Center finds its reward in its service

Virginia Tech students and faculty are helping immigrants make a smoother transition to life in the United States while acquiring a value-added education.

The Global Neighborhood Project of Virginia Tech's Service-Learning Center, part of Outreach and International Affairs, is making this mutually beneficial experience a reality for students, faculty, and the newcomer populations in the New River Valley and Roanoke areas of southwest Virginia near the Blacksburg campus.

    A Virginia Tech student (center) tutors two children.

Coordinated by the Service-Learning Center, the university-wide effort develops training and programming for intergenerational family literacy in the Latino, East African, Asian, and Arab communities settling in the area through immigration, refugee resettlement, or graduate study.

Three of the Global Neighborhood Project’s programs are the Pilot Street Partnership, Crossing the Border, and the Blacksburg Bantu Somali Refugee Resettlement Initiative (BBSRRI.

Pilot Street Partnership

The Pilot Street Partnership, in operation since February 2006, is a joint program of the Service-Learning Center and Refugee and Immigration Services in Roanoke. It provides classes in English as a second language, after-school homework help, writing classes, and child-care services.

    Two Virginia Tech students (second and third from left) help two program participants (far left and far right) with homework.

To make the program more accessible to participants, the two partners rented an apartment in Roanoke’s Maple Grove Apartments.  Maple Grove is home to 82 Somali Bantu refugees.

The Service-Learning Center isn’t the only Virginia Tech group that’s helping out.  Students from the Hypatia and Galileo Engineering Learning Communities offer bimonthly informal science programs and weekly tutoring services.

Additionally, faculty involvement from the Department of History, the Department of Human Development, and the Department of English’s Composition Program have all contributed time developing programs for the center and provided supervision for students.  Assistance has also come from Roanoke’s Hollins University and Roanoke College, located in Salem, Va.

Project coordinator Amy Nasta has set up other collaborations including programs conducted by the Virginia Tech Men's Soccer Team, the Art Museum of Western Virginia located in Roanoke, and Tekoa, Inc., of Christiansburg, Va.

The program has received support from the Foundation for the Roanoke Valley and the Service-Learning Center’s Global Neighborhood Project/Learn and Serve America grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service.

Crossing the Border

    As part of the Center's Global Citizen Partnership exhange, a student from a Tech works with children in Mexico.

The Crossing the Border program has also successfully linked students to immigrant families.  Crossing the Border is a cross-listed course taught by Assistant Professor Gresilda “Kris” Tilley-Lubbs.  Tilley-Lubbs teaches in both the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures and the School of Education, both in the College of Liberal Arts & Human Sciences.

The Crossing the Border course and program has engaged more than 250 students with 99 newly immigrated Latino families — including 120 children — during the past five years.  Typically, Tilley-Lubbs’ students each spend 30-50 hours a semester providing home-based language instruction and interpretation and translation assistance.

Participating students have the opportunity to improve their Spanish fluency while helping families gain the confidence and language skills to undertake everyday tasks and bigger ventures such as purchasing a home, applying for college, and starting a new business.

Blacksburg Bantu Somali Refugee Resettlement Initiative (BBSRRI)

The Service-Learning Center has also united efforts with the BBSRRI.  They, along with contributing efforts from individuals associated with YMCA Student Programs, the Department of Geography, Pamplin College of Business, as well as other students and volunteers were able to assist Somali Bantu families become more acclimated to the Blacksburg area.

Today, the resettled individuals are all doing well.  One of whom, Abdirahman Ibrahim, is now helping other refugees in his role as an officer of the Bantu-American Friendship Association of Wisconsin (BAFAW) in Milwaukee.  BAFAW is a non-profit organization that provides outreach services to the Somali Bantu community in and around the Milwaukee area.

    A tutor (center in yellow) works with program participants of varying ages.

For more information on this topic, contact Susan Felker at, or (540) 231-7188.

Affiliation advantages

The Global Neighborhood Project's affiliation with the Service-Learning Center:

  • benefits roughly 1,200 undergraduate students who learn a new dimension of what's typically only taught in a classroom setting;
  • gives faculty the opportunity to take a development course that will prepare them to teach a general education composition course with a service-learning component; and
  • helps program participants make an easier transition to a new location.

Student Involvement

The more service-learning experience students have the more communities will benefit.

Learn more about the Student Engagement Task Force's role in working to help support the engagement of students in service-learning activities.

Other Programs

Service-learning activities and programs reflect community needs and campus initiatives.

Some of the programs include:

  • Hometown Industries;
  • Christiansburg Institute;
  • Community Literacy Corps;
  • Stroubles Creek Watershed Initiative; and
  • Virginia Tech Outreach Program to Schools.

For more information on these and other programs available, see the Programs Web page.

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