UC Berkeley Innovations

Amelia Barili is dedicated to transforming education through her innovations as faculty at UC Berkeley. She has developed an innovative pedagogy that combines the findings of Neurobiology and Cognitive Science about the ways we learn, with nurturing in students the call to respond to the needs of the community through volunteering. Barili sees academic learning as process of personal and social transformation. She creates courses that foster lifelong learning  for undergraduates and older adults. In her interdisciplinary, multicultural innovative courses students learn to transfer the knowledge and skills that they acquire in the classroom to real life situations through experiential learning and service learning. In the process of mastering the subject they are studying they are moved to more deeply know themselves and others, and they are motivated to bring forth a better world.

student assisting refugee at Santuario

The range of Barili’s UC Berkeley innovations go from creating innovative courses and developing an innovative pedagogy to motivate undergraduates and older adults alike in the learning process, to actually bringing forth changes in the teaching process by working with colleagues in multicultural and interdisciplinary research groups that she has organized and facilitated around the subject of engaged scholarship and service learning.

Older Adult Education

Innovative courses and pedagogy in Older Adult Education at UC Berkeley.

See more details and videos here.

Intergenerational, Multicultural Service Learning, beyond class and race

Pioneer study of Neuroplasticity with practical laboratory of cultivating Positive Neuroplasticity in older adults, through Volunteering. Students in these course volunteer with one of four Local NGOs: Refugee Transitions, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, International House Hosting Program, and English in Action. These courses/workshops are opening new doors for older adults to cultivate positive neuroplasticity using their talents to respond to the needs of the community. Many of them still volunteering today and meet monthly in a group they titled: “Pause One on One”, to reflect about what they are learning through volunteering and how to keep honing their skills and service to the community.

Volunteering, Meditation and Neuroplasticity (2017-ongoing)

New course. Many recent scientific studies show that meditation and volunteering support good health for the heart, brain, and whole being. Combined, they foster positive neuroplasticity. In this course students study the science of neuroplasticity, and learn brief contemplative practices to calm and focus their mind and open their heart to new perspectives in relating to members of different cultures, and socio-economic backgrounds. They also volunteer outside of class for one to two hours each week at English-inAction, International House, or Refugee Transitions, and Equal Opportunities Program at UCB. This experiential learning deepens their knowledge of other cultures as they assist international students, refugees, and immigrants in the often-challenging transition to American life.

Engaging with Life: Volunteering and Neuroplasticity (2014-2016)

Follow up course to “Each One Helps One”. This course integrates the most recent findings of Cognitive Science, and Neurobiology with Meditation and Service Learning. Participants study about the most recent findings on interpersonal neuroplasticity through video talks and readings. In class besides analyzing and discussing the readings and talks, they learn contemplative practices to develop greater awareness of self and others. They complement the intellectual discussion about neuroplasticity with the direct experience of assisting someone from a different culture by volunteering at Refugee Transitions, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, the International House I-Host Program, or the YWCA English-in-Action Program. To assist participants in their volunteering activities, we have in each class, small group discussions, where participants who volunteer with the same organization, share their experiences and reflections for that week of volunteering. Please see Testimonies page in this website. Blog on Helping Others has no Age Barriers, Conference of Contemplative Mind in Higher Ed. Seattle, 2014.

Each One Helps One: Neuroplasticity in Action (2013)

Recognizing the potential of university students and the needs of the community, this course integrates the most recent findings of Cognitive Science, and Neurobiology with Meditation and Service Learning. Participants study about interpersonal neuroplasticity through video talks and readings. In class besides analyzing and discussing the readings and talks, they learn contemplative practices to develop greater awareness of self and others. They complement the intellectual discussion about neuroplasticity with the direct experience of assisting someone from a different culture by volunteering at Refugee Transitions, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant, the International House I-Host Program, or the YWCA English-in-Action Program. To assist participants in their volunteering activities, we have in each class, small group discussions, where participants who volunteer with the same organization, share their experiences and reflections for that week, and reflect on the neuroplasticity that occurs while volunteering one-on-one. In the bigger group participants discuss those experiences relating them to what we are studying about neuroplasticity through our readings, video presentations by experts. Ted Talks and documentaries.

Nourishing the Soul with Pablo Neruda’s Poetry (2013)

A major question today is “How can we nourish our soul even in the midst of challenges?” Wisdom traditions teach us that happiness resides in being fully present by entering the Now with a new gaze of innocent discovery and total union. This course invites students to cultivate that inner stillness and to open up to the radiant presence that is already within us and around us. Our tools for inner cultivation are the tender poetry of Pablo Neruda combined with contemplative practices, and a quick view at recent findings on Neuroplasticity. Through Neruda’s poems we will reflect on our childhood, on the cycles of life, death and renewal, on the joy of laziness, and on how poetry call us from everywhere in our daily life. Our classes will begin with a brief meditation to let the poetry sink on us, blending our inner and outer worlds. In one of our sessions we will watch together Il Postino, a beautiful film that captures Neruda’s way of looking at the world and includes several of his poems that we are reading in class.

Science and Spirituality: Secrets and Daily Practices (Fall 2012)

Recent scientific findings on how the way we think, feel, and act shapes our brain and nervous system confirm what the empirical sciences of India and China have said for thousands of years: that our mind and body are vastly interconnected. In this course students learn easy, effective daily practices to redirect their emotional energy toward greater flexibility in responding to all of life’s joys and challenges, while gaining wisdom and compassion toward themselves and others. In the first hour of class we discuss main concepts of the readings about neuroplasticity assigned for the day and explore questions about practical examples and applications (or testing) of those concepts in our daily life. In the second hour students learn practices from Classical Yoga, Qigong and Buddhism to focus the mind and cultivate clarity and creativity.

The Embodied Mind: Harnessing Neuroplasticity for Wisdom and Compassion (Spring 2012)

Traditionally the role of the university has been to cultivate the mind. Now neuroscience tells us that all learning is, in fact, embodied learning. A cutting edge question of our time is: “How to access the mind through the body and how can we harness neuroplasticity to bring forth a better world?” Through presentations on line by renowned neuroscientists who research and practice meditation, we learn about what is neuroplasticity, that innate capacity of knowing ourselves and of introducing positive changes in our life. We then compare those recent scientific findings to what Classical yoga’s primary sources teach us about how–through observation and self-inquiry–we can familiarize ourselves with the workings of our mind and heart; and how we can harness that subtle energy to cultivate greater wisdom and compassion towards ourselves and others.

Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science (Fall 2011, Spring 2013, Fall 2014, 2015, 2016)

To explore through the lenses of art, philosophy and science, two fundamental questions: “Who are we?” and “How do we create meaning for ourselves?” in this course we discuss the embodied bases of human understanding as presented in Cognitive Science, in Buddhist philosophy, and in Borges’ writings. We first study the main principles of Cognitive Science about how we bring forth worlds with our perception, interpretation and responses, and we compare them with the principles of Buddhism about how we influence and shape the realities we live in. Then, in essays and short stories by Jorge Luis Borges we explore the same themes evoked through a literary lens. To complete our study of the mind as embodied learning, we observe our minds in the process of creating meaning. This course includes a lab component of self-reflection, critical inquiry, and contemplative practices to focus the mind and foster discernment and inner knowing.

Borges, Buddhism and Dreams (Spring 2011)

Jorge Luis Borges was fascinated with Buddhism and with dreams. In this course we explore the relation between these two themes, and their presence in Borges’ essays, poems and short stories. We read by him What is Buddhism?, “The South,” “Nightmares,” “The Ethnographer” and “Coleridge’s Dream.” Since both Borges and Buddhism sustain that we first need to know our mind (or minding) before we can know the world we perceive through it, we begin each class with brief contemplative practices to focus our mind and open ourselves to intuitive knowing.

Borges on Buddhism, Buddhism in Borges (Fall 2010)

Jorge Luis Borges’ fascination, since his early childhood, with Buddhism is not known to most of his readers. In this course we read lectures and essays he wrote Buddhism, learn basic Buddhist principles from classical sources, and trace the presence of those texts and principles in Borges’ short stories and essays. Central to both Borges and Buddhism is the question of how our minds create the realities we inhabit. To foster discernment and inner knowing, we begin each class with brief contemplative practices.

Borges, a Weaver of Dreams. (Winter 2010)

In this introductory course we read a selection of Borges’ short stories, essays, and poems. Beginning with his brief essay “Borges and I”, and continuing with “The Other”, “Conjectural Poem”, “The South”, “The Secret Miracle”, etc, we explore how Borges interweaves a rich world of Argentine nuances and traditions, and of private longings and preferences, with his interest in oriental philosophies and in the world of dreams.

Undergraduate Education

Innovative courses and pedagogy in Undergraduate Education

Globalization and the New Global Civil Society (2004)

Learning with/from the Community: Students research the new Global Civil Society by volunteering and developing projects at 14 local NGOs.

Spanish 135. Globalization and the New Global Civil Society.

Course Description: A new kind of civil society, organized around reshaping globalization is gradually emerging. It is embodied in powerful international NGOs — such as Food First, Global Exchange, the Rainforest Action Network for example — as well as in coalitions of hundreds of smaller organizations, all of which have become social actors in a new political environment. This course offers an introduction to such phenomena from an international and a local point of view. In a series of lectures, in Spanish, scholars, writers, researchers, and leaders from major organizations discuss with the students how globalization is affecting Latin America today. The course includes a component of service learning by which students have the opportunity to serve the community and get professional experience by giving 15 hours of volunteer service to an NGO of their choice. This direct experience helps students reflect on the concepts and issues discussed in the classroom and is the basis for their weekly journals, a team presentation, and a major individual report they write at the end of the semester reflecting on how their experience at the volunteering site helped to deepen their understanding of specific aspects of what was discussed in the course.

Required reading, two readers and these books: Alternativas a la Globalización Económica /Alternatives to Economic Globalization: A Better World is Possible. (International Forum on Globalization) (2002) Natural Capitalism, Creating the Next Industrial Revolution. by Paul Hawken, Amory Lovins (2000)


Your Identity from the Margins: From Borges and Anzaldúa to Latino Conscious Hip Hop (2007) Title Goes Here

First American Cultures course ever to be taught in Spanish and focused on the Latino Community.

Spanish 135AC. Identity from the Margins. From Borges and Anzaldúa to Zapatism and Latino Conscious Hip Hop.

Course Description: Where does identity reside? Who should determine it? Can it be (re)articulated from the margins? These questions are central not only to 20th century debates about literary and national identity in Latin America, but also to recent debates about the role of women and youth in generating cultural and social change, as well as to the claims for cultural and political representation for indigenous populations that are arising through the continent today. In this course we study how these questions are present in the work of Jorge Luis Borges and how they opened pathways for the writers of the Boom (Cortázar, Fuentes, Gabriel García Márquez, etc). We reflect on such inquiry in the context of current literary and social studies debates about the need for emerging voices to enunciate their own identity in our multicultural society. To discuss relevant examples of how identity is (re)articulated from the margins we study the work of biculturalism theorist Gloria Anzaldúa, conscious hip hop Latino in the USA and the Zapatist movement today. Essays by Antonio Cornejo Polar, Mabel Moraña, Benedict Anderson, Nestor García Canclini, subcomandante Marcos and bell hooks, among others, provide a critical frame from which to consider the question of identity. This course, taught in Spanish, is the first American Cultures course ever taught in a language other than English. It helped expand the boundaries of the AC requirement. You can now make an international comparison of what it means to be Latino globally by relating the experience of what it means to be Latino in America to other Latino experiences in cross-border movements.

Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science (2009–2017)

Contemplative practices in groundbreaking interdisciplinary course that integrates Art, Humanities and Science

Spanish 135W Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science.

Course Description: This course offers a new approach to understanding Borges’ artistic and philosophical inquiries about the workings of the mind, and is a practical example of applied cognitive science by including in its methodology contemplative practices across disciplines. We explore Borges’ interest in Buddhism from his childhood in Argentina to his adolescence in Europe during the First World War and discuss how that interest continues to be expressed in his famous short stories of Ficciones and in his book ¿Qué es el budismo? We also study the basic tenets of Buddhism to which Borges refers in his work, and discuss their deep connection with Cognitive Science principles.

This interdisciplinary course defines a new area of inquiry: that of the relationship between Borges’ evocative writings and metaphysical insights and his interest in the Buddhist principles (similar to those of Cognitive Science today) which inquire about the nature of the mind. Composition topics that we explore in this course are how meaning is created by the author’s use of language, and how students can create meaning in the written analysis of the literary texts and of the cognitive and philosophical theories discussed in class. Besides considering themes of structure, use of language and stylistic devices through our analysis of Borges’ work, specific classes in the course are dedicated to assist students on how to articulate ideas, formulate a thesis, and construct an argument. We reflect on how to write effective introductions, conclusions, transitions, and to consider the use of accurate and responsible citation process in the main text of the essays as well as on footnotes and bibliography. Last but not least, this course includes a lab component of critical inquiry and meditation.

For a more detailed explanation of the Foundational Theory and Methodology of the course please read the article “Borges, Buddhism and Cognitive Science”.

In a new iteration of the course (Spring 2016) we included new features that support collaborative and autonomous learning, such as the writing of a Constitution for the course, in which students reflected about how to best prepare individually and work together as teams in this interdisciplinary and multicultural course, as well as how could we contribute as a group to public knowledge.

These two websites, in English and Spanish, are an example of those contributions, by sharing the materials of the course and the work of the students, expressed in academic blogs and in their e-portfolios- -two other new digital dimensions of this course. It is all presented in the following websites. We hope you enjoy them!


Stories of Undocumented/ Historias de Indocumentados (2013-2016)

Giving Voice to the Voiceless. Writing as game changer. Students write bilingual anthology of true stories about being undocumented.

Spanish 102C. Biographical and Autobiographical Writing. Telling the Stories of the Undocumented.

Course Description: The purpose of this course is to help students develop a critical literary approach to the biographical and autobiographical genre, as well as acquire tools to claim their own story. We analyze and write biographical and autobiographical poems and short stories by or about immigrants and undocumented students. Currently, many UC Berkeley students are in the process of obtaining legal papers that will allow them to study and work in the US. This course is part of the concerted effort of UC Berkeley to assist those students and raise awareness about their lives and those of their loved ones; as such it is open to all students, documented and undocumented alike. There is a Service Learning requirement–for a minimum total of 20 hours per semester–of volunteering at East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and at similar NGOs that assist undocumented students and immigrants in their path to citizenship A bilingual anthology Historias de Indocumentados/Stories of the Undocumented that compiles stories written in this course was published in April 2015. Seeing their work published, students experience how their work can contribute to change awareness in our society about the plight of the undocumented.

Barili ‘s statement at the UC Berkeley Undocumented Student Program website: I was moved to create Spanish 102C Biographical and Autobiographical Writing: Telling the Stories of the Undocumented to assist students in developing their voices while at the university and make known the plight of the undocumented. In the safe space of the course, students gave voice not only to their stories and those of their loved ones and acquaintances, but also to many others who are going through similar experiences of challenges in their path to citizenship, and are seeking hope. It is my hope that, through this course, we are contributing to help change the landscape of our social awareness and expanding the transformative role of our academic education.

Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing (2015-2018)

Educating Global Volunteers. Students volunteer locally and research how to volunteer internationally.

Spanish 102C. Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing

Course Description: This is a course to motivate students to hone their expository and argumentative writing, while at the same time engaging in serving the Latino community through Service Learning locally, and preparing themselves to volunteer internationally in Latin America. Students practice transferring knowledge and skills learned in the classroom to semi-professional work at the volunteering sites (East Bay Sanctuary Covenant and Oakland International High School), where they volunteer for a total of 20 hours throughout the semester. Since reflection is a key component of life-long learning, students write weekly blogs in our courses discussion site and a final paper, reflecting about their experiences volunteering locally and reaching out to NGOs in Latin America, and how those experiences deepen the understanding of the readings and research we are discussing in class.

From the third week on, students have the opportunity to apply those writing and oral skills in Spanish to other situations, like the search of a volunteering position in NGOs overseas. Students work in teams and individually researching NGOs in Spanish Speaking countries, interviewing their founders and returning volunteers who have worked there. Afterwards, students write a web page on the NGO of their choice. As part of honing their writing skills, students are in charge of writing the emails presenting themselves to the NGOs and setting up Skype interviews with the selected NGOs to have team discussions with them about any questions and concerns the students have in preparing to work with those NGOs. Students compare and contrast the mission and work of various NGOs; discuss, in an argumentative form, advantages and disadvantages of global volunteering, and at the end of the semester write a letter presenting themselves to the NGO they like the most of all the ones interviewed. Students may choose whether or not to send the letter but, regardless of that final decision, it is my hope that throughout the course students will have learned how to sort out possible opportunities for working or volunteering locally or overseas. By its very nature and structure, this course provides practical opportunities to experience the living languages and cultures studied in the Spanish and Portuguese Department at UC Berkeley.

Throughout the course the students write a constitution for the course (modeled on the Mozilla manifesto and on Prof, Cathy Davidson’s manifesto for her class on 21st Century Literacies), they learn to write academic blogs; build pages showing their research on specific Latin American NGOs and create innovative e-portfolios illustrating the knowledge and skills they developed in this Spanish 102C. Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing course.

These two links will take you to the two websites (in English and in Spanish) that showcase the work students did in this course, and will present to you how the course was born. Enjoy.


Read More: Students speak about their experiences volunteering locally and abroad.

Academy as Learning

Innovative Faculty Learning Communities

Pilot Faculty Learning Communities for Collaborative Service Learning, Interdisciplinary and Multicultural

The purpose of this Pilot Faculty Learning Community, which attracted faculty from various departments and schools at UC Berkeley, was to foster the creation of  Service Learning courses across disciplines. In this Faculty Learning Community, professors and lecturers and chairs of departments, as well as some graduate student instructors, came together to create high quality experiences for undergraduate students that would allow students to transfer what they are learning in the classroom to respond to the needs of broader community. The impact was double. Students were impacted by the creation of new Service Learning courses that allowed them to hone mastery of their disciplines by using those skills and knowledge in semi-professional environments while serving the community. The faculty of this Learning Community was impacted by the experience of learning and researching together in creative ways how to initiate, implement and assess collaborative service learning across campus.

Collaborative Service Learning is a new modality that Dr. Barili is developing which builds on the benefits of both Service Learning and Collaborative Learning. In this new modality, students, and faculty, work in teams in the classroom and at the sites.

An example of this kind of collaborative effort is having the students of the advanced Spanish courses Barili teaches collaborate with students from the UC Berkeley school of Law-who participated in this pilot interdisciplinary group- interpreting for them, with clients from Center America who are seeking political asylum. The clients–unaccompanied minors and others seeking refuge from violent situations–do not speak English, and the Law students do not speak Spanish. Both the Law students and the Spanish students, and their profs. worked together in this model of Collaborative Service Learning.  Another example, from this same faculty learning group: an experienced lecturer from the School of Education–works side by side with a prof and Chair of the French Department–in developing a course for French speakers at a new school where the graduates of the French department, can co-teach classes and do practical research on language acquisition theory and practice. Yet another example: students from the School of Education and from Barili’s classes work together at bilingual schools with youth at risk and with reading problems.

Professors participating in this Faculty Learning Community,  became students again in interactive workshops on innovative ways of using various kind of assessment (formative, summative, etc) and collaborative classroom techniques. Profs. shared a syllabus and one assignment from that course, to be blindly assessed in small groups. Participants reflected about what seem to be the learning goals, and actual skills developed with that syllabus and that particular assignment. They also discussed new perspectives on aligning actual student centered learning with the covering of the material presented in the syllabus. Qualities of trust, safety, empathy, respect, acceptance of diverse perspectives and ways of teaching and  learning, are essential for the rich unfolding of these groups. The faculty group examined, developed, assessed, and improved collaborative service learning activities in their courses, as well as discussed ways to expand this course-level pedagogical innovation by collaborating together in the creation of new courses.  From that group interaction and research,  five new Service Learning courses were created, and two initiatives to develop similar Faculty Learning Communities were born.

Dr. Barili presented about this innovative way of learning, teaching and researching, its challenges and promising results, at the Lilly Conference on “Evidence-Based Teaching and Learning”, in Newport, CA, on February 2015, and at the Campus Compact Conference on “Seeking Solutions to Complex Challenges Through Inquiry and Engagement “, in Long Beach, in April 2015, in her talk “Academy as Learning”.

Please see her blog on Collaborative Service Learning (coming).

Faculty Learning Community on Global Education–Multi-institutional collaborative project

As a follow up from the Pilot Interdisciplinary and Multicultural Faculty Learning Community on Collaborative Service Learning, Barili organized and is now facilitating–together with Professor Rick Kern (Director of the UC Berkeley Language Center)–a multi-institutional Faculty Learning Community on Volunteering and Global Education, at a national level.

This  new Faculty Learning Community,  is formed by professors from four4-year research universities engaged with Service Learning, and recognized as leaders in civic engagement programs, such as Cornell, Harvard, Georgetown  and Berkeley.  In this multi-institutional Faculty Learning Community on Volunteering and Global Education, professors  investigate and discuss with colleagues from other universities, pedagogical  models for blending local and global volunteering, like the model Dr. Barili designed for her new Service Learning course Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing. The members of this Faculty Learning Community are developing a inter-university network to support all  students in their global volunteering experiences. This Faculty Learning Community was launched with a conference on Volunteering and Global Education,  held in the UC Berkeley campus, on September 25th, 2015, and meets on line monthly to further develop new practices and joint projects.

Lecturer Teaching Fellows–Understanding by Design, Center for Teaching and Learning, (2007 and 2014-15)
UC Berkeley Language Center research “Learning to Learn: Neurobiology and Cognitive Science as Basis for Autonomous Learning”
BESI (2007)

UC Berkeley Awards

Dr Amelia Barili RECEIVING CHANCELLOR'S AWARD for Public Service

Amelia receives an award form the UC Berkeley Chancellor, Professor Robert Birgenau.

Chancellor Award for Public Service (2008)

One of the UC Berkeley awards that Amelia Barili received is the Chancellor’s Award for Public Service. She was distinguished with this honor in 2008 for the work her students and her do assisting the Latino Community. Later that month, prof. Barili was profiled in this article from the UC Berkeley Letter Home. She speaks of the difference that Service Learning makes in students lives. “When they interact with refugees–says Barili–students see that their own troubles are not so bad”. Barili believes strongly that with the privilege of an education, comes the responsibility of sharing that knowledge beyond the boundaries of the campus. Many of her students are inspired by this way of teaching and learning and keep volunteering many years after that first experience in Barili’s class. Read their testimonies in Students Volunteering Locally and Abroad.

Finalist for UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award (2009)

Because of her innovative undergraduate and older adult courses, and her work with the community, prof. Amelia Barili was finalist for the UC Berkeley Distinguished Teaching Award, the highest teaching award on campus.

Chancellor’s Community Partnership Grant (2011)


In 2011, professor Amelia Barili, received the Chancellor’s Community Partnership Grant for her project “Spanish Grammar and Political Asylum.” That UC Berkeley award was granted to prof. Barili and to East Bay Sanctuary Covenant–with whom she had been partnering since 1999–to expand and deepen the capacity of the student volunteers and of EBSC to serve Latino immigrants and refugees.

The new and expanded program created with this grant included three major steps.

The first step was to hire a paralegal/staff attorney to work with the Spanish 102A students, explaining the intricacies of the political asylum process, to better prepare them to assist the UCB Law School students as interpreters in political asylum cases and U-visa Cases. As result of this Chancellor’s Community Partnership Grant, the number of Spanish 102A students working with School of Law students in the pro-bono EBSC legal clinic augmented exponentially. From 1 student in 2010, to 10 Spanish students assisting as interpreters in 2012. They assisted the EBSC team of law students in writing detailed declarations that included the clients’ personal background and the persecution they suffered in their home countries. They often followed the cases from the first “intake” all the way to interpreting for the clients at their interviews at the San Francisco Asylum Office.

The second step was to hire an undergraduate student, who had taken Spanish 102A before and volunteered at Santuario–as EBSC is familiarly called–, to coordinate between the Spanish students and the six busy EBSC staff members. With the assistance of Barili and the ESBC staff, the undergraduate coordinator developed a handout of instructions to guide new students on the various procedures at EBSC, from answering the phones and receiving clients who come with a wide range of legal assistance requests, to doing ‘intakes’, (‘intakes’ are the refugees stories for their political asylum processes). This part of the handbook was developed in collaboration between the student coordinator and the paralegal/staff attorney that we hired with the grant. The student coordinator also developed an effective system to maintain records, schedule and kept track of students hours for volunteering, produced instruction folders to easily guide students in their daily office tasks at East Bay Sanctuary.

The third step was to give greater visibility to this joint project between UC Berkeley and East Bay Sanctuary Covenant. To that effect interviews were filmed with members of this NGO and with students from Spanish 102A and prof. Barili. They were integrated in a short documentary titled “Building Nurturing Communities: A Berkeley Story”, which was uploaded to Vimeo and You Tube. In that documentary students and community partners reflect on what is unique about this collaborative learning experience.

Barili developed this innovative pedagogy–which bridges the university and the community–as part of her Spanish 102A Advanced Grammar and Composition course. It is a win-win opportunity for everyone involved.

Educational benefit for the students involved

From a purely linguistic perspective, students have a real-world setting in which to practice their Spanish language skills. They speak and listen, face to face with Spanish speaking immigrants. They also have the more challenging experience of speaking and listening to immigrants on the telephone, which is much more difficult because there are no visual clues.

Even more important from a cultural and socially integrative point of view: they learn about the immigrant experience. Many students in the UCB course are themselves immigrants who came when very young or children of immigrants but do not know the great difficulties their families experienced in assimilating or in obtaining legal status in the United States. Clients at the East Bay Sanctuary are in the process of petitioning for legal status, petitioning for relatives, applying to adjust status to become Legal Permanent Residents, or applying for citizenship. In assisting clients with these legal applications, students will see how complicated these processes can be and understand the great difficulties their own families might have had. Often students comment that they had no idea of what their families went through.

In the new and expanded collaboration with UCB Law School students at the EBSC legal clinic, Spanish 102A students also learn about other cultures. Many of the clients they work with are indigenous (Mayan) Guatemalans. This is a unique opportunity to interact with the large Mayan population (near 5,000 of them) in the Bay Area, who themselves are learning Spanish. When acting as interpreters in U Visa program at EBSC, students also learn about the culture of violence against abused women and LGBTs that occurs throughout Latin American and the world.

Above all, students gain valuable life experience and develop a more caring attitude towards those in need. Most of the Sanctuary’s clients are barely literate at best and quite poor. Students interact with families who are struggling to get by economically and only beginning to learn how to access social services. They interpret for them filing out employment applications or applying for social services. They also interpret at medical/mental health appointments.

Being at a stone-thrown away distance from campus, East Bay Sanctuary Covenant introduces students to a very different Spanish-speaking world than the one they experience in the classroom. After reading “La Soledad de América Latina”, the 1982 Nobel Speech in which Gabriel García Márquez comments on different models of development and their impact in that continent, and having read the testimony of Guatemalan indigenous Nobel prize winner Rigoberta Menchu, students have the opportunity of meeting at Santuario, the actual people that had to run away from the violence these authors are writing about. This NGO has more Spanish-speaking asylum clients who have fled persecution in their home countries than any agency in the Bay Area. Students work with indigenous Guatemalans, victims of the latest genocide in the Americas, currently victims of a discrimination comparable to that suffered by African Americans in the American south after the Civil War. They also help with clients fleeing violence in El Salvador, Nicaragua, Mexico and other Spanish-speaking countries

While volunteering at Santuario, students have also the unique opportunity to work with victims of domestic violence, often so severe that it amounts to torture, and learn that it occurs in all countries and that many countries refuse to protect women and children from their abusers. In other cases, students work with LGBTs who have suffered terrible persecution, often at the hands of law enforcement, simply because of their sexual orientation.

Perhaps most important of it all, students learn that they can make a difference and that they can use the knowledge and skills they are learning at UCB to actually respond to needs in the broader community. This inspires students to dedicate themselves to learn, and opens their hearts/minds towards contributing to create nurturing communities. Often they continue contributing to the Latino community locally and abroad, and in some cases create NGOs to help others. See the page Students Volunteer Locally and Abroad in this website

Benefit for the Community Partner

The Sanctuary has the largest affirmative asylum program in the Bay Area. In it law students in the California Asylum Representation Clinic (CARC) at Berkeley School of Law represent clients in the asylum process, under the supervision of the Sanctuary staff. The program is continuously expanding. Spanish 102A students in this new phase of our partnership, supported by the 2011 Chancellor’s Community Partnership Grant–worked as interpreters with a team of law students, assisting them in writing detailed declarations that include the clients’ personal background and the persecution they suffered in their home countries. They, then, translated for the clients at their interviews at the San Francisco Asylum Office. Spanish speaking clients are generally indigenous Guatemalans (Maya) who fled the most recent genocide in the Americas, victims of domestic violence and LGBTs who were persecuted on account of their sexual orientation. With the help of the Spanish 102A student volunteers acting as well informed interpreters–because of the training received with the paralegal–East Bay Sanctuary, was able to expand their services to the Latino immigrant population of the Bay Area.

Besides having the new opportunity of working in the above expanding programs, Spanish 102A students continued to perform general office duties including answering the telephones, interviewing drop-ins, assisting clients with applications for employment, petitions for family members, residency and citizenship, or simply talking and listening to clients. These duties are most of what Spanish 102A students have done up 2011. Barili and East Bay Sanctuary were able to enrich and broaden the students’ experience and serve more clients, in this new phase of their partnership, thanks to the support received by the 2011 Chancellor’s Partnership Grant.

In 1999, Barili began implementing this innovative pedagogy of integrating what is learned in the classroom with practice based knowledge acquired learning from/with the community. Since then, over 600 of her students have put nearly 10,000 hours volunteering at East Bay Sanctuary covenant and at bilingual schools in the Bay Area, assisting Latino children and un-accompanied minors from Center America.


Nominated for UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence (2015)

Because of her strong contributions to UC Berkeley’s equity, inclusion and diversity work, Amelia Barili was nominated on September 2015 for Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence.

Among the contributions cited in the nomination is the work she does with her undergraduate and older adult students helping them develop their voices and serve those most in need in the community through such courses as “Biographical and Autobiographical Writing: Telling the Stories of the Undocumented”; “Volunteering, Global Education and Good Writing”, “Engaging with Life: Volunteering and Neuroplasticity”; “Harnessing Wisdom and Compassion through Volunteering”; “Each One Helps One: Neuroplasticity in Action”.

She was also nominated for the CAAIC award for her dedication to expanding the creation of service learning courses, and supporting engaged scholarship–throughout campus and in collaboration with other universities–by initiating and implementing Faculty Learning Communities on Collaborative Service Learning (2013-14) and on “Volunteering and Global Education” (2015-16).

The UC Berkeley Chancellor’s Award for Advancing Institutional Excellence has traditionally been given only to Deans and tenured Faculty. That Barili was nominated for the award, being a lecturer, speaks highly of the appreciation for her work with students, colleagues and the Latino community locally and overseas.