Mari Castaņeda, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Communication, UMass Amherst
Mari Castaņeda, associate professor of communication at UMass Amherst, has played an integral role in the development of university-community partnerships that benefit the growing Latina/o community of Holyoke, MA. In areas of education, economic development and housing, she is an ardent and energetic advocate. Her work with the Community Outreach Partnership Center (COPC) and Student Bridges demonstrates the strength of her commitment to build reciprocal relationships that dovetail with her work in media, cultural production, policy and pedagogy.
Growing up in a diverse, low-income environment, Professor Castaņeda was deeply influenced by the college students who mentored her and her high school classmates. This experience stuck with her as a first-generation college student at UCLA and as a graduate student at the University of California, San Diego, where she worked in various student agencies that dealt with borderland issues and cross-national partnerships. "That was part of my inspiration to continue with the same type of work in Western Massachusetts," she says.
In Holyoke, beginning in 2004, Professor Castaņeda helped develop COPC, and organization that assists low-income and Latino/a populations through education, economic development, capacity building and administration, and fair housing and lending. As a member of the economic development team, she helped create the Cultural Assets Inventory, which seeks to recognize, develop, and promote local cultural initiatives off the radar of familiar commercial and municipal definitions.
After years of work with COPC, Professor Castaņeda was an ideal choice to become Faculty Adviser for Student Bridges, a student-initiated community service learning program that seeks to "build reciprocal relationships between UMass Amherst students and the local community" through academic tutoring, community outreach, and college awareness, and education policy evaluation and advocacy. The program, originally focused only on Holyoke, MA, was recently expanded to Springfield. Professor Castaņeda oversees the budget, hires site coordinators, meets with students, attends campus and community meetings, and does advocacy work for the organization both on and off campus.
Both COPC and Student Bridges have impacted hundreds of middle school, high school, and college students in the Holyoke and Springfield area.
"I really enjoy working with students and seeing their development as community leaders," says Professor Castaņeda. "This is part of a broader transformative learning experience that is meant to stay with them throughout their lives. As UMass Amherst graduates, I expect that their orientation to public service, especially in their own communities, is likely to continue. "When I hear people say that the students are committed to community empowerment and development - that's rewarding."
Professor Castaņeda has been at UMass Amherst for nine years, and she greatly appreciates the support she gets from her department, as well as the campus's long history of being involved in the community and in social justice efforts. Her academic courses link to issues of access to technology in low-income communities and how policy can address these inequalities.
Professor Castaņeda earned her Ph.D. in communication at the University of California, San Diego but also focused on ethnic studies, sociology, history and comparative literature. As a result, she approaches research and teaching with an interdisciplinary, historical, and critical lens. Her teaching has been recognized on campus with a Lilly Teaching Fellowship, the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Teaching Award, and the Distinguished Outreach Award for Teaching.