Crim course offers service-learning opportunity in El Salvador

Contaminated drinking water, children with no shoes and small villages without electricity or running water – most students at California State University, Fresno will never know what it is like to live in such impoverished conditions.

Beginning this January, students will have the opportunity to travel to El Salvador as part of the Victim Services in El Salvador course, CRIM 180T. Dr. Steven Walker, associate dean of the college of social sciences, is spearheading the trip and hopes to have at least 10 students sign up for the unique course.

Walker said students from all majors would benefit greatly from the cultural experience and bring different perspectives to the class.

“Sometimes in the United States we tend to be pretty myopic, and my view is a good liberal arts education means that we broaden our world view,” Walker said. “It’s imperative if you want a broader world view, which I think is important, to get out and to do things. The additional thing here is that we’re not just going to another country we’re actually doing a service. And that’s important.”

The course, which runs from Jan. 4 – 13, includes three main components: daily lectures, a service-learning opportunity where students will help build a community drinking well and interact with the local people and excursions to civil war and natural disaster sites throughout the country.

Walker, a clinical psychologist, started as a professor in the criminology department at Fresno State 25 years ago. Although this is his first time taking a class to El Salvador, he has visited the country four other times for various service projects.

For this course, students will help build a drinking well in El Puente, a community that, up until now, has used contaminated water from a nearby river. Activities at the local school and church will also provide the group an opportunity to interact with the children and families of the community, Walker said.

Along with historical lectures on the civil war that was fought from 1980 to 1992, students will visit numerous war sites and will have a chance to interview civil war victims and survivors.

Fresno State became the first university to create a victim services certificate in 1985. This was followed by the victim services summer institute in 1989 and the victimology option under the criminology major in 1992. Walker said in the last 20 years, nearly 3,000 people have graduated with a certificate or the major at Fresno State, placing advocates in about 25 percent of all victim services agencies in the U.S.

“It’s going to be interesting to see their [students] impression of the country versus their preconceptions,” he said.

“I hope that as a result of this, [students] look at victim services in the United States closer,” Walker said. “There are needs in Fresno County that are unseen just like the poverty that was unseen before going to El Salvador. But I hope that they come back and apply themselves locally as a result of this experience.”

The cost for the class is $2,000 and includes tuition, housing, meals, tours, local lectures, in-country transportation and an interpreter. Not included in the fee are airfare, travel health insurance, textbooks and personal spending money.

Study Abroad scholarships through International Studies and IRA funding from Fresno State’s Associated Students, Inc. may be available to help cover some costs for students, Walker said. A deposit of $250 is due Sept. 30.

For more information on the course and trip, contact Dr. Steven Walker at (559)278-8823 or

Previous Story

Generation why?

Next Story

Aerospace professor receives medals