Dr. Maureen Dolan deeply believes in the benefits of applied sociology and stepping outside of the traditional classroom setting. This has been her mission since joining WOU in 1993. Dolan, this year’s Mario and Alma Pastega Excellence in Teaching Award recipient, taught a Chicano studies sociology course where her students studied how a “culture of low expectations” embedded in the structure of high schools effectively contributed to a higher dropout rate for Latino students. They learned encouragement and specialized programs are needed to correct this problem. “That is what pushed me out of the classroom,” she said. The Latino Mentor Program was born.
This service-oriented and social justice program has been in constant operation since 1996. It began by taking WOU students to high schools, correctional institutions and alternative high schools to work with at risk youth. “We encourage higher education as a resource, particularly for youth who are underrepresented,” she said. Now that programs like Upward Bound and AVID exist to work with high school students, Dolan’s program contributes to them, but focuses on alternative high schools, correctional institutions and community organizations.
Dolan’s philosophy of education stems from her study abroad experiences in Latin America. She took sociology courses while living in Chile and implemented a literacy program based on the work of Paulo Freire and his book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed.” In this program, university students worked with people in poor urban neighborhoods. “That was my inspiration,” she said. “The university was a dynamic place in which students are teachers.”
The Latino Mentor Program recently came full circle for Dolan. One of the first Latino high school students to be mentored by her WOU students was Jaime Arredondo at McKay High School in Salem. Now, nearly 20 years later, Arredondo is a member of WOU’s inaugural Board of Trustees and secretary-treasurer for Pineros Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste, Oregon’s Farmworker Union. Dolan fondly recalled encouragement that Arredondo recently shared with her. “He told me that program changed his family’s life.” Not just his life, but his family’s. “He was my first high school student,” she said with a smile, “now he’s our boss at WOU.”
Dolan’s love for Latin America is personal. While living in Chile, She formed a bi-cultural family. She returns to Latin America as often as possible and encourages her students to go as well. She said the Latino immigrants in Salem are often from several “immigrant origin cities” in Mexico and has visited them in order to better understand and connect with the students mentored through her program. She even met Arredondo’s grandmother on one visit.
She also set up an international version of the Latino Mentor Program after a teaching abroad experience in Argentina. WOU students have since gone to Argentina, Nicaragua and Mexico to work with people in the correctional system and community organizations.
The Latino Mentor Program is now in its second generation. She is sending current mentors to former ones, who now work in the institutions she serves. Dolan has carried a single message throughout her entire career: higher education is absolutely a possibility for traditionally underrepresented populations; even for those who are the “most vulnerable among the underrepresented.”