A stack of colorful books in a library.

Gaining knowledge of the world and embracing cultural diversity has become a necessity, not a luxury. Is a globalized reading list—part of the Worlds of Words program—the key to building cultural bridges?

April 28, 2020

To say that Kathy Short is a bit of a bookworm is an understatement. As the founder of Worlds of Words, a program designed to encourage kids to embrace cultural diversity through multicultural literature, she is constantly on the hunt for books that will help immerse children in world cultures.

The premise is simple: Offer alternatives to the Common Core State Standards’ text exemplar list, and offer a way for educators to globalize their classrooms and libraries.

“I’ve done some work in classrooms around the world and found that kids in other countries were much more engaged in other cultures,” says Short, who administers the program through the University of Arizona’s College of Education, where she’s also a professor. “We don’t see that same recognition in the United States. One of the reasons is that in places like Europe, it’s possible to cross a border every few hours. In many parts of the United States, that isn’t really true. Literature was one way that I could think of as a way to immerse children into a culture.”

And so, since she launched Worlds of Words in 2007, Short has helped the program amass a vast collection of globally focused children’s and adolescent literature.

A Hub for Educators

In 2014, the program moved into its current home in the College of Education on the UArizona campus. Open to the public, the space features a special collection of illustrations, as well as signed, first-edition books. Additionally, Worlds of Words organizers host author lectures, special events and workshops, and participate in the Tucson Books Festival.

Most importantly, though, the program is a hub for educators, as it houses loaner materials—books, community story boxes and family story backpacks—for schools, libraries and literature groups.

“We want educators to see the potential in the literature and in the way those books can be used,” Short says. “And for people who live locally, we have the global books in a separate section in our collection, so anyone can come in.”

Organized by world regions, the 35,000-volume library is largely focused on global literature written in English and that are published or distributed in the United States. That said, Short looks regularly for translated titles, which account for only 3 or 4 percent of the applicable literature in the United States. By contrast, in other locales—most African countries, for example—translated titles account for approximately 90 percent of the literature in circulation.

“You’d hope to find somewhere between 30 and 40 percent as a standard,” Short says. “We’re very ethnocentric in America and very market driven. That’s why, if I find any strong, translated books, they go on our list.”

A Bridge Across Cultures

The list, which Worlds of Words has further organized by grade level, also offers suggestions for paired reading. Take, for example, P.D. Eastman’s Are You My Mother? In it, a baby bird searches for its mother, encountering—among other things—a dog, a cat and a “snort,” a piece of heavy machinery. On the first-grade list, the book pairs with English writer Deborah Hautzig’s adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, in which a young girl falls into a rabbit hole and meets a variety of interesting characters. Alternately, Dr. Seuss’ popular Green Eggs and Ham pairs with Karen Backstein’s The Blind Men and the Elephant. In the latter, which is based in India, blind men each describe an elephant by feeling only one part of its body. The basic premise for each is easy for first graders to absorb—try something new and explore things outside your comfort zone.

By fifth grade, young readers might compare Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion to Gill Lewis’ Moon Bear, about a young Laotian boy and his bear cub companion.

So, what then, are the benefits to global comparative literature? Multiple studies have shown that reading across cultures helps encourage children to interact with others across ethnic backgrounds. Like Green Eggs and Ham and The Blind Men and the Elephant, it’s the idea that the world is meant to be explored.  

Indeed, an Australian study on the subject found that stories that depict diversity can help children see race and the differences therein as something beautiful, rather than a barrier.

That’s part of the reason Short includes both good and bad examples of multicultural literature in Worlds of Words’ program.

“For the most part, if the book is set in a global culture, we bring it into the collection,” she says. “And we are interested in good and bad examples. A bad example is a book that doesn’t authentically represent the culture. If kids don’t see the bad examples, they’re not really sure what makes something problematic. We want high-quality literature, though. We want to be able to promote that.”

People walking on the street near the entrance to the Consulate of Mexico in San Diego.

In an effort to help Mexican nationals wade through various immigration and criminal issues, foreign service officers are studying the foundations of American law.

April 29, 2020

As border issues continue to vie for center stage in American politics, it’s more important than ever that Mexican diplomats have a firm understanding of the ever-changing American laws.

Though Mexican foreign service officers receive high levels of training in the fundamentals of United States law through their Mexico City-based diplomatic academy, Instituto Matias Romero, the Consul General, a longtime advocate of improving relations between the United States and Mexico, recognized the need for ongoing training to ensure diplomats were up to date on U.S. immigration and criminal law to better serve Mexican nationals on both sides of the border.

“Helping Mexican government officials provide services to those in the United States—or interested in coming to the United States—and having us be open to [sharing knowledge] that is useful for them in their work helps strengthen the relationship between our countries,” says Katherine Barnes, the associate dean of programs and innovation at the University of Arizona. “It’s a model of how different countries and organizations can work together, across cultures, toward a common goal.”

Creating a New Curriculum

An ongoing dialogue between Marc Miller, dean of the James E. Rogers College of Law at UArizona, and Ricardo Pineda, the Tucson-based Mexican Consul General, led to the launch of a new program for members of the Mexican diplomatic corps.

In 2017, administrators responded to a request for proposals, and the James E. Rogers College of Law was chosen from among a number of well-respected competitors to provide classes to the premier diplomatic corps. A team of seven faculty members, all experts in their fields, worked together to develop the curriculum, create course materials and teach classes; all of the resources were developed based on feedback from Mexican diplomats about their specific needs.

“We’re training diplomats, not lawyers; [the diplomat’s] role is not to provide legal advice but to help Mexican citizens to know where to go to identify their issues and, if needed, seek out legal services in the U.S. or Mexico,” says Miller. “[The courses] are less about discussions of case law that would happen in a traditional law school classroom and more about particular, factual settings and issues, and how those might be resolved or what sorts of resources might be available to help resolve them.”

With diplomats posted in 51 Mexican consulates and embassies across the United States, making it the largest foreign service operating in a host country, having everyone attend classes on the UArizona campus was not an option. To accommodate rigorous schedules and diverse locations of the diplomats, the classes were offered online.

Building Partnerships

The first session launched in fall 2018. More than 75 members of the Mexican diplomatic corps signed up for the first round of continuing education offerings, which included a six-week class in the fundamentals of U.S. law and four-week classes in immigration and criminal procedures. After their coursework and examinations were completed, diplomats received a certificate issued jointly from UArizona and the Mexican Foreign Ministry (Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores).

Miller calls the level of engagement “stunning” and, based on positive feedback from the diplomats who participated in the initial cohort, law school faculty created a second round of classes on trade and economic law. All of these future classes will be offered on a rolling basis and, thanks to the ever-changing diplomatic corps, Miller expects the demand to remain high.

This partnership between UArizona and the Mexican Foreign Ministry has attracted a lot of attention, and the new cohort that started in May includes diplomats from Guatemala and El Salvador. And, consular generals from other countries have reached out to inquire about opportunities to work together to train their foreign service officers, too.

“We are in active conversations with other diplomatic corps’, and many of those countries have somewhat different priorities…with some focusing on employment and family law, indigenous rights, and cross-border trade and investment,” Miller says. “One of the things we hope we’ll establish is that we’ll become an ongoing and trusted partner and trainer for diplomats across different countries.”

In addition to providing essential training to help Mexican diplomats excel in their roles, Miller hopes that the relationship will accomplish a bigger goal—strengthening ties between the United States and Mexico. “A program that builds partnerships to increase our understanding and appreciation, whether it’s for legal systems, political systems or social systems, has got to be good,” she says, “both in the short and long run, for international relations.”

Interior and exterior of a small library

In an effort to promote economic development through education, UArizona scholars are making literacy more accessible binationally.

Feb. 19, 2021

At the top of a three-story building in Cajones Guanajuato, Mexico, you will find worlds upon worlds.

There you will find a library.

The library is housed inside Resplandor International, a humanitarian and educational non-profit organization that collaborates with individuals, families and communities in Guanajuato, Mexico. Resplandor was borne out of a desire by members of the UArizona community to encourage cross-border cultural competence and promote economic development in Mexico through education.

“Mexicans are great storytellers” but “[many families] don’t have books in their home” says Todd Fletcher, Resplandor’s founding director and an Emeritus Professor in the UArizona Department of Disability and Psychoeducational Studies in the College of Education.

Resplandor’s library, inaugurated in the summer of 2016, helps to fill in for the lack of home libraries and is a result of a partnership with Worlds of Words and director Kathy Short.

The library serves as a resource to the local community, with books in both Spanish and English. The books are sorted around themes and categories so that children can easily find books that interest them.

Representation Matters

Children also have unprecedented access to books with people who look like and act like them. “When children do not see their cultures represented in books, they receive the message that their cultural identities are not valued,” says Short, who is also a professor in the UArizona Department of Teaching, Learning and Sociocultural Studies in the College of Education.

At the same time, reading builds intercultural understanding, an important tenant of Resplandor and WOW. “Knowledge and experiences acquired through reading promotes greater understanding, acceptance and compassion for others,” Fletcher says.

Both Fletcher and Short emphasize the importance of reading for the sake of reading. “Books are not written to teach reading but to experience life,” says Short.

“Reading books in which their lives are reflected support children in deepening their understandings and comprehension,” says Short. “They have more experiences and knowledge to bring to those books and allows them to develop comprehension strategies and confidence to bring to literature reflecting less familiar experiences.”

A Rich History of Partnership

Resplandor opened its doors in 2009, but Fletcher, who has worked in Mexico since his undergraduate days, has collaborated with the communities surrounding Guanajuato for decades. Members of the UArizona community have benefitted from Fletcher’s connection to Mexico since 1986, when he started the Verano en México program.

The summer program is designed to introduce undergraduate and graduate students to the culture, history and education of Mexico, so that participants gain a context for, not only the lives of school-aged students in Guanajuato, but also children arriving into U.S. schools from Mexico. Participants complete educational projects, many related to literacy, and volunteer in the first week of a 2-week summer school Resplandor holds for 150 local students.

Fletcher and Short also initiated the Richard Ruiz Scholar/Artist in Residency program in honor of the late Richard Ruiz, former head of the UA Department of Mexican American Studies and faculty member in the College of Education.

“The purpose of the residency is to promote the love of reading for reading’s sake and literacy in the greater Guanajuato community,” says Fletcher.

There have been four Richard Ruiz scholars to date, and these scholars have provided classes, workshops and activities to the local communities surrounding Resplandor and in the state of Guanajuato. One previous scholar used art, poetry and theater to engage community members in literacy education.

“Our volunteers and team members feel very strongly, and we work to ensure that our efforts in teaching reading, writing, art and music are based in a pedagogy of love that connects in authentic ways with the kids we serve,” says Fletcher.

Overall, Resplandor’s library and the Verano en Mexico and the Richard Ruiz Scholar/Artist in Residency programs are meant to open up people to experiences and cultures beyond their own. “Differences create dilemmas and the most effective way to address and solve the issues and problems that result from these dilemmas and conflicts is through education,” Fletcher says.

“The border provides opportunities to build collaborations that pull from the richness of both Mexican and U.S. cultures, to use difference as a resource for creating something new that goes beyond what each culture could do separately,” adds Short.

An open laptop next to a stack of books.

The University of Arizona has an exciting opportunity to transform the way academic libraries disseminate scholarship and interact with the university and the public.

June 1, 2021

The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded the University of Arizona a $750,000, three-year grant to integrate library services into data-intensive research to produce open access humanities scholarship from the U.S.-Mexico borderlands.

This grant will produce scholarship for academic and popular audiences free of cost.

The project, "Aligning Library Services with Data-Intensive Humanities Research: Modeling Support for Open Scholarship through Data Storytelling and Digital Publishing on the U.S.-Mexico Borderlands," will competitively award grants to faculty and research teams at University of Arizona. These teams will work on projects that utilize diverse services from University Libraries­–the unit that houses campus libraries, Special Collections, and The University of Arizona Press. Shan Sutton, dean of University Libraries, is the principal investigator of the project, and the co-principal investigators are Megan Senseney, head of the Office of Digital Innovation and Stewardship, and Verónica Reyes-Escudero, head of Special Collections.

Sutton said that University Libraries are "uniquely positioned to make these advancements in how academic libraries can simultaneously integrate into faculty research workflows, advance borderlands research, and facilitate the use of open access to maximize global access to the resulting scholarship."

The University of Arizona is federally recognized as a Hispanic Serving Institution and a Research I institution–a university that engages in the highest levels of research activity–giving the university a unique opportunity to connect the surrounding community with research about that community.

"Our emphasis on research that directly involves members of diverse borderlands communities is reflective of the University of Arizona's commitment to being a national leader among Hispanic Serving Institutions," said Sutton.

The grant will enable the creation of data-intensive humanities research on the borderlands that will be facilitated by data focused library services like data management and curation, data science, and text and data mining.

University Libraries can also facilitate the use of geographic information systems (GIS)–a computer system for storing, analyzing, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface, which will allow teams to gather data on natural phenomena. This will enable research questions that investigate how nature and the land have interacted with life in the borderlands over time.

Special Collections can offer the research teams access to rare books, literature, printed materials, manuscript collections, photographs, maps, and audio-visual materials from their distinctive archival collections on the U.S.-Mexico borderlands. These collections document the region's culture and history, from the colonial period to the present, and it is one of the nation's most extensive collections of archival materials and printed texts on the borderlands of the Southwest United States and the Northwest of Mexico. Research teams could use data mining techniques with the help of data specialists from University Libraries to analyze these materials, for example.

Since the research findings from this grant will be open access, University Libraries will provide another important service. Scholarly Communication, a service through the Office of Digital Innovation and Stewardship, offers the research teams open access publishing and policy support, along with digital collections consultation, and copyright support.

In addition to having open access to the research findings, it is also essential to the grant’s success that the scholarship is disseminated in a way that is palatable to the public. "The project's emphasis on open access through data storytelling and digital publishing will crucially ensure its impact across the United States, Mexico and around the world,” said Liesl Folks, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost.

Not only will the work produced under this grant be accessible to the public, but it will also be available to other research institutions. Opening research to other academic libraries makes the research important beyond the borderlands and in doing so, creates a model for what is possible in the future for academic libraries and data-focused library services, which will create a ripple effect of open access scholarship.

The type of data-driven research that has no barriers to access is beneficial because it advances our collective knowledge with scholarship about the borderlands, and it enriches our world more globally by promoting the importance of access for all to academic scholarship.

Universidad Autónoma de Coahuila

The Autonomous University of Coahuila is the largest comprehensive public university in the north-central state of Coahuila.  The University of Arizona's College of Pharmacy maintains an active research and exchange agreement with the Unidad Torreón focused on pharmacology and toxicology.

Institutional Type
Higher education