Holyoke Community College Professor of Anthropology Vanessa Martinez talks about the college’s new community leadership certificate program. Martinez, who co-leads the program, explains why training the next generation of community leaders is so important, especially for communities in western Mass.  

Hear Martinez talk about her recent 2022 Thomas Ehrlich Civically Engaged Faculty Award from Campus Compact in our full interview with the changemaker. 

Read the full transcript:

Dr. Vanessa E. Martinez-Renuncio, Holyoke Community College: Years ago, I developed a summer, what was called Organizing for Community Change Leadership program, at HCC. Unfortunately, it wasn’t…at the time, I didn’t have my team lead and it wasn’t sustainable.

It existed for about two — two years, but I was so excited with his energy — this is Professor Gutierrez again — with his energy and some support from the service learning program at HCC, it became doable. Like, we saw the possibility of creating this certificate program that could be stacked.

So the cool thing about this program is, it is 30 credit certificate, but with the goal for us, there’s a goal of having it stackable with a variety of programs. We’re working with the Latinx Studies Program, we’re working with Human Services, we’re working with critical social thought, a variety — the foundations of health program — to make the certificate stackable.

And so the the courses that are foundational courses for this program, like introduction to Latinx studies or the health equity class that I teach and this introduction to community organizing course that I will be developing, these are the, you know, just some of the foundational pieces.

And the reason for it, you know, I think for us, we knew that there was a desire — that community organizers are doing amazing work, but to have an opportunity to credentialize, if they want it right, an opportunity for them to see themselves in education and in higher ed, getting a certificate, possibly getting an associate’s, getting a degree, if they wanted to pursue that. We want them to have the option.

And that for us was really, a big deal, you know, to have the opportunity to — to bring their…their learning from the real world into the classroom, to have them work with other students who don’t have that experience but might be interested in becoming a community organizer or doing community organizing grassroots leadership. We were excited.

Zydalis Bauer, Connecting Point: And how beneficial is it to have people that live and reside in the community doing that grassroots organization, and have this program certificate behind them to empower them?

Dr. Vanessa E. Martinez-Renuncio: Even I with this national award, I still suffer from imposter syndrome. Like I’m not…I’m not sure, am I really, you know, that smart, capable, et cetera? I think that part of that has to do with being a woman. Part of that has to do with being Latina, you know. And so all of these, like, spaces that we’re in, that we’re revolutionizing when we’re there, right?

And so, you know, I want people to know that they absolutely do not need this degree. But if they want it, it is there for them, right? Like they are doing the work. And I absolutely believe that that work is critical. And whether or not there’s a degree behind them, they are absolutely so important to the community that they are — that they are living and working and helping every day.