Julia Oliver Rajan, Ph.D.

Associate Professor of Instruction
ACTFL Certified OPI Tester of Spanish

Julia specializes in teaching Spanish as a heritage language, sociolinguistics, and service-learning. She performs ACTFL Oral Proficiency Interviews (OPI) for students seeking official assessments, e.g., for grant applications, and conducts placement interviews for heritage speakers of Spanish. 

Julia developed a digital archive about the coffee zone's dialect of her native Puerto Rico. This digital record, titled Coffee Zone: Del cafetal al futuro, was funded by the Arts and Humanities Initiative Standard Grant and the Digital Arts and Humanities Research. The website is part of a permanent exhibition at Casa de Mujeres Bartoleñas in Lares, Puerto Rico. Julia's other areas of interest include community engagement and service-learning. Her textbook Amigos de la comunidad: Curso de aprendizaje-servicio en espanol provides students with a practical guide to undergo a service-learning experience within local Spanish-speaking communities effectively.

She was chair of the 5th Symposium on Spanish as a Heritage Language (2018) and the Hispanic Studies Review editor special issue dedicated to "Spanish as a Heritage Language."    

Julia has a Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics from the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she coordinated a federally funded college education project for bilingual children in the Chicago Public Schools.

After joining the University in 2013, she has developed the following courses:

  • SPAN:1505 – Intermediate Spanish for Heritage Speakers
  • SPAN:3000 – Cultural Narratives for Heritage Speakers
  • SPAN:3092 – Spanish in the Community
  • EDTL:3492/SPAN:3192 – Teaching Spanish Heritage Speakers

Julia received in fall 2021 the Advancing Environmental Justice Strategic Initiative Course Development Grant. She is currently developing an upper-level/graduate service-learning course for spring 2023 - Community Voices: Language, Race, and the Environment. This course will focus on the ecological issues of our local Spanish-speaking communities in Iowa and how language helps shape these groups' physical and psychological worlds.

Research Interests

  • Caribbean Spanish
  • Language & Identity
  • Spanish as a Heritage Language in the US
  • Sociolinguistics
  • Service-Learning


book cover for Amigos de la communidad

Amigos de la comunidad: Curso de aprendizaje-servicio en español provides students with a practical guide to effectively complete a service-learning experience within local Spanish-speaking communities.

Unit 1 introduces students to service-learning, underscores the importance of learning about the local community, and reviews key concepts regarding the legal system in the United States. Unit 2 equips students with ways to talk effectively about complex topics related to public health, LGBTQ+ and Latinx communities. In Unit 3, students learn how culture can influence what is taught in schools, universal human rights, and how each of us has the power to better our communities. The final chapter guides students through a project that enables them to evaluate what they have learned during their service-learning experience. Each unit features learning objectives, vocabulary, grammar, examples of language variation among Spanish speakers, and writing activities to help students cultivate Spanish language use and enrich their service-learning experience.
Amigos de la comunidad is a definitive resource for students pursuing a service-learning experience within Spanish-speaking communities in the United States. 

Research areas
  • Spanish
Julia Oliver Rajan

477 Phillips Hall (PH)
Iowa City, IA 52242
United States