Photo of student typing


In the wake of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, students in UNI’s Department of Languages and Literatures are coming together to offer their help during a time of need.

In particular, a group of students in Dr. Jennifer Cooley’s Translation class – who finished up their course just before spring break – are offering to volunteer their time in translating COVID-19 materials for the Spanish-speaking public.

Cooley says the class has reached out to the Black Hawk County Public Health Department, local nonprofits, as well as county and city governments to see if there are urgent community needs to translate COVID-19 information.

“It’s important to ensure that every person has access to information in a time like this, and I hope our class can help with that,” Cooley said. “Students are already coming forward to volunteer to translate as needed."

In general, community service projects are a big focus in the class, Cooley said, but now more than ever these translation services may be essential.

Graduate Assistant Jordan Peterson, who is helping coordinate the efforts, says the response from the community has been astounding so far.

“This is a dire resource that the Cedar Valley and the state needs,” he said. “We reached out to government agencies and NGOs, like the Food Bank of Iowa, that may not have the resources or capacity to translate their documents. All of the institutions that we contacted said that they are in desperate need of this service. We were able to collect far more documents than we ever expected. Both the students and the partnering institutions get so much out of this project.”

In the past, classes have done translations for UNI, the Waterloo School District, Iowa Legal Aid, Operation Threshold, the Boys and Girls Club, the cities of Cedar Falls and Waterloo, and the public libraries in Cedar Falls and Waterloo. They have also worked with foster care providers, women's shelters and medical care providers to translate important documents, and help meet the needs of the community.

Sydney Coloff, a Spanish and TESOL double major who was in the class, says she plans to continue the effort by volunteering to translate for the House of Hope women’s shelter in Waterloo.

“Many people are self-quarantining and working from home in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, but many more have recently lost their jobs and may not be able to pay rent or feed themselves or their families,” Coloff said. “Services like the House of Hope are crucial during this time of instability. I hope that by providing their message and application in Spanish that we can help women who already face the massive obstacle of not fluently speaking the majority language. Although it may seem like a small thing, finding resources in your native language can provide a lot of comfort and relief, especially during a time of worldwide panic. I hope we can help reach a lot of people in need.”