Communication Professor Focuses on Latina/o Media and Community Service Learning
If you’re interested in communication policy and new media development, the political economy of broadcasting and transnational telecommunications, the history of regulation, or cultural production in mass media, then newly tenured associate professor of communication Mari Castañeda is a woman you need to know. “My work focuses on new digital media and information technologies, especially as it relates to Latina/o communities,” she says. “I’m also very interested in community/university partnerships and am using my research to examine how community service learning (CSL) can enhance those partnerships.”
The College of Social and Behavioral Sciences at UMass Amherst encourages its majors to participate in CSL, a teaching and learning approach that integrates community service with academic study to enrich learning, teach civic responsibility, and strengthen communities. By combining service with learning objectives, CSL impacts recipients and providers through beneficial, even transforming, real world interactions. Such structured opportunities encourage students to grow through self-reflection, self-discovery, and the acquisition and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge.
Castañeda is a leader in this area. With colleagues Erica Scharrer and Leda Cooks, she is engaged in research that measures learning in community service and is developing media literacy partnerships through pedagogy, design, and assessment of a communication-related CSL program. This past year, students in “Spanish-language Media” (fall and spring) worked with a variety of organizations and projects in the Pioneer Valley that serve Latina/o communities. With Luis Meléndez, music producer of “Tertulia,” (the only Spanish-language program on the entire NPR network, aired locally on WFCR 88.5 FM, Sunday, 9-12 p.m.), students worked on producing and facilitating the show’s public and cultural affairs segments. They also conducted a cultural assets inventory of Latina/o media and arts in the Pioneer Valley. Said one student, “The class made me realize the injustices still prevalent in America. I was naïve to that fact until…this class made me experience it. Now I notice…and would like to do something about it [in a future job]. This class and the CSL activities were an amazing experience. Mari rocks!”
As a communication studies major at UCLA in the 1990s, Castañeda was required to do internships at media outlets. “I worked for a radio station, Warner Brothers, and ABC,” she says. “Those internships made me realize that the political economy of the media industry was just as important as the content that was produced. A year later, while on a Ford-Mellon Foundation fellowship at Cornell, I fell in love with the library, research and teaching. Faculty mentors at both Cornell and UCLA encouraged me to pursue graduate school, and by the time I was a college junior, I knew that becoming a professor in communication/media studies, would combine all my interests as well as extend my passion for knowledge creation.”
Turns out, Castañeda was right. At the University of California, San Diego she completed her Ph.D. in communication cum laude, having focused her dissertation on the development of advanced digital television system in the U.S. between 1987-1997 and how it created new media property. “During my entire academic career—and continuing today as a professor—I have been fortunate to experience mentorship and support from faculty, family and friends, which helps sustain my ongoing passion for research, teaching and service,” Castañeda says. “I'm very proud of my work on Spanish-language media as well as my research on digital television. My scholarship is important to me and it feels great for others to acknowledge it as well.”
Castañeda has good reason to feel that way. Her expertise in Latina/o media is being tapped by lots of major publications. She has consulted with multiple nonprofit media outlets about the future of the industry and what they need to do to prepare themselves for the next stages of development. And in addition to an active speaking schedule focused on the media, Castañeda has spoken at many conferences about university-community partnerships, using her own work with CSL courses as case studies. She has an impressive list of publications, and has numerous works in progress, including a book and several peer-reviewed journal articles.
Joining the communication department at UMass Amherst six years ago, Castañeda says, was a good fit, noting that it was her first choice. “I was very familiar with the work of the faculty and appreciated how their research agendas and theoretical/methodological models fit with my own approaches. I felt they would be supportive of my scholarship, and thankfully, I was right. The students, too, are receptive of my research and teaching orientation. They continually surprise me with their political and cultural engagement, yet I still strive to challenge them and broaden their notions of the world. But I confess, as one of the few Chicana/Latina faculty members on campus, I often am inundated with student requests. I try hard to honor them, but I also struggle with having enough time to do everything.”
Castañeda’s work with students, however, has received top reviews. In 2002-03, she was one of eight Lilly Teaching Fellows selected by the Center for Teaching at UMass Amherst “for their promise in teaching and research, their interest in undergraduate teaching and in developing innovative teaching skills, and their potential for making a positive impact on the teaching culture,” and in 2004 Castañeda received the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences Teaching Award for excellence.
June 28, 2006