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from 12:00 to 5:00pm PST

on April 29th


Open to the Public

Hosted on Zoom

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This virtual event will be hosted by the Professional Writing Committee and the UC Merced Writing Project on behalf of the Merritt Writing Program and Writing Studies. Please share the attached flyer and this email with your students, colleagues, and communities.


For questions, please contact event organizers Christa Fraser at or Heather Parker Devrick at


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This exciting series of one-hour virtual panels is intended to foster discussion about community engagement possibilities here at UC Merced and in our surrounding region.


*Please scroll down below the abbreviated schedule for a complete list of speakers and co-moderators.



Registrants are welcome to attend any and all of the following conference panels:


12-1pm Keynote, "Signifiers and Metaphors: Langston Hughes’ Poetry and Youth Writing Activities” w/Ashaki Jackson


1-2pm Undergraduate Research and Publishing w/UC Merced students


2-3pm Building and Maintaining Diverse Global Communities w/community engagement leaders from the International Writing Program and the Voices and Faces Project


3-4pm Creating Community Engagement and Institutional Programs w/community engagement leaders from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA)


4-5pm Engaging Regional Communities via Media Projects w/community engagement leaders from the Digital NEST on the Central Coast

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12-1pm Keynote, "Signifiers and Metaphors: Langston Hughes’ Poetry and Youth Writing Activities”


Ashaki M. Jackson, Ph.D., is a social psychologist and poet. She has worked with youth moving through the juvenile justice system through research, evaluation and creative arts mentoring for one decade. Her work has appeared in CURA: A Literary Magazine of Art and Action, Pluck! Journal of Affrilachian Arts and Culture and Prairie Schooner among other journals and anthologies. Writ Large Press published her chapbook, Surveillance, in March 2016, and MIEL published a second chapbook, Language Lesson, in August 2016. Jackson is also Publisher at The Offing online magazine and co-founder of Women Who Submit, a community that supports women in submitting their literary works to top tier publications. She earned her MFA (poetry) from Antioch University Los Angeles and her doctorate (social psychology) from Claremont Graduate University. She lives in Los Angeles.



1-2pm Undergraduate Research and Publishing w/UC Merced students


UC Merced Undergraduate Researchers and Publishers will participate in this panel on their undergraduate research and publishing experiences.



2-3pm Building and Maintaining Diverse Global Communities w/community engagement leaders from the International Writing Program (IWP) and the Voices and Faces Project


Co-moderator Susannah Shive is a writer and strategist supporting K-12 nonprofit initiatives. In her work, she strives to elevate the expertise of teachers and leaders committed to inclusive, equitable education for every student. Previously she served as Distance Learning & Instructional Administrator for the IWP at the University of Iowa, where she led the development of the IWP's global MOOC program with the mission of providing freely accessible creative writing education for all aspiring writers. She is a graduate of Seattle Central Community College, the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University, and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.


Pamela Marston is the Digital Learning Coordinator at the IWP and has taught and designed literature and creative writing courses at university level for over twenty years, in hybrid, online, and campus course types. Her work at the IWP from 2018 onwards promotes emerging genres as well as specific program policy objectives such as resilience, marginalized female voices, and diversity. Her courses always involve virtual/online exchange, and often challenge the expected definitions of community.


Dr. Peter Gerlach is summer institute coordinator at the IWP and adjunct assistant professor in the International Studies Program at The University of Iowa. He received his BA and MA degrees in English from Ripon College and the University of Northern Colorado, respectively. After serving in the US Peace Corps in Mongolia, he earned a PhD in Cultural Foundations of Education from Syracuse University where he conducted dissertation research on the lived experiences of international students at Grinnell College. His teaching and research areas include international education and international studies, refugee and immigrant studies, English as Second Language (ESL), and community-engaged learning. Dr. Gerlach serves on the International Studies Academic Advisory Board at The University of Iowa and on the board of directors at the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council (ICFRC), the Council of International Visitors to Iowa Cities (CIVIC), and the Refugee and Immigrant Association (RIA).


Alisa Weinstein is the Youth Programs Coordinator at the International Writing Program. She received a BFA in Drama and MA in Educational Theatre from New York University, and a PhD in Anthropology from Syracuse University; she also studied at Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi and conducted dissertation research on a Fulbright-Nehru scholarship. Among her other writing, she authored scripts for India’s Sesame Street, Galli Galli Sim Sim, and is currently at work on an ethnography on tailors working in Jaipur, India. A co-founder of Home Ec. Workshop in Iowa City, she often teaches knitting and sewing to all ages.


Marline Johnson is an interdisciplinary artist, working in the visual and language arts, who trained at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. She is a Program Officer at the Chicago Foundation for Women and works as a coordinator in the youth writing programs of The Voices and Faces Project. Her work as an artist and advocate addresses the ordinary acts of racial and gender oppression that have become embedded within our culture today.


R. Clifton Spargo is a novelist, short story writer, scholar, and essayist. Author of the novel Beautiful Fools as well as two books of literary philosophy, he has twice been a fellow at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and is co-creator and workshop leader of the testimonial writing program of The Voices and Faces Project. He teaches creative writing at Yale University.



3-4pm Creating Community Engagement and Institutional Programs w/community engagement leaders from the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA)


Co-Moderator Dr. Adam Fleenor is a recent graduate from the Interdisciplinary Humanities program at UC Merced. He teaches sociology at CSU Stanislaus and is preparing a research methods article related to the study of California Native American mapmakers. His study is focused on how spatial technology supports critical pedagogy and land-based knowledge-making. As part of his findings, he supported the premise that Western styles of teaching and learning can benefit from Indigenous epistemology and holistic approaches in exchanges of knowledgethat is anti-colonial and antiracist. He writes about sharing power in research and practicing transparency in intention and enduring reciprocity that often outlast research projects. He is in his third year of contributing to the Tribal GIS conference where he assists in recruiting Native mapmakers to share their knowledge with peers.


Deborah Taffa (Quechua and Laguna Pueblo) is the Director of the MFA CW Program at IAIA in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Winner of the PEN American Jean Stein Grant, her memoir WHISKEY TENDER is forthcoming from HARPERCOLLINS in 2023. A MacDowell, Rona Jaffe-Hedgebrook, Kranzberg, and Tin House Fellow, she's from the Quechan Nation and Laguna Pueblo.


Jessie Ryker-Crawford (White Earth Anishinaabe) is Director of the MFA Cultural Administration Department at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA). She received her MA in Cultural Anthropology – with a minor in American Indian Studies – and PhD in Sociocultural Anthropology from the University of Washington. Her academic and professional work has focused upon the Indigenization of the museum field and the inclusion of Native voice in museum exhibitions and the care of collections.


Jamie Figueroa is the author of the critically acclaimed novel BROTHER, SISTER, MOTHER, EXPLORER (Catapult 2021), called “masterly” by Publishers Weekly in a starred and boxed review and “a beautifully crafted, poetic book” in the New York Times Book Review. The book was Longlisted for the Center for Fiction First Novel Prize, was an Indie Next Pick and was named Bustle, Electric Literature, The Millions, and Rumpus Most Anticipated Debut of the Year. Figueroa is Boricua (Afro-Taíno) by way of Ohio and is a longtime resident of northern New Mexico. Her writing has appeared in American Short Fiction, Emergence Magazine, Elle, McSweeney’s, and Agni, among others. She received a Truman Capote Award and was a Bread Loaf Rona Jaffe Scholar. A VONA alum, she received her MFA in Creative Writing from IAIA.



4-5pm Engaging Rural and Regional Communities via Media Projects w/community engagement and program leaders from the Digital NEST


Co-Moderator Colton Dennis has been Executive Director of the Merced County Arts Council since April 2016. He has been the chairperson for the Arts & Culture Advisory Commission for the City of Merced since January 2019. He sits on the boards of Merced Shakespearefest, United Way of Merced County, and the Merced Main Street Association, and is a member of “Conversations on Race” and “Veterans of Color of Merced County.” Colton manages the operations of the Multicultural Arts Center (the MAC) and all programming of the Merced County Arts Council (MCAC).


Yazmin Herrera is the co-founder and Associate Director of Programs at Digital NEST, which “CONNECTS youth to a skill-building community that TRANSFORMS them into professionals who can CREATE successful careers, innovative solutions, and prosperous communities.” She is also one of the founders and Board Vice President of the Watsonville Film Festival. She is dedicated to helping people realize their potential, encouraging them to be lifelong learners and figuring out how we can fundamentally change the purpose of education and the way we educate.


Xitlali Cabadas is the People, Projects, and Leadership (PP+L) Manager for the Watsonville Branch of the Digital NEST. The NEST’s PP+L teaches leadership, communication, and project management- skills for leading, businesses, and teams. 


Isa Moreno (they/them/theirs) attended UCLA where they graduated Summa Cum Laude in 2021 with a B.A. in Chicano/a/x Studies and a minor in Film, Television, and Digital Media. While at UCLA, they worked as an academic peer counselor and internship facilitator for the Chicanx/Latinx Student Retention Center. Eventually, they were able to explore their artistic passion as the lead Graphic Designer for the UCLA LGBTQ Campus Resource Center. Isa is currently an Americorps VIP Fellow, serving at the Digital NEST, and leading the NESTcorps program, focused on training youth with skills for community-based research and organizing. As an educator, community member, artist and lover, Isa is excited to continue creating art with the people from their hometown in mind.

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