Published December 25, 2017 by Rebecca Goldfine

A Bowdoin Class Responds to Hurricane Maria, and Cross-Cultural Learning Follows

Following Hurricane Maria’s devastation of Puerto Rico this fall, school for students on the island came to a standstill.

In the upheaval after the storm, Puerto Rican Sagrado University professor Jorge Silva Puras put a call out to professors in the United States to ask whether they could teach classes, via remote technology, to students in Puerto Rico. In this way, the students would be able to continue their education while their home universities recovered and rebuilt.

Nadia Celis, an associate professor of Romance Languages and Literature at Bowdoin, immediately responded. But instead of teaching a separate course, she integrated  Puerto Rican students into her literature class, A Body of One’s Own: Latina and Caribbean Women Writers. Celis relocated the course to Bowdoin’s telepresence room in the Hawthorne-Longfellow Library so the Puerto Rican students with a working Internet connection could remote in. Because the power was intermittent in Puerto Rico, students sometimes had to use any means they could to connect, including their phones.

Celis saw her action as a way to “model social and civic engagement,” as well as a means of giving her Bowdoin students an opportunity to support their peers in Puerto Rico. She also describes it as a “great pedagogical opportunity.”

“I was interested in the idea of having the students share this experience, both for the Puerto Rican students and the Bowdoin students,” she said. “It gives insights from our students to people who are part of the culture we are discussing. And having these students who are close to the realities we are discussing really was an asset for the students here.”

Beyond joining her Bowdoin class, the Puerto Rican students also required many extra hours to fulfill their credit requirements — a total of forty-five hours squeezed into six weeks. “I added extra hours only for the Puerto Rican students,” Celis explained. She arrived at the telepresence room an hour before her Caribbean literature class to teach directly to the Puerto Ricans and assembled a team of guest faculty to teach additional sessions.

Besides Celis, two other Bowdoin professors — Associate Professor of Romance Languages and Literatures Gustavo Faveron and Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow in Hispanic Studies Sebastian Urli — taught a course to Puerto Rican students this semester via Zoom.

Humanities and Media Librarian Carmen Greenlee and Academic Technology Consultant Paul Benham assisted Celis with the technology and logistics. Celis expressed her gratitude for their support. “It was incredibly helpful that I was able to use the resources of the institution, particularly the technology and also these great staff members who were so supportive. They helped to make of this a more feasible endeavor even at times when it sounded like such a crazy plan,” she said.

Puerto Rico and Bowdoin in the news
nadia-celis-wgmeIn November, when Celis began the linked class, local news station WGME did a piece on her efforts to help.