Smells Like Zine Spirit: A student-produced community resource for new Waltham families

Smells Like Zine Spirit magazine is displayed with hands reaching acrossPhoto/Gaelen Morse

Students each submitted two stories for consideration for the final piece.

In the fall of 2021, Waltham Partnership for Youth and the Waltham Public Schools established the new Centro de Bienvenida de Waltham (Waltham Welcome Center) at McDevitt Middle School. The vision was to better provide information and resources to families entering the public school system, particularly Spanish-speaking immigrant families who have recently arrived.

When Megan Ross, the Associate Director of the new Samuels Center for Community Partnerships and Civic Transformation (COMPACT), learned about the important work that Waltham Partnership for Youth is doing to support newly arrived families, she saw the opportunity for what became an exciting collaboration between students in the Journalism Program and the Waltham community.

“We like to say that we’re matchmakers between community and campus partners,” said Ross. “Our goal is to foster sustainable, ethical, and responsible partnerships between campus and community partners to better our world.”

Ross connected Magali Garcia-Pletsch and Marlen Godinez from the Waltham Partnership for Youth with Rachel Raczka, a lecturer within the journalism program. After conversations with the Samuels Center and the Waltham Partnership for Youth, Raczka decided to have students in her Contemporary Media: Internship and  Analysis course produce an informational piece, in their choice of medium, for new Waltham families. 

“The class is an opportunity for students to expand on the skills they developed in previous journalism-related internships,” said Raczka. “This morphed the class into a hands-on industry relevant experience.”

The students quickly took interest in the project, collaborating on the best format to produce the material. Raczka brought in a few print examples for the students to explore, including some zines: self-published, print-work that is typically produced in small batches with images, text, and other visual elements pieced together.

“I brought in a few zines for the students to explore and they loved it. They had an idea for a cover before we even started writing stories,” said Raczka.

After selecting a medium and choosing a punny title with a play on words, ‘Smells like Zine Spirit,’ the students broke into groups to conquer the project within one semester. In addition to making a zine, they also produced a social media account and website that will soon host a digital version of their work. Each student chose to work on art, web design, or social media based on their future interests.

In addition to working in their designated areas, each student produced two stories during the semester. Stories included topics like a profile of Coco Fernandez, the Waltham entrepreneur who became the Celtics' go-to barber, taste tests of different breakfast sandwiches and conchas in downtown Waltham, a guide to local mental health support at different price and accessibility levels, and a list of places to volunteer in Waltham based on your skill set and interests.

Two students from the course, Autumn Bellan ’23 and Jillian Brosofsky ’23, found themselves immersed in different elements of the project. While the two both worked on the web design team, they gravitated towards different topics.

Brosofsky, a psychology major, loved working with community members across the Waltham area. For one of her stories she focused on sharing affordable mental health resources in the Waltham area, collaborating with organizations across Waltham. Through this she discovered the importance of knowing your audience.

“In a lot of our classes we talk about how a newsroom should reflect the community at large. It’s important to highlight diversity and representation accurately, truthfully and authentically,” said Brosofsky. “Going out into the community is the only way to do that.”

Bellan, an English and creative writing major, was most passionate about the visual layout and design of the zine. She worked on the web design team, creating the website for the project on Squarespace, a website host platform. “I really enjoyed getting to learn Squarespace because a lot of businesses use that platform,” said Bellan. “I’m looking to make my own website using the platform. I’m hoping it will also help me in my future career.”

Zine class poses for photo
Photo/Professor Rachel Raczka

Each student chose their area of focus for the zine creation process.

The zine will be available this spring at the Waltham Welcome Center, on campus, and within other Waltham locations. It will be available in both Spanish and English. A Community Engaged Pedagogy Project grant from COMPACT is supporting the production of the zine and its translation into Spanish.

“We are thrilled to be able to support this collaboration,” said COMPACT Director Sara Shostak, “It created a deeply meaningful learning experience for Brandeis students, while advancing the vital work of Waltham Partnership for Youth.”

For Kaytie Dowcett, the Executive Director of the Waltham Partnership for Youth, this is the start of a strong community partnership.

“Sara and Megan took the time to get to know us individually; understand our organization, our programs, and the students and families we serve; and explore partnerships that could help us advance our work in meaningful ways,” she said. “Within the first year of the Center's existence, we're already developing a couple of projects that have the potential for high impact - and I am struck by the sense that this is just the beginning!”

Raczka hopes her students take away valuable skills, but also the importance of authentic journalism. “Serving your community is something that is valuable and rewarding, but also very necessary,” she said. “Local news can be something that people depend on. It can make a difference in their life.”

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