Dr. Jose Pino’s passion for teaching and service has taken him from Colombia to Spain, New York and Georgia. Through each chapter of his career, he’s remained dedicated to and heavily involved in his community, including in Middle Georgia as a Mercer University professor for the last 18 years.
Dr. Pino, associate professor of Spanish and chair of the Foreign Languages and Literatures Department at Mercer, was born and raised in Manizales, Colombia, and realized his career aspirations early.
“I wanted to be a teacher all my life. That was my vocation,” he said.
He completed bachelor’s and master’s degrees in education at University of Caldas in Colombia, a master’s degree in Spanish at University of Salamanca in Spain, and a Ph.D. at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In between these educational pursuits, he was selected for opportunities that honed his teaching skills and connected him with local Hispanic communities.
Following his bachelor’s degree, an ambassador exchange program first brought him to America, where he worked with high school students and adults in Rochester, New York.
“There were very few Hispanics there at the time,” Dr. Pino said. “They didn’t know about the culture, so that was my mission — to be an ambassador.”
Later, he was asked to go to Atlanta to teach Spanish to elementary, middle and high school students in the DeKalb County School District and adults at Georgia Piedmont Technical College, and then to Spain to teach in Salamanca. After completing his Ph.D. in Nebraska, he returned to Georgia around 2005 to join the faculty at Mercer’s campus in Macon.
“I was looking for a teaching-oriented university like Mercer. Teaching was what I loved. I was accepted to two larger schools, but I wanted to be more in the South, at a quiet, smaller and teaching-oriented (university), and I already knew the teaching system in Georgia,” he said.
At Mercer, Dr. Pino has enjoyed opportunities to conduct community research and incorporate service-learning elements into his classes. Community involvement helps students improve their language skills, cultural competence and global understanding and makes them more open-minded, he said.
He initiated study abroad experiences for Mercer’s Spanish program, which have included spring and summer trips to Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Ecuador and Honduras. In addition, each semester he teaches one service-learning Spanish class, during which students contribute to a community project that’s connected to the course content.
“It requires a lot of work, time, connections, but it’s worth it,” Dr. Pino said. “It helps our students. It’s for them. I love helping the community, of course, but when (students) go outside, they have real contact with Hispanics, talk with them, and (get to) know the needs. They realize how important Spanish is and also what their vocation is. It helps in many ways to develop all their competencies and skills and also to grow.”
One of the first events Dr. Pino organized at Mercer was a medical Spanish workshop for the School of Medicine, which showed him there was an opportunity to do more in the community. Since then, Spanish students have helped Dr. Pino with numerous service projects. Mercer’s student Hispanic Health Organization, for which Dr. Pino serves as the faculty advisor, facilitates opportunities for students to serve the Hispanic community outside their classes.
Dr. Pino has forged connections with countless Middle Georgia organizations and agencies. They reach out to him when they have a need, and he and his students assist whenever possible.
“As usual, I’m always involved with too many things,” Dr. Pino said with a laugh.
Among the partners and programs he has worked with are the Bibb County School District; Middle Georgia Immigration Coalition; Beyond the Bell substance abuse prevention program; Family Advancement Ministries; First Steps and Parents as Teachers programs through the United Way of Central Georgia; Mamás Latinas de Warner Robins; El Gallo 94.3 radio station; NotiVision Georgia; and many local churches and city agencies.
“Jose Pino, a respected professor at Mercer University, has shown exceptional dedication to the Hispanic community of Middle Georgia,” said Monica Pirela, director of NotiVision Georgia. “Alongside his team at Mercer, he has organized key events that provide essential resources, education and support to the Spanish-speaking population, making a significant difference in the lives of many residents in the region. His tireless dedication and inclusive vision have notably contributed to community empowerment and the promotion of equal opportunities. Jose is a humble man with a great willingness to serve.”
Dr. Pino said he often receives calls from members of the Hispanic community asking about immigration, jobs, food banks, passports, international transcripts evaluation, GED tests and other topics, and he provides them with resources and directs them to the proper agencies for assistance. In recent years, people have inquired about college scholarships and financial aid more than any other issue, and Dr. Pino has helped some community members through collaboration with Mercer’s admissions and financial aid offices. However, there is still a need in these areas, and he is working with Mercer on more scholarship opportunities for the Hispanic community.
In addition, Dr. Pino and his students regularly provide document translation services. For example, they translated COVID-19 information into Spanish for Atrium Health Navicent and Mercer School of Medicine and will be translating resources for the School of Medicine’s autism toolkit grant project. They have also worked on resources for CareSource of Georgia, Community Health Care Systems and Parents as Teachers.
In addition, Mercer students assist with activities that focus on the Middle Georgia Hispanic community, including health events and programs for Hispanic Heritage Month, which is Sept. 15-Oct. 15. Earlier this month, they helped with Hispanic heritage events at two local schools; the Hispanic Celebration at Smiley’s Flea Market; and the Macon-Bibb Hispanic Festival, which Dr. Pino started at Mercer two years ago and is now held in Rosa Parks Square.
“Jose Pino is a pillar in our Hispanic community,” said Moises Velez, director of Que Pasa newspaper. “We can count on him to promote and engage students with community events like health fairs, and opportunities for both students and Spanish-speaking people.”
Dr. Pino’s signature program is the Hispanic Health Fair, which he co-founded eight years ago with a Mercer Service Scholar. It is the only health fair in Middle Georgia that is geared toward the Hispanic community, although anyone is welcome to attend.
Held every spring at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church in Macon, the free event provides attendees health information, resources and screenings in both Spanish and English. The initiative expanded in 2021 so that an event could also be offered in Savannah.
The 2023 Macon event was attended by 132 people from across Middle Georgia and Atlanta. Two students are leading organizational efforts for the 2024 event, which will be on March 16.
“There was a need. There was no medical information in Spanish, no basic health screenings. Also, there was a lack of physicians who spoke the language. After that, we started the Hispanic Health Fair,” Dr. Pino said. “People ask for it. They love it. I hope it can continue.
“The Hispanic community in Georgia is growing. We have a lot of refugees and migrants. It helps with problems like lack of insurance, language issues, trust and money issues.”
While the Hispanic Health Fair helps, it’s not a long-term solution to medical obstacles the Hispanic community faces, Dr. Pino said. He would like to one day see a Hispanic health clinic with regular hours opened to address those needs. Dr. Pino also hopes to start a medical Spanish minor or certificate program at Mercer, which would benefit pre-med students as well as Hispanic patients.
“Jose’s work with the community has impacted Central Georgia and Mercer,” said Libertad Aranza, Spanish lecturer at Mercer. “He is one of the advocates, especially in the health services field, with the Hispanic community. His work has provided the opportunity for students taking his medical Spanish courses to learn and apply knowledge through the implementation of the Hispanic Health Fair that he hosts every year in collaboration with different community partners.”