The program has evolved over the past 14 years from a small group of student volunteers providing service to non-profit agencies in Merida, Mexico to an academic service-learning program involving approximately 150 students, faculty and staff serving agencies in Merida, Campeche and Puebla, Mexico during Spring Break. Safety and security have always been key elements in staffing, transportation, and program decisions.
Groups in each city are led by 2 Program Leaders (MSU faculty or staff, one female and one male, at least one of the Program Leaders is fluent in Spanish) who are experienced with the IEM program, student group leadership and Mexican culture. As a team they are able to address both intragroup issues and challenges presented by the host community.
Students who have previously participated in the IEM program service as Site Leaders. Their roles are to coordinate service activities at non-profit agency work sites and assist Program Leaders with program activities. Site Leaders are selected through an application process that requires among other characteristics and skills previous participation in the IEM program and Spanish language fluency.
All travel is done in groups. All students and Program Leaders depart from MSU by chartered bus to either Detroit or Chicago for flights to Mexico. Upon arrival each group travels by chartered bus to their hotel. Students travel to and from their service agencies by taxis in small groups (usually 4 students). Taxis are arranged by the hotel and service agency. When traveling in small groups at least one member is a fluent in Spanish.
Academic and service preparations occur during 4 pre-trip meetings. Students are familiarized with safety and security issues associated with traveling in Mexico and the particular city within which they are providing service. Additionally, Program Leaders and Site Leaders address all questions or concerns that individual students have.
All Students are required to complete the Office of Study Abroad’s online orientation prior to departure that includes basic travel safety and security considerations and strategies.
Program Leaders and Site Leaders (undergraduate student program assistants) participate in a safety and security briefing led by Office of Study Abroad staff.
Program Leaders and Site Leaders receive a Faculty Handbook that they carry with them in Mexico. In addition each Program Leader and each Site Leader carries with them cell phone contact information for all program personnel. Cell phones are utilized for program coordination and safety purposes (all Program Leaders carry cell phones).
Students are engaged in program activities from morning until early evening each day. When not in program activities students are required to move around the city in small groups of no less than 4 with at least one member fluent in Spanish. Each student is also issued a card that contains hotel and agency contact information (name, address, and telephone number), Program Leaders’ cell phone numbers.