Experiential learning encompasses any activity in which a student is actively engaged in their education inside or outside of the classroom. At Trinity, experiential learning includes undergraduate research opportunities inside and outside of the classroom, volunteer experiences, internships, study abroad opportunities, and more.

By Allyson Mackender – 

Trinity University’s Mexico, the Americas, and Spain (MAS) program allows students from a variety of disciplines to “[draw] on the rich Hispanic culture of San Antonio as well as Trinity's proximity to Mexico and Latin America,” through various on and off-campus opportunities, including courses at Trinity and study-abroad experiences. Many MAS students are recipients of Alvarez Internship Grants, which are rewarded upon the completion of an internship at any nonprofit that works primarily with Latino/as and that requires the student to speak either Spanish or Portuguese.

Ortman '17 works with one of the children at Casa RAICES on a homework assignment. 
Trinity senior Annie Ortman, who is studying Spanish, Russian, and international studies, is completing her third semester as an Alvarez intern. Ortman’s internship, which began during the summer, is at Casa RAICES, a nonprofit that provides free or low cost legal aid to immigrants and refugees that are otherwise underserved. RAICES is made up of a series of offices around Texas and a shelter located here in San Antonio, where Ortman is an intern.

Ortman explained that the women and children at the shelter primarily come from Central America, though they have helped some from Somalia, Pakistan, and Romania, as well as other countries. Although the countries the women and children are immigrating from vary, Ortman suggested that their experiences when entering the United States are rather similar. “Right when they cross the border they go to the hielera (ice box) where they are held for about a day,” Ortman described, “Then they are sent to the perrera, which literally translates to dog cage, before they are finally sent to the detention centers where they stay for as little as a few days up to an entire month.” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will take women and children with immediate travel plans to the airport or bus station, beginning the last leg of their journey to reach their family or friend who will sponsor them in the U.S. However, those that don’t have immediate travel plans or an identified sponsor will be sent to RAICES, and that’s where Ortman and the other volunteers come in.

Much of Ortman’s day is consumed by intake and various tasks important to making the families comfortable at the shelter, which at times is home to more than 50 people. Her responsibilities include driving families to the airport and bus station, serving home-cooked meals to them, providing them with a change of clothes, and recording information about the mothers and children. Yet, perhaps her most important responsibility is the emotional security she provides to the women.

Ortman's internship at RAICES has dramatically influenced her post-graduation plans. 
“When a family arrives at the shelter we first explain to them that they are in a safe home and free from immigration,” Ortman explained. Casa RAICES provides a secure space for the women to not only stay but to share their stories. In fact, during intake Ortman and the other volunteers are expected to ask about the women’s immigration process, looking for any discrepancies that should be reported to the office, where the immigration attorneys work. This dialogue is especially important to Ortman’s personal goal for her internship. “I had read books and articles about it but I didn’t have much in-depth knowledge of immigration and refugee procedures,” Ortman claimed, “So my goal was to learn about these things by developing one-on-one relationships. And I wanted to work on my Spanish.”

While Ortman has accomplished these goals, they are nothing compared to the unexpected rewards that have come from her internship at Casa RAICES. Ortman claims that the most rewarding part of her internship is knowing that the smallest things make a very direct and large difference. “RAICES works directly one-on-one with refugee and immigrant families, which most people don’t get to do,” Ortman said, “I’ve built intimate and deep connections with the mothers. Actually, there’s a woman that I met earlier this summer that I still talk to and she always tells me how thankful she is for RAICES.” These personal connections are what have made Ortman’s internship experience exceptional.

Ortman was quick to acknowledge that these connections and the opportunity to develop as a student and member of the San Antonio community would not have been possible without the MAS program. In fact, she claimed that without the Alvarez Internship she would not have been compelled to leave the “Trinity bubble” and become an active member of the community. The unique opportunities provided by Trinity’s MAS program have provided Ortman and many other students the chance to engage in San Antonio and the world, contributing to their classroom experience and creating lasting and rewarding memories.

Ortman will soon be applying for the Peace Corps in Central and South America. “I want to work in the areas where the issues RAICES addresses are originating,” Ortman stated. She would like to attend law school for immigration law and would eventually would like to work for the State Department. These plans were heavily informed by her experience at RAICES, which she claims gave her a strong personal connection to a field in which she has always had some interest. 

For more information on the Alvarez Internship Grants or other MAS programming please visit their homepage.