Zak Montgomery ’02, M.A., Ph.D., and Sarah (Rupp) Montgomery ’02, M.Ed., Ph.D., are co-authors of “Reconsidering the American Dream and U.S. Latino Culture in a College Spanish Service-Learning Course,” published in The Journal of Community Engagement and Higher Education (Vol. 6, No. 1, 2014). The JCEHE is an on-line, refereed journal concerned with exploring community engagement and community-based learning perspectives, research, and practice.
The paper (which the Sarah and Zak co-authored with four colleagues) describes a 14-week study of a community-based service-learning partnership between an upper-level Spanish course about Latinos in the United States at a small liberal arts college and a racially- and linguistically-diverse class of sixth graders, including many Latinos, at a local urban public school.
Zak is an assistant professor of Spanish at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa. He earned his B.A. degree in economics and business at K. He earned a M.A. degree in Hispanic literature and a Ph.D. degree in Portuguese literature at Indiana University (IU) in Bloomington.
Sarah is an assistant professor of elementary education at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) in Cedar Falls. She earned her B.A. degree in psychology at K. She earned an M.Ed. degree and a Ph.D. degree in curriculum and instruction at IU.
They are married and the parents of two young children.
In the study, individual college students partnered with a public school student to photograph, analyze, and narrate their own emerging understandings of the American Dream. The partners showcased their co-constructed knowledge at three public gatherings, thus engaging the local community in meaningful dialogue about the potential implications of reconsidering the American Dream.
By the end of the 14 weeks, concluded the authors, “the college students viewed the American Dream from a new perspective than they had previously, shifting away from the archetypal personal success narrative toward a more civically oriented approach.”
“Although the partnership was certainly not a panacea for intercultural understanding,” said Zak, “the trajectory of college student reflections demonstrated a blurring of beliefs about themselves and others, whether related to race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or linguistic background.”
Sarah added, “Our research showed that the cultural competence gained from this experiential learning opportunity helped students enact their civic responsibility to educate others and combat ignorance about diverse groups in the United States, particularly immigrant populations.”
Sarah and Zak are in various stages of publication on three additional articles from the research project.
Alison Geist, M.P.H., director of the Mary Jane Underwood Stryker Center for Civic Engagement (CCE) at Kalamazoo College, said, “Sarah and Zak were very involved with civic engagement projects during their time at K, and their current focus on collaboration, co-creation of knowledge, and social justice characterizes critical service-learning at its best.”
Zak was the Center’s first Civic Engagement Scholar, mentoring students at Kalamazoo Central High School in what many K alumni will remember as the AMIGOS program. Sarah worked all four years mentoring elementary school students at Woodward School for Technology and Research, near the K campus. She was also the student member on the campus task force that led to the creation of the Center in 2001.
“Civic engagement must run in the family,” Geist added. Zak’s sister, Breigh Montgomery ’06, served as CCE assistant director from 2006 to 2012.
Kalamazoo College Professor of Psychology Siu-Lan Tan, Ph.D., said that Sarah was the first “co-organizer” of the Co-authorship Project, a key element of “Developmental Psychology” (Psych 210), in which K students learn about child development by co-writing a book with an elementary school student. Since 1998, when Tan began teaching the course, more than 1,500 books have been co-authored by K students and their elementary school partners from the Woodward school.
The thread of this project runs through one of several civic engagement courses Sarah has taught at UNI. Her “Books Without Borders” project was a collaboration between students at UNI, Wartburg, Cedar Falls High School, and Waterloo East High School. Her students wrote and illustrated bilingual children’s books for orphanages in Panama and Haiti. As a result, approximately 300 books were sent to orphanages to support the literacy development of children.
“We are grateful for the many ways that we were able to take on the leadership roles in service-learning at K,” said Sarah and Zak. “Thanks to the forward thinking efforts of dedicated faculty and staff–particularly Alison Geist and Teresa Denton at the CCE, and Doctor Tan–we learned how to create civic minded experiential opportunities that benefit not only our students, but the larger community as well.”
According to Geist, both Sarah and Zak have been recognized for their innovative, community-based pedagogy. Zak was recently a finalist for the Ernest A. Lynton Award for the Scholarship of Engagement for Early Career Faculty, a national award that recognizes a college or university faculty member who connects his or her teaching, research, and service to community engagement.
“He was the only liberal arts faculty member among the finalists,” said Geist.
About the Montgomerys’ recent study and published paper, Tan said: “Studying children’s ideas about the American Dream is such an innovative idea for a civic engagement project. It’s so neat that their data assessed outcomes for both children and college students.
“It really makes your day to see two of your former students making positive changes and curricular innovations like this,” she added. “I remember when they were dating!”