LLILAS Outreach Director Receives Outstanding Staff Award

Mon, October 11, 2010

By Adrienne Lee for Inside Our Campus

The physical size of the outreach office in the University of Texas Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies is proportional to the number of people who work there. One person serves as the office’s entire staff. That person, Natalie Arsenault, is almost solely responsible for sharing and teaching information about Latin America to the community as the institute’s outreach director.

As she sits at the round table in her office, her petite frame bursting with energy and enthusiasm, it’s clear she loves her work.

“On Monday, I don’t dread coming to work,” Arsenault said.

It’s also clear she does her job well. She’s been at the University for nearly 10 years, dispensing information and opening dialogue about Latin America. And in May, she received an Outstanding Staff Award, an annual award given to 30 staff members. According to the outstanding staff and supervisor awards website, the requirements for this nomination include: the staff member must “have significantly improved a work process or system or have significantly increased the efficiency of an operation or unit,” “have demonstrated an exceptional ability to foster collaboration, communication and cooperation among colleagues and university constituents,” and “have performed at a level above and beyond normal job requirements.”

“Natalie is a leader in her field,” said Juliet Hooker, associate director of the Long Institute of Latin American Studies, in a short video about Arsenault posted on the awards’ website. Hooker said that under Arsenault’s direction, the outreach program at the institute has become nationally recognized as one of the most innovative and effective programs among National Resource Centers. “She’s extremely deserving of this award,” Hooker said.

Generally, outreach refers to using a university’s resources to expand knowledge and understanding to reach outside audiences, Arsenault said. Her position as outreach director primarily focuses on working with kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers to develop ready-to-use curriculum materials. She also manages the Latin American studies unit of Hemispheres, a University-wide outreach initiative that utilizes resources to assist with world studies in education and throughout the community. Additionally, she is the listserv manager and chair of the outreach committee for CLASP, the nationwide Consortium of Latin American Studies Programs that works to promote teaching about Latin America at all education levels, according to CLASP’s website.

Arsenault said she’s chosen a career that continues to be interesting: “This is the path, but it still shifts,” she said.

She also leads teachers, mostly from Texas, on short-term summer programs in Latin American countries through Fulbright-Hays grants. The most recent group traveled to Brazil for four weeks during the summer.

“I find it constantly challenging. I’m constantly developing new skills,” she said, mentioning her confidence boost in public speaking.

Arsenault earned her bachelor’s degree in foreign languages from New College of Florida and her master’s degree in Latin American studies from the University of Florida. When she was a graduate assistant, she recognized that outreach enabled her to continue learning about Latin America while simultaneously helping others learn.

Arsenault said outreach programs are often off the radar, so it’s easy to forget they exist.

Amanda Wolfe, associate director for program development at the Latin American and Iberian Institute at the University of New Mexico, said outreach programs are one of the most important aspects of centers and institutes.

“They channel the resources of the center or institute beyond the university community,” said Wolfe, who is also vice president of CLASP.

Wolfe worked as associate director of the Latin American Studies Center at the University of Florida when Arsenault was a graduate student. As a graduate assistant, she worked under Wolfe on outreach-related initiatives.

“[Arsenault] had a very natural understanding of Latin America-related outreach,” Wolfe said. “That, coupled with her amazing work ethic and self-direction, made her a perfect candidate for the position at Texas.”

Director of the Long Institute of Latin American Studies Charles Hale echoed Wolfe’s sentiment about Arsenault. Noting that UT President William Powers has named University outreach as a top priority, Hale said Arsenault is an innovator in reaching a broad community in Texas with research about Latin America.

Arsenault beamed proudly about being labeled an innovator. She said she wants to be proactive in her role as director, veering from traditional outreach models to instead find ways to reach larger audiences. These include the teacher trips to Latin America, a continual process of promoting the outreach office’s services and expanding the bank of kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers who utilize the institute’s resources.

Arsenault believes it is the University’s duty to attend to the public through outreach and views her position as essential to better serving the community as a whole. Latin American outreach is especially important in Texas because of the state’s proximity to the region, and because it is an area people do not know a lot about, she said.

“The most exciting thing in outreach is when you see people turned on by Latin America and want to learn more,”
she said.

An obvious multitasker, Arsenault’s current list of to-dos includes a number of projects. She is creating a high school curriculum unit on human rights, researching all two- and four-year colleges in the area to offer services to faculty members who teach Latin American content and
preparing for the freshmen at the Academy for Global Studies at Austin High School to visit campus.

“She’s gone from simply doing her job well to actually being a leader and innovator nationwide in her field,” Hale said. “The award she received was merited.”

The award, on display in Arsenault’s office, is perched atop her bookshelf as a symbol of her success. She is happy to talk about her accomplishments, acknowledging the hard work she has put into her position.

“Ever since I’ve gotten here, I’ve pushed to make the program bigger and better,” she said.

Wolfe said Arsenault’s “spirit of collaboration is one thing that sets Natalie apart from most others.”

And that spirit of collaboration will benefit her future endeavors. Always contemplating her next move, Arsenault plans to continue her trips with teachers to Latin America and expand outreach efforts to businesses, community groups and other post-secondary educational

“Few people have the dedication to Latin America-related outreach that Natalie possesses,” Wolfe said. “Texas is very, very fortunate to have her.”

Arsenault sums up her attitude toward her job matter-of-factly: “I think I do exciting work.”

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