adults sexually abused as children, Latinx immigrant teens and a “caretakers and me” parenting group. The students will be mentored by trauma experts at the organization as they work on developing a trauma-informed group curriculums. Students acquire a deeper understanding of trauma issues and trauma-informed practice through this firsthand experience.

“You can’t really get that from literature and reading a book,” said Pemberton. “It just becomes more alive and the learning is just…it’s just much greater, I think.”

While it is too soon to gauge the effectiveness of the students’ group curriculums, Pemberton will get feedback from the organization in the future. As of now, the curriculums are tested via pre-imposed measures before its implementation with the organization’s clients. 

Apart from following up on the curriculums, Pemberton has many plans for the future of the project. One of her plans include bringing more students to present their work at professional conferences, such as the National Sexual Assault Conference, the Latino Mental Health Conference and the American Association of Marriage Family Therapists conference.

Last year, she brought a group of students to present their adolescence sex abuse group curriculum that incorporated journalism, poetry and photography at the National Sexual Assault Conference in Anaheim, where the students got a positive response.

“I’m going to apply again for this (Community Engagement’s Disciplinary) grant for next year, and I’m going to add a travel grant,” said Pemberton. “I’m going to apply for the travel fund so that I can take more students to do more of the presenting at professional conferences, to disseminate the information.” The grant would help with the conference registration fees, travel and accommodation.

Pemberton also aims to expand the project and apply for the Community Engagement’s Interdisciplinary grant next year, but she has to find another faculty member and possibly another community partner who will be willing to put in time and resources for the project. Despite the amount of work needed to be done, Pemberton doesn’t seem daunted as she has everything planned out.

“I’m a planner,” she laughs.

Find out more about Child and Family Guidance Center at their website, https://www.childguidance.org/.  

Strength United is a charted trauma center in CSUN with services for the community. Learn more about the organization at https://www.csun.edu/eisner-education/strength-united.

Spring 2019 Grant Recipient Spotlight Series: Professor Carrie Pullen

A community thrives when its members contribute in any way they can: advocacy, time, and effort for example. Everyone can contribute in their own way and the benefits are twofold: the community’s needs are answered, and contributors have a stronger bond with the community. This can be seen in ONEgeneration’s intergenerational program for the elderly and children.

ONEgeneration is an award-winning center that offers many programs such as adult daycare, childcare and preschool, with its adult day care and childcare facility situated next to each other. One program the organization has brings the seniors and children together, participating in games and activities like pumpkin drawing. In another program, seniors go over to the childcare facility and help with care-giving.

ONEgeneration is also a community partner with CSUN, partnering with Professor Carrie Pullen’s HSCI 313 class, Health Administration. Pullen, who has 25 years worth of experience and expertise in elderly care, chose ONEgeneration to be the class’s community partner as she had prior exposure to the organization. She also chose it because of its vicinity and their intergenerational programs.

The students will be observing and assisting during the intergenerational programs, exposing them to multiple disciplines in the field such as social work, physical therapy, nursing, and administration. This may also be the first time for some of them to have exposure to elderly and dementia patients.

The students were prepped by ONEGeneration’s head of volunteer services, who visited the class and educated them on what to expect when interacting with dementia patients. The class also has a debriefing session every week, where they will discuss about their experiences working at ONEGeneration.

“I would say for far, the biggest problem is that many of my students are shy, and have been having some difficulty initiating the interaction,” said Pullen. “That tends to be more required with patients with dementia.” Nevertheless, Pullen believes that over time her students will become comfortable initiating interactions.

The goal of accumulating experience is one of the reasons why the HSCI 313 is made a junior level course. Pullen says the class will “introduce a first year experience, so that by the time (students) leave, they will have two service learning experiences, which research tells us is beneficial to our students.” She also noticed that the students in HSCI 313 required more direction unlike her HSCI 413 Leadership and Direction in the Administration of Health Services class, who helped City of Hope with a bone marrow drive on campus last year. 

“It’s kind of the difference between coming in and getting a couple of years under your belt,” said Pullen.

In the future, Pullen hopes that the community partnership and service learning project with ONEGeneration can be applied to all of the HSCI 313 sections. This would help ensure every students get the chance to experience two service learning projects via HSCI 313 and 413.

Visit ONEGeneration’s website to learn more about their intergenerational programs. Keep up with ONEGeneration via their Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter

Spring 2019 Grant Recipient Spotlight Series: Professor Luke Drake

Dr. Luke Drake with 11 CSUN students (five Geography majors and six Anthropology majors) on a service-learning trip to Port Vila, Vanuatu. Courtesy of Scott Sharaga.

What does an environmental justice organization in Pacoima, California, and an indigenous community association in Port Vila,Vanuatu, have in common? Both organizations actively seek out ways to help their communities prosper, and they are also community partners of Professor Luke Drake’s GEOG 497A senior seminar class, Critical Applications in Human Geography and Nature-Society Relations.

Both community partners have an established working relationship with Drake. Drake, who became involved with the Vanuatu community 16 years ago, first worked with Hango Hango Community Association on a research project in 2017. Pacoima Beautiful has a working relationship with the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies, and has worked with Drake last semester.

GEOG 497A’s work with the Pacoima Beautiful is very much an extension of the project done in fall 2018 by Drake’s other fieldwork class, GEOG 404. Pacoima Beautiful needed assistance with creating a survey in order to improve the offerings at their farmers market, Mercado Pacoima.

Community members conversing as they choose fresh locally grown produce at Mercado Pacoima. Courtesy of Gina Gerlich.

Mercado Pacoima was created with the aim of creating an accessible farmers market for the Pacoima community, as it was not available in the area before. The organization invites the Pacoima community to contribute any home-grown vegetables and fruits surplus that they have. The market is open to the public and everyone can get produce for free.

The survey is needed in order to update Pacoima Beautiful’s database on the kinds of produce the community members are growing. The information will help with planning what produce are needed for the market and knowing which specific community members to call on for contributions, ensuring that the market offers a variety of produce to better serve the needs of the community. 

A group of GEOG 497A students will be assisting the high school students from Pacoima by providing their technical skills in developing surveys. The seemingly easy task of developing surveys is, in reality, difficult to get right.

GEOG 497A students David Lawrence, Sofia Gomez and Gina Gerlich (left to right). Courtesy of Gina Gerlich.


A group of youth attendees at a Pacoima Beautiful workshop. Courtesy of Don Kress.

“You have to choose which order should the questions be in, how you actually write the questions so that it’s very clear,” says Drake. Questions can either be could be open-ended, or require ordinal responses, such as: strongly disagree, disagree, neutral, agree, strongly agree.

The other group of GEOG 497A students will be working with Hango Hango Community Association, traveling to Vanuatu during their spring break. Hango Hango, which translates to take care of in the indigenous language, is a way for Walaha migrants to remain connected with the Walaha community in the capital city of Port Vila. 

The organization is involved in many community-based projects, and one of their main objectives is helping Walaha residents in Port Vila with taking care of their family members back home. GEOG 497 students will be working with Hango Hango on establishing urban gardens in Port Vila, which will function as a form of disaster preparation.

Disaster preparation is an important issue, as Vanuatu, an island chain located in the southwestern Pacific Ocean region named Melanesia, is consistently the country with the highest disaster risk based on the WorldRiskReport’s findings. When an island’s residents are evacuated due to a disaster, they would move and stay with their family members on other islands temporarily.

Hango Hango and the students will be establishing urban gardens by using planting containers, which are made of fabric and are supposed to help plants grow more quickly. The produce can then be utilized as extra food supply when families have more people under their roofs because of disaster evacuation. It is important to start the planting earlier, as the plants take time to grow and one never knows the extent of the next disaster.

Establishing urban gardens will not be the only task CSUN students will be helping out with. Students will be helping with data analysis, analyzing data that was gathered by Hango Hango and other organizations like Port Vila Ambae Disaster Committee. A big grassroots effort was started by the organizations after a mass evacuation from Ambae island, where Walaha village is, due to volcanic activity.

The organizations had a database of where evacuees evacuated to, but were unsure of how to make use of it.

Vanuatu community partner Michael Collin Roronamahava (left) talking to Dr. Luke Drake (right) and CSUN students. Courtesy of Maico Santos.

Students will utilize a software called Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to map out the evacuees’ locations, thus helping the organizations narrow down the locations to establish urban gardens to specific neighborhoods.

While helping out the community partners, CSUN students have to remember that they are helping the organizations reach their goals on equal footing. Treating the community partners with respect is vital to avoid developing a savior complex.

“You don’t go in with the attitude that you already know better than the community partner,” says Drake. “But you go in with the mindset of ‘I have a certain set of skills, but there’s a lot I don’t know, and that’s what the community partner is going to teach me about’.”

CSUN geography and anthropology students and Vanuatu community members, with a planting container in the foreground. Courtesy of Maico Santos

Drake recounted the story of how Hango Hango decided to use the fabric planting container for the project. Planting containers have been used for some time in the U.S and other countries, and it was suggested after listening to and understanding Hango Hango’s goal of disaster preparation for the community. The power of the decision lay with Hango Hango, this approach coming from an idea of equality and collaboration with the community partner.

Drake sees both projects as just getting started. Ideally, he would like to have the class every year and continue the work accomplished thus far. He thinks that the model of urban gardens developed for Hango Hango can be applied to other communities on other islands, and possibly, used by the national government “as a model for community-based response”. Nothing always stays the same, but we can always adapt and prepare for the future.

Pacoima Beautiful’s activities can be seen on their Facebook page and on Twitter

Spring 2019 Grant Recipient Spotlight Series: Professor Baty McMillan

Los Angeles Police Department youth cadets visiting CSUN

The skill of utilizing our voice, intrinsically-linked to our identities, is essential in our society. We use our voice to express our opinions, fight for our beliefs and needs, and connect with other like-minded people. However, the youth from underserved communities may not have the resources to train their skills in using their voice, thus affecting their sense of identity and confidence.

In order to address this need, CSUN Community Engagement office connected the Los Angeles Police Department Cadet program with Professor Jessica Baty McMillan in spring 2018 when the organization reached out to the office, wanting a partnership with the campus.

CSUN student leaders and Topanga Police Station cadets



The community partnership started off with Baty McMillan and 12 student leaders from COMS 309 teaching 40 to 50 Topanga Police Station cadets, who are 12- to 17-year olds. This time, 50 student leaders teaching 400 cadets at the Cadet Leadership Academy in the Ahmanson Recruit Training Center every Saturday.

While the amount of cadets and student leaders have increased, the core structure of the program’s syllabus has not. The syllabus is designed to be a stepping stone course, where each week builds off of what the cadets have learned the previous week. Over six weeks, CSUN student leaders will teach the cadets about the skills needed for giving a public speech, such as body language, organization and pathos. At the end of the program, the cadets will have gained the resources and confidence needed to give a speech in front of their peers.

Along with learning public speaking skills, the cadets will also be giving weekly mini-speeches on topics such as mindful and safe driving, friendships, and academics. Baty McMillan thinks that the topics will be beneficial as they are “universal for both college students and the cadets.”

“The topic on mindful and safe driving will cover how we create a dangerous environment for our friends and ourselves when we are tied to our phones while driving,” she said. The topic is especially helpful for cadets, as some may be experiencing driving for the first time.

“On the topic of friendships, we will be talking about how the friends we choose to surround ourselves with can impact our path to success. Friendships are a big part of our youth and adolescence and it brings so much meaning to our identities, which is why I think it’s also great topic to explore.”

Something new that the program is doing this year is bringing all 400 cadets to the CSUN campus for a campus tour with the ambassadors. For some cadets, this might be their first time visiting a college campus, or being mentored by a college student.

Not only does the tour gives cadets an opportunity to see and access the campus, it also gives cadets a chance to ask CSUN students questions about higher education too. This experience will also tie in with the mini-speech topic on academics, where cadets will discuss how to be a good student.

Professor Baty McMillan and CSUN student leaders.

Through this community partnership, the CSUN student leaders get to flourish along with the cadets. Baty McMillan cited her current student scholar, Genesis Pineda, as an example.

“Genesis has been with me through the whole thing, starting as a student leader and now as a student scholar assistant. She can attest to both how it has helped her gain leadership skills and feel the impact of public speaking,” Baty McMillan affirmed.

“It’s what I really want in order to make COMS 309 an advanced class for students— for them to feel the power of their voice, and how working with their communities can have a direct and real impact on people around them.”

In the future, Baty McMillan hopes to get more sections of COMS 309 involved with the partnership, so that there will be more CSUN student leaders. Her other goal is to find more scholarships to award the cadets. Presently, she has created a scholarship for the cadets with some of the Community Engagement Disciplinary grant funds, using it as a way to thank the cadets for their hard work, and to encourage them to pursue higher education.

When asked if she had any advice for future Community Engagement grant applicants, Baty McMillan thought for a moment.

“Stay true to your vision. Ask for help, because it does take a community.”

You can learn more about the LAPD Cadets program at http://www.lapdcadets.com.

Spring 2019 Grant Recipient Spotlight Series: Professor Blumenkrantz 

CSUN students in North Valley Caring Services’s store Colectivo with executive director Manny Flores

Our community has populations that are often overlooked and underserved. A way to help is by forming community partnerships to better understand and address their needs, just as Professor David Blumenkrantz did with his JOUR 498 Senior Project class.

Blumenkrantz, a Community Engagement’s spring 2019 Disciplinary grant recipient, integrated a service-learning project into JOUR 498 and partnered with North Valley Caring Services North Hills. The organization offers a variety of community service programs, such as free breakfast for the underprivileged and homeless, after school programs for children, parenting programs, and ESL language programs.

Blumenkrantz’s relationship with the organization started when he was working on his own documentary project on homelessness three years ago. He would interview and take portraits of members of the homeless community at locations where San Fernando Valley Rescue Mission had their mobile shower unit at; North Valley Caring Services happened to be one of the locations. Blumenkrantz would ride his bicycle over to the organization a few times per week to visit, and the organization has since become a part of his community.

“When I had to pick an organization to work with, I thought it was natural to pick North Valley Caring Services,” said Blumenkrantz. “I have a good established relationship with the organization, and I wanted to expand our working relationship through this grant.”

Blumenkrantz did so by getting his students involved in advocacy for the non-profit organization. The class meets on campus once a week, while site visits are arranged according to the students’ and North Valley Caring Services’s convenience. In the fourth week of the semester, students presented their project proposals, which have to be agreed upon by the organization’s executive director, Manny Flores. 

Students touring the organization’s facilities

Students’ proposals include suggesting improvements like purchasing things the organization needs, such as books for the organization’s library. Some students proposed to redesign the organization’s website, some volunteered to create multimedia video pieces to raise awareness, while some chose to help out with the organization’s store, Colectivo.

Apart from applying their practical skills, Blumenkrantz hoped that students learned from the experience of working with other people and engaging with the community.

“You find out about who you are as a person, how much you can give, and how much you enjoy giving to the community,” Blumenkrantz said. “I think that’s a really valuable experience for anybody.”

A piece of advice Blumenkrantz has for future applicants is to not limit students’ method of contribution to their majors. He said that students can also contribute by volunteering their time and effort, “get their hands dirty and roll up their sleeves and really get in there, and become part of their community.” After all, the key focus is on giving back to the community, not how an individual benefits from it. 

To learn more about North Valley Caring Services North Hills, visit their website at https://www.nvcsinc.org

– Spotlight –

Last updated Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 11 AM.

Featured on CSUN Today:

May 6 2019: CSUN Bridges Language Barriers for Spanish-Speaking Communities in Los Angeles

April 24 2019: Annual Symposium Celebrates Matador Community Engagement http://csunshinetoday.csun.edu/education/csun-bridges-language-barriers-for-spanish-speaking-communities-in-los-angeles/

March 18, 2019: Faculty and Staff Achievements for February 2019

Fall 2018

Professor Baty and Professor Eisenstock’s students from Jour 365, News Literacy, and Coms 309, Advanced Public Speaking, final projects focus on being civically engaged while also being media literate. They have created projects on various forms of media to showcase what they have learned in their course as well as with their community partners.

Check out some of the videos and infographics created by these students on their course website. Several of these videos capture the experiences of students at the California Voter Forum event hosted on October 30th and 31st.


Professor Marie Cartier’s class had a field trip this week to Triangle Square — the nation’s first gay and lesbian elder housing complex! These CSUN students from Queer Studies, “LA in Transit: Communities, Organizations, and Politics” loved connecting with the residents and having dinner with them! The students were able to learn from a panel of resident of the Triangle Square about Gay History in LA. This event was held Tuesday, October 30th, 2018.

The Office of Community Engagement would like to Congratulate the following Grant Recipients:

Disciplinary Grant:
Professor Krystal Jo Howard, Professor Barbara Eisenstock,Professor Jennifer Pemberton, Professor Lisa Chaudhari, Professor Monicka Guevara , Professor Yoshie Hanzawa , Professor Matthew Clements , Professor Jessica Baty , Professor Virginia Vandergon

Disciplinary Start-Up Grant:
Professor Paula DiMarco, Professor Marie Cartier, Professor Mirna Sawyer, and Professor Nelida Duran

Interdisciplinary Grant:
Professor Barbara Eisenstock, Professor Jessica Baty, Professor  Mirna Sawyer, Professor Nelida Duran

Faculty Engaged Research:
Professor Veronica Becerra, Professor Marie Cartier, Professor Cedric Hackett, Professor Annette Bensnilian, Professor David Boyns, Professor Douglas Kaback, Professor Carrie Pullen, Professor Carmen Saunders

Travel Grant:
Professor Barbara Eisenstock, Professor Marie Cartier, Professor Lisa Chaudhari

Kindred Spirits Day Farm

We are ecstatic to announce that CSUN has recently partnered with
Kindred Spirits Care Farm, located in Canoga Park! Kindred Spirits’ other partners include John R. Wooden High School, UCLA and Canoga Park High School.

What is Kindred Spirits Care Farm?
According to their website, Kindred Spirits Care Farm “is a place where people can come and reconnect to the earth, animals, nature and themselves.  It is a farm where we have plants and animals living in harmony with nature, doing what they do as natural creatures.  Yes, there is human intervention, but we will always do things in as natural a way as possible.  We plant the plants, and harvest the fruits and veggies, but we do it all in harmony with nature using permaculture principles.  All our farmed animals are rescues who, although they will have to live in fenced enclosures for everyone’s safety, will get to live natural lives and to express their natural behaviors.”

What is exactly is ‘care farming’?
According to their website, care farming “connects the healing power of horticultural therapy and/or animal therapy in a farm environment with vulnerable people who can benefit from meaningful time with plants and animals.  The long term efficacy of care farming has been validated statistically in several studies in Western Europe where care farming is a common practice.”

Interesting facts about Kindred Spirits Care Farm:

  • All of their farm animals (which include goats, pigs, alpacas, chickens, rabbits and geese) are rescued from abandonment, abuse or neglect and now live happy, loved lives at the care farm; their stories are shared with students, visitors and volunteers, giving hope to people who might have experienced the same things.
  • They help build a sense of community by training people on how to feed themselves and their communities through organic yard farming and urban agriculture techniques.
  • All of their work is rooted in practices designed to improve soil, air, and water while giving people the chance to simultaneously grow food that will nourish their bodies, minds and spirits.
  • In 2014, John R. Wooden High School (a continuation high school for at-risk kids) became KSCF’s first official project and location. Since then, their students have helped their school’s farm evolve and built a community that has brought hope and healing to vulnerable people.

We are excited for our students to engage with Kindred Spirits Care Farm and urge you to check out their website to learn more about how you can help!

Professor Yoshie Hanzawa’s
Plant Biology 316 Service Learning Project

Canoga Park High School

Dr. Yoshie Hanzawa, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biology, is a new faculty member at CSUN this year. She found out about the Student Community Engagement opportunity in science at a Service Learning Workshop and developed a service learning component in her Plant Biology lecture/lab course BIOL316/L for Spring 2018 working together with science teachers, Mrs. Kumar and Mrs. Crowe, at Canoga Park High School.

More than eighty 9th graders received tutoring and instruction from Yoshie’s students during visits at the high school.  Two field trips were organized to introduce the labs at CSUN and generate more interest in studying science.  Students participated in experiments exploring, for example, a genetic variation using polymerase chain reactions using orange DNA.

A culmination event at CSUN on May 9th included student presentations about genetically modified organisms.  Canoga Park High School students commented, “While collaborating with CSUN, we really enjoyed trying new experiments that were engaging.  We also liked that there were a variety of presentations including Kahoots that helped us engage in it as well.  Testing out oranges was also engaging.  CSUN found a way to make things interesting.  We also found it very welcoming that we shared turns coming back and forth to our campuses.  If we were to collaborate with CSUN again, we should make sure that our school wifi, etc. is compatible with the presentation.  We would also like to find a way to make more time for our lessons/experiments.  We would definitely like to get more in-depth with GMO.”  Overall, this project was a great success and will hopefully continue next year.

The Annual Research and Service Learning Symposium​
Tuesday April 17, 2018
1:00 pm – 6:00 pm

The Office of Community Engagement hosted the 2018 Research and Service Learning Symposium last April!

We are always proud to celebrate wonderful efforts of the CSUN community. The symposium allowed students to  showcase their work and demonstrate their positive impact. Service Learning Faculty nominated talented students to participate. In celebration of their outstanding achievements, some participants won prizes up to $500.

During the symposium, two new awards were given. We happily invited graduate students to submit their service learning projects for the new Graduate Student Award. We also extend the invitation to Service Learning Scholars CSU-Systemwide. All Service Learning Scholars in the CSU system are welcome to submit their presentations. Guest presenters qualify for the new CSU-Systemwide Service Learning Award.

Students gave 4-5 minute Powerpoint presentations which detailed their project goals, methods, and how the project impacted their community partners. All of us here at the Office of Community Engagement look forward to learning more about the accomplishments of brilliant CSUN students in the 2018-2019 Academic Year.

The symposium was held in Main Lobby at the Great Hall of the Soraya: The Valley Performing Arts Center on April 17th from 1:00pm – 6:00pm.