A few tears followed by extreme happiness overcame School of Education senior Xochitl Calix-Ulloa when she found out via text message she was nominated for an MLK Spirit Award. In preparation for the Spirit Awards Ceremony, Calix met with the nominees to discuss her work and explore how it connected with students from across campus.
“I’m just honored that I was even nominated. I had the chance to meet with some of the nominees and it was so exciting to be in a room full of people who are passionate about their community and to celebrate all of the values Dr. King celebrated,” said Calix.
Each year, faculty and staff nominate undergraduate students from across campus for the MLK Spirit Award for their dedication to furthering the vision of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This year, 17 students were nominated from LSA and the Schools of Nursing, Public Policy, Education, Information, Kinesiology and Business. Seven students, including Calix, were awarded the Spirit Award.
“It’s not a competition,” said Calix. “It’s about celebrating the community and celebrating people who are taking an active role.”
Although the nominations are anonymous, Calix believes her involvement in community-based learning (CBL) on campus contributed to her nomination.
As a high school student, Calix became involved in the Young People’s Project (YPP). This program uses project-based learning to develop math literacy of elementary, middle, and high schoolers so they can succeed in and out of the classroom. YPP was founded under the leadership of Omo Moses, son of civil rights leader Robert Moses. Their vision is to improve one of the most valuable tools, math literacy, amongst underprivileged students and to simultaneously guide them in understanding the importance of social justice. As a College Math Literacy Worker, Calix worked with 4th grade to 12th grade students.
During her time at the University of Michigan, Calix’s commitment to YPP grew and she began training high school students as Math Literacy Workers in Ypsilanti High School since the beginning of her first year to understand the interactive math module and the importance of mentoring the younger children during outreach.
“There were times when I would feel really down or I was not having a good day and I would go there and it would really cheer me up,” said Calix. “Sometimes (the students) did not get along but when we would start working together they would all be interested and engaged. It was such a beautiful thing to see. It is a motivator for me to continue to do this work.”
In addition to YPP, Calix has been involved in many different groups across U of M’s campus. She works with PILOT, a program that aims to recruit a diverse collection of undergraduate students and guide them in obtaining their personal and professional ambitions and developing the skills and tools to do so. Since so many members care about education, a major annual project is bringing high school students onto campus to form relationships, mentor, and connect them to resources during the “Big House Project.” Additionally, Calix co-founded For Your Intellect, a student organization that promotes education through the five positive elements of hip hop.
Calix also works with the program evaluation team within CEAL’s Student Advisory Group on Engagement (SAGE), and is a member of America Reads, and Assisting Latinos to Maximize Achievement (ALMA).
Calix said being involved in community-based learning has taught her about how much more there is to learn. She also said her CBL experiences remind her to avoid making assumptions about something or someone she may not know a lot about.
“I think that community-based learning really shows you why we should even care about community building,” Calix said. “CBL just really teaches me to be more caring and more respectful towards people.”
After graduating at the end of this semester, Calix plans to earn a Masters in Higher Education and hopes to continue on to earn a PhD in Education from U of M. She sees herself working in Detroit or California, the two places she calls home.