Project Sine

Alfonso Aguilar, chief of the Office of Citizenship, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; Dawn Macy, associate director of Cal State Fullerton’s Center for Internships & Service-Learning, center; and Katie Loovis, associate director of USA Freedom Corps.

Project SHINE Receives National Volunteer Service Award

Campus Program Benefits English Language Learners

January 18, 2008

By Debra Cano Ramos

Cal State Fullerton’s Project SHINE, which has helped thousands of local immigrants learn English, was honored Thursday, Jan. 17, with the U.S. President’s Volunteer Service Award.

Graduate student Sue Shanley, a Project SHINE volunteer pursuing a master’s degree in teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), was recognized for her individual accomplishments with English learners.

The awards were presented during a seminar at Los Angeles City College hosted by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the White House Office of USA Freedom Corps. The seminar was offered to encourage individuals to volunteer to help legal immigrants become more actively engaged in their communities.

“We’re proud of our students and this project, which does so much good for so many people,” said Dawn Macy, associate director of the university’s Center for Internships & Service-Learning who has managed the campus project since its inception in 2001.

“The community buy-in to the program has been remarkable and this is what continues to make SHINE possible. Project SHINE is an excellent example of collaboration for the betterment of all,” Macy said.

So far, 564 Project SHINE students have volunteered more than 11,000 hours of service to 1,071 older immigrants. Through the program, Cal State Fullerton students are paired with English learners, and even when matched with those of different cultural backgrounds from their own, the similarities in life stories make natural bridges, Macy explained. The students and learners connect in such ways as sharing meals, playing games and studying for the U.S. citizenship exam.

SHINE is one of several community engagement projects involving internships, service-learning and informal volunteering in which Cal State Fullerton students served more than 715,000 hours during 2006-07.

“I’m inspired by their tenacity and their willingness to learn,” said Shanley, who volunteered 30 hours during the fall and will volunteer again this spring. She has worked with immigrants from Mexico, Vietnam, Korea, Peru, Panama and Syria at Stanton Community Services Center. “These people should be supported and encouraged because they do put in a lot of effort to learn English, contrary to what some people may think.”

Shanley, who plans to continue working with English learners after she earns her master’s degree, was humbled by the recognition and accepted the award on behalf of all of Cal State Fullerton’s Project SHINE volunteers.

“We’re all very valuable in what we do, and in that spirit, I accept this for everyone who has put in the work to help older immigrants learn English and assimilate into our communities,” she said.

Project SHINE is a national service-learning program, originally created on campus through grant monies from Temple University in Philadelphia, to build partnerships among community colleges, universities and community organizations to benefit older immigrants, refugees and college students.

Today, the project is part of a university service-learning program where Cal State Fullerton students spend a minimum of 20 hours a semester helping older immigrants learn English or prepare for their citizenship exam.

For the last seven years, the university has partnered with North Orange County Community College District to provide tutoring services to mostly elder learners enrolled in English as a Second Language or citizenship courses at local community colleges and community and senior centers, Macy said.        Immigrants want to learn English for a host of reasons such as to be able to communicate with American-born grandchildren, get a job, pass the citizenship exam, or do simple tasks like answering the telephone or talking to doctors and their children’s teachers.

“Commitment from the Center for Internships & Service-Learning, the university’s Department of Modern Languages and Literatures and the North Orange County Community College District has led to the institutionalization of the project,” Macy said.Fullerton resident Jesus Torres, a beneficiary of Project SHINE, said the program helped him to pass the U.S. citizenship exam this month.

“My tutor helped me with the government and history questions and to practice for the interview part of the exam,” said Torres, who took citizenship courses at the Wilshire Center School of Continuing Education in Fullerton. “I felt comfortable with the Cal State Fullerton students. I could trust them to help me with my questions.”

The eldest of 12, whose siblings and parents live in the Mexican state of Jalisco, Torres wanted to learn English and become a U.S. citizen so he could vote. He hopes to be able to vote in the upcoming presidential election — and already knows which candidate he will vote for.

“We all benefit from the generosity of others, and these volunteers are an inspiration for others to follow,” Alfonso Aguilar, chief of USCIS’ Office of Citizenship, said of the Project SHINE students. “They have made serving the immigrant community a key part of their lives, and by helping their neighbors, they also help our nation.”

For information about Cal State Fullerton’s Project SHINE, visit


Back to Top