UC San Diego Extended Studies Launches Mi Universidad Offering Free Courses to Spanish-Speaking Learners


If you live in San Diego you’re likely aware that there’s a significant population of people here that speak Spanish as their primary language.
Our city sits right on the border between the United States and Mexico. Every day there’s an exchange of people and goods across the border, essentially making Tijuana and San Diego a single economic region.
With the significant population of Spanish speakers in the city, the proximity of the Latin world right on our doorsteps, and the value of partnerships between the United States and Latin America becoming increasingly important, it would make sense for our local universities to provide educational opportunities for Spanish speakers looking to learn.
Mi Universidad is that initiative for UC San Diego.
We talked to Nara Muniz I. França, Ph.D., Program Director of Mi Universidad, to learn more about the program; how it works, who it serves, and where it’s going.

What Is Mi Universidad?

Launched in September 2022, Mi Universidad offers personal and professional development courses, all in Spanish and free of charge to participants.
“The idea is to offer high-quality courses to the Latinx and Chicanx communities in the San Diego, Tijuana, and Los Angeles areas,” said Muniz I. França. We’re also establishing partnerships with institutions all over Latin America.“
“The main characteristic of Mi Universidad is that these courses are offered completely in Spanish and they are free of charge,” continued Muniz I. França. “We don't charge anything from our students.”
Another primary aspect of Mi Universidad is that course topics are directly requested by the community.
“We want to empower the communities by consulting them about what they would like us to offer them,” said Muniz I. França.
“We interviewed institutions and leaders of organizations that represent Latinx and Chicanx communities to ask them what they need,” Muniz I. França continued. “They told us and that's where we started. We’re in constant contact with these institutions, listening to what they need and developing the courses that they want.”

Mi Universidad Courses Are Focused on Life Skills

Based on the community input that was received, the first round of courses being offered through Mi Universidad are focusing on topics related to business, life skills, and professional basics.
Some of the specific topics include Introduction to Business, Spanish for Work & Professional Settings, Introduction to Computers and Technology, Public Speaking Techniques, Cybersecurity for Beginners, The Rights of Migrants in the US, and Immigration and International Protection.
Muniz I. França offered some additional background on some of the most popular courses so far.
“The introduction to business class is very basic,” said Muniz I. França. “We have a student who is a cleaning lady and she wants to be sure she's organizing her paperwork and managing her business systems well. We had another student who is a manicurist. They wanted to take the steps or improve their business and make sure they’re getting the most out of it.”
There are other courses that are popular for professionally oriented skills.
“We had a course on public speaking,” continued Muniz I. França. “The students are people who are trying to develop their abilities to speak when they apply for jobs. They are worried they’re missing opportunities because they don't know how to answer questions in interviews.”
“Professional Spanish is a course that was very, very much asked for by many institutions as well,” said Muniz I. França. “People who grew up in the U.S. and learned Spanish at home with their parents and grandparents never actually studied the language in school. They don't know how to write an email or lead a meeting in Spanish. They may have even gone to college and speak both English and Spanish very well but they don't know how to apply their Spanish skills to their professional lives and make an asset out of it.”
For other courses, students were taking them for a different reason.  
“For computer literacy, it was mainly older women in their 60s and above,” said Muniz I. França. “Many of them cared for their grandchildren, which is quite common in Latin families. The parents are too busy, working two or three jobs so the grandparent is the one that it's actually raising the kids.”
“The grandkids all have a Chromebook from school. The grandparents want to understand what the kids are doing on the computer. They want to help and know what’s going on.”
“We’re also offering two courses on immigration,” continued Muniz I. França. “One is on the rights of immigrants in the United States. The other one is a more theoretical course on International immigration in general. We have a lot of students from Mexico taking this course.”

Mi Universidad is Structured to Address the Specific Challenges of Its Students

Mi Universidad students have their own unique challenges when it comes to learning, especially online learning.
“Our students usually work all day in construction or in cleaning,” said Muniz I. França. “They are physically tired already. Then they come home and turn on the computer to be there for an hour and a half for their course. They are not used to sitting in front of a computer all day. Some of them don't have computers at home, so they watch the classes on their phones. This is while the kids are running in the living room and they have to prepare dinner.“
The technical and attentional aspects of the students are heavily on Muniz I. França’s mind as courses are developed. To her, it’s important to ensure that even though the classes are free of charge, they’re still of a high enough quality to keep learners engaged.
“Our courses are not a translation of courses from English,” said Muniz I. França. “They are developed specifically by instructors who speak Spanish and have experience teaching and developing curriculums from scratch.”
“I want to be sure that we are offering the best quality courses we can offer.”

Mi Universidad is Part of UC San Diego’s Outreach Commitment

Through it all, UC San Diego sees this as a valuable step they can take to connect with Spanish-speaking students and Latin America in general.
The program is also part of a larger initiative by UCSD to build partnerships with Latin America and become a Hispanic Serving Institution, or HSI.
A Hispanic-serving institution is defined in federal law as an accredited institution of higher education with 25% or more total undergraduate Hispanic or Latino student enrollment.
Other partner programs with Latin America include a STEAM training program for teachers in Argentina; Program ALAS which includes STEAM education for teachers and PTA facilitation for parents at a school in Tijuana; and a partnership with Centro Fox in Guanajuato to support kids from that community to develop their own social good projects.
Muniz I. França shares the story of one participant in the Centro Fox program that she was especially impressed by
“One of the kids from the program realized that his friends in his neighborhood were getting involved with drugs. He lost a friend to an overdose and another was mixed up with trafficking illegal drugs.”
“He also noticed that all the kids liked hip-hop. So he got a place that someone lent him where kids could go every day to mix and write hip-hop songs.”
“They wrote the songs, practiced and rehearsed it, and then someone would come and record it. But the condition of this project was that they could not use drugs.“
“The 17-year-old boy managed this project by himself. He had the idea. He managed and implemented it. So these are the kinds of projects they do.”

What is the future of Mi Universidad?

Muniz I. França is excited about the future of the program.
“I want this to grow, I want this to become big,” she said. “Every term we are developing new courses. We are expanding and hiring instructors to teach classes for the citizenship test, to help parents with the college system in the United States (which is really complicated), and another one about social and emotional learning for parents dealing with teenagers.”
So far the response from students has been very gratifying as well.
“They are very thankful,” said Muniz I. França. “I went to a few of the classes and they all wanted to talk and share how thankful they were. It’s beautiful to see.”

The next term of Mi Universidad begins in April 2023. Enrollments are now open.

For more information, please visit https://esmiuniversidad.com.

Blog post currently doesn't have any comments.

What's your story?

Share your accomplishments, advice, and goals for a chance to be featured.