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Being Neighborly

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Scott Mendlinger x’14 records video at Mercado Marimar, a Mexican market and deli on Madison’s south side, for his class with Young Mie Kim (wearing red hat), an assistant professor of journalism. Photo: Jeff Miller.

Students discover there’s much to savor in south Madison.

For centuries, food has brought unlikely groups of people together. But along with this custom comes the challenge of trying new things and fostering connections between communities that otherwise may never cross paths.

The students enrolled in Journalism 676: Technology for Social Change are building on that tradition with Savor South Madison, a class that celebrates the rich culture of the area and promotes its greatest assets: a variety of ethnic foods and a tight-knit community.

The service-learning course has students adopt social media technologies such as Facebook, Foursquare, and Twitter to forge a new identity for a community hit hard by the recent economic recession. With these tools, students encourage Madison residents to visit that part of the city.

The product of their efforts is an interactive website linked to Savor South Madison’s social media accounts, as well as a recipe database, reviews of restaurants, and student-produced videos. These short clips highlight local food establishments and personalities to help promote south Madison events and gastronomic options.

Last spring, the class sponsored a scavenger hunt to encourage the student body and community to share the experiences they had at the variety of ethnic eating places in south Madison. Restaurants gave competitors free food for participating, allowing them to taste the flavors of the neighborhood.

Anna Bukowski ’12, a member of the online content development team, says she loved going beyond University Avenue to meet and talk with south Madison residents. Part of her job was interviewing restaurant and business owners to gather content for the class website. She encountered grandfather figures, entrepreneurs, and patrol officers.

“Outside of the UW bubble in Madison,” she says, “there is a whole world happening [in] an entirely unique community.”

As the semester progressed, students shared the flavor of the area through Facebook posts, tweets, and videos, while taking into account that not everyone has the same level of access to technology as those on the UW campus. Young Mie Kim, an assistant professor of journalism who has taught the course for the past year, tells her students to be aware of those limitations.

“It blew my mind,” Bukowski says, “because I sit in class and see everyone on a smartphone, constantly online, yet it never crossed my mind that when you exit this campus community, you learn of people who visit the public library to browse the web.”

Savor South Madison challenges students to call upon different ways to communicate using different media, allowing them to target the right people.

“These students are highly motivated,” says Kim. “They see and work with people beyond the classroom and continually learn from each other.” This engagement is helpful for both the people of south Madison and the students. Though they are working for academic credit, class members get to apply the concepts they learn about the effects of social media while fulfilling a mission of public service.

George Fabian, a resident of south Madison, is featured on the website in a video about his Italian heritage and how food shapes his sense of community. “Around here, there are genuine people,” he says.

Bukowski echoes this sentiment after her experience in south Madison. “Part of advocacy and journalism is putting yourself in the shoes of your audience,” she says. “Getting to talk to people and learn about their stories is why I got into journalism in the first place.”

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Categories: Departments, Classroom, Issues, Winter 2012

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