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Spanish at Aquinas College

Alumni Profiles

Aubrey Ruiz '19

Aubrey Ruiz (2019) began her academic career at Aquinas College in 2015. Although Ms. Ruíz is from Salt Lake City, Utah; she chose to pursue her education in the Midwest. One of the most weighing factors in her decision to attend Aquinas are the highly sought-after Study Abroad Programs offered through the Advantage Center. As a Spanish Major in the Department of World Languages, this program supports her desire to learn and explore the Spanish Speaking World. In the Fall of 2017, Aubrey embarked on her journey to Salamanca, Spain where she studied for the semester.

Electing Aquinas College has been a life changing decision for Aubrey. The courses she has taken at Aquinas have advanced her Spanish speaking, writing, and reading skills. A specific course that has successfully challenged her is Engaging Latinx Grand Rapids. Part of the requirements for this course include a Service Learning component. Aubrey has had the opportunity to volunteer on a weekly basis at César E. Chávez Elementary School.

This school is part of the Grand Rapids Public School system and is a transitional bilingual elementary school. Aubrey aids a third-grade classroom with very energetic students. Several students in that classroom have recently moved to the United States from Spanish speaking countries such as Guatemala and Mexico. These students depend heavily on the communication between Aubrey and themselves to understand and complete their given tasks. During her volunteer hours, Aubrey translates the English directions from the teacher into Spanish, and helps explain the task. This is rewarding for Aubrey because she witnesses the direct results of aiding children in their education.

Ms. Ruiz intends to graduate in May 2019. Eventually, Aubrey plans to return to postgraduate study in order to become an Elementary Teacher in a bilingual or Spanish immersion program. It is her hope to implement her language degree in her daily life and the lives of others.

Azra Fazil Jamal '17

The Spanish education that I received at Aquinas College was absolutely wonderful! What I enjoyed the most about it was how much learning took place outside of the classroom. My warmest memories include road trips with friends and faculty to outside universities such as Saginaw Valley State University and Wayne State University to attend professional conferences, network with other passionate Spanish scholars, and present research in the field! Another highlight of my AQ Spanish career was volunteering as a Kindergarten teacher aide in a Spanish-speaking classroom at a nearby elementary school. What started out as only a semester-long volunteering endeavor for one of my Spanish classes, ended up as a year-long commitment. I had so much fun engaging with the kids of the local Spanish-speaking community that I just could not pull myself away from them. 

My overall experience at Aquinas College was just as meaningful. The faculty members of every single department knew me by my first and last name and always thought to include me in extra-curricular opportunities that they thought would interest me specifically and align with my future goals. Everyone was always flexible in scheduling one-on-one time for reviewing lecture material and answering questions. No matter the season, the charming campus always felt very welcoming and cozy. A simple walk through the tree-lined paths would clear my mind and relieve any study stress I was experiencing. AQ is the kind of learning atmosphere that you remember forever and truly reflect upon with nostalgia after you graduate. 

Currently, I am an optometry student at the Michigan College of Optometry at Ferris State University. I am wrapping up my third year and preparing for my clinical externship rotations which will take place in various cities across Michigan next year. I can certainly say that AQ was one of the most influential reasons on why I was accepted into one of the top 10 optometry programs in the nation. The Spanish education I received at AQ shaped me into a more well-rounded candidate who had more to offer than just standardized test scores and scientific knowledge. The admissions committee was more interested in my Spanish language and research background than anything else in my portfolio! We spent the majority of my admissions interview chatting about my experience interviewing native Spanish speakers around West Michigan for linguistics research. I shared with them how complete strangers opened up to me and shared powerful life stories for hours on end as we shared warm cups of coffee. The AQ Spanish program allowed me to adopt a more global perspective, and taught me how to communicate at the highest level in Spanish and inevitably, in English! These communication skills are now with me for life-at job interviews, in the medical exam room with patients, or even with strangers in coffee shops right around the corner or across international borders! I am immensely thankful for all of the intelligent, kind, and devoted AQ Spanish faculty that helped me achieve all that I have so far, I miss you all!

Alumnus Profile: Lauren Andrini '16

AQ student Lauren Andrini graduated from Aquinas in May 2016. She triple majored in Spanish, Political Science and International Studies. Lauren believes majoring in Spanish helped her be a better student and was one of the factors that allowed her to obtain a job as a legal assistant at an immigration law firm during her undergrad career. Lauren studied abroad with the Aquinas Spain Program in the fall of her junior year and this experience truly changed her life. Studying abroad allowed her to learn more about Spanish language and culture, while developing important life skills. Lauren truly enjoyed her time at Aquinas College where she found the small class sizes and incredible professors very helpful. She loves the beautiful campus and the sense of community. Lauren will attend University of Notre Dame Law School this fall to work towards her dream of becoming an immigration attorney. She feels her Spanish degree has played an important role of shaping her future goals.

Alumnus Profile: Trent Schmeling '15

Trent Schmeling standing next to a CMU signThe undergraduate program at Aquinas transforms students into professionals that are well-equipped to handle any and all challenge that come their way. The curriculum teaches students relevant, exciting information while the community gives students the opportunity to develop interpersonal skills that are crucial to success in a world with so much disconnect. Trent Schmeling, a member of the 2015 graduating class, benefited from the liberal arts curriculum and several student organizations. He not only learned how to stay up to date in his field of study after graduation, but he also learned how to communicate with others in meaningful ways. He decided to pursue a career in the medical field during his first year at Aquinas and rapidly became interested in the Spanish language.

He was aware of the large Latino population in the United States and decided to develop his Spanish-speaking abilities in the hope of effectively interacting with members of this minority in the future. He was aware of the rampant discrimination against Latinos in the United States, but he was not familiar with all the details. He did not understand how this discrimination arose, how media contributed to the stereotypes, or how other minorities had overcome this injustice until he took an independent study in Latino literature and film. This course integrated historical circumstances with the current situation and gave him the knowledge required to take a stance on the issue. He has taken this knowledge with him to Central Michigan University where he is a medical student in the 2019 graduating class. The depth of the physician-patient relationship depends on the physician’s understanding of the patient. Sympathy validates the concerns that the patient has, but empathy strengthens the bond between the physician and the patient. Therefore, physicians that are aware of institutionalized barriers can treat patients effectively. 

The four-year, allopathic, medical program at the College of Medicine is demanding but gives students the opportunity to sharpen their skills in a simulated environment where decisions do not mean life or death. The admissions process is long and tiresome for both the candidates and the admissions team. The admissions team looks for candidates that know how to empathize and talk with others in a clear, coherent manner. The Spanish program at Aquinas taught Trent how to look at issues from several points of view and gave him an advantage in the admissions process. He was accepted in May of 2015. He has joined a Spanish immersion group to continue sharpening the skills that come along with learning a foreign language. He looks forward to taking advantage of his Spanish-speaking abilities to comfort patients in their time of need.


Alumna Profile: Peri Erhan, '14

Peri Erhan standing next to "Welcome to KidsFirst" signDuring her time at Aquinas College, Peri dual majored in Psychology and Spanish. She currently works as a Case Manager at D.A. Blodgett – St. John’s in the KidsFirst Emergency Shelter. Knowing Spanish has been a key asset for Peri in her career, especially in the human services field. Without her Spanish language skills, she would not be able to serve her clients who are only Spanish speaking, many times she is the only person who can communicate with those clients. The knowledge that Peri has gained through Aquinas’s Spanish program as well as her service learning and study abroad experiences has prepared her not only to communicate with her clients but understand the cultural dynamics that relate to their needs. Aquinas’s high academic standard has also prepared her for her current graduate studies to get her Master of Social Work degree and licensure. Also, the networking that Peri gained during her time at Aquinas was very helpful in her endeavor of looking for a job after graduation. Peri participated in service learning projects, excursions, and study abroad programs that were offered through Aquinas’s Spanish Program. She volunteered at Cesar Chavez Elementary working with young students in the ESL classroom through one of Aquinas’s classes during her second year in the program. In the fall of 2011, Peri studied abroad in Salamanca, Spain for a semester where she studied Spanish language and culture. Studying abroad is an amazing experience for any student, and especially for a student who has goals to work with a diverse population in their career, it provides them with the skills to appreciate and understand other cultures as well as gain an independence that can only be experienced through being in a completely new and uncomfortable environment. Peri’s Spanish language skills dramatically improved after her study abroad experience and has given her more confidence in her speaking and writing skills as well as credibility when saying that she speaks Spanish. 

Peri is in her second year at Western Michigan University working towards her Master of Social Work degree. She recently went to Puerto Rico with one of her classes in the MSW program for a service learning trip. Aquinas’s academic rigor has prepared her for the classroom expectations in graduate school, however, her experiential learning experiences has prepared her for the real world application of her Spanish education and contributions to the community.


In-the-Field: Lindy Nawrocki ‘14
Lindy Nawrocki standing next to "Casa juan Diego" art 
Throughout my experience at Aquinas College I learned inside and outside of the classroom.  One of my course of studies was within the Spanish Program of the Department of World Languages. The Spanish I acquired enabled me to communicate at my internship with a not-for-profit organization in Grand Rapids.

Additionally, the "Border Issues," independent study I took with Dr. Shelli Rottschafer, enlightened me on the importance of undocumented immigrants to the United States. After reading Rumbo Al Hermoso Norte (Into the Beautiful North) by Luis Alberto Urrea, whom also was one of Aquinas College Contemporary Writers, I better understood the circumstances that most people face when seeking a better life in the United States. Inhumane, dangerous, and terrifying conditions await many who come to the United States. These issues are faced often by refugees and immigrants while making the journey to cross the border into the United States.  Those who undertake this voyage feel the weight of the need to become survivors.
The survivor spirit is incredible. I have the honor of observing this on a regular basis as I currently serve at Casa Juan Diego in Houston, Texas. Casa Juan Diego is a Catholic Worker House that offers temporary hospitality to refugees and immigrants to the United States. I work at the house for women and children, many of whom are also survivors of domestic violence. Also part of Casa Juan Diego are houses for men, health care clinics, and another house located in Matamoros, Mexico. 
Casa Juan Diego was founded in 1980 by Mark and Louise Zwick. The Zwicks realized the immense housing need for those who crossed the border without documentation. Casa Juan Diego offers hope to those of need.  It is an inspiration to witness those who share their real-life survival stories of crossing the border into the United States.

Alumna Profile: Katie Carty ‘10
Katie Carty The exceptional opportunities Aquinas offers extend far beyond the classroom. For alumna Katie Carty ‘10, her experiences at Aquinas paved the road to achieving her dreams. An English and Spanish major with a minor in creative writing, Katie was drawn to the many clubs, activities, and events at Aquinas that accentuated her passion for her studies. Katie also participated in the College’s study abroad program, spending a semester in Costa Rica. It was this program that inspired Katie’s passion to become a global learner, joining her scholarly endeavors with real world applications.
Since graduation, Katie’s life has continued to be shaped by her time as a Saint. One of the most influential aspects of
Aquinas for Katie was the College’s emphasis on service. Now fluent in Spanish, Katie has traveled to El Salvador six times, working as a language interpreter and leading volunteer groups to work on a range of projects with a rural, indigenous community there.

These experiences have been the chief influences in the development of Katie’s studies as she continues to further her education. In 2012, Katie graduated with her Master’s degree in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American studies from SUNY Buffalo in New York. At Buffalo, Katie discovered her love for teaching. In her professors at Aquinas, Katie remembered an enthusiasm for teaching that extended beyond academics. It was the time her professors took to be caring and even develop friendships with her that gave her a space where she could flourish as a student. Katie emulated these teaching techniques from a desire to be the best teacher she could think of - an Aquinas teacher. In return she witnessed students who became passionate learners excited for their academic journeys, which further solidified her goal to become a college professor.

In the fall of 2013, Katie began her studies in the doctoral program in Spanish at the University of Texas at Austin. Within her discipline, Katie is focused on indigenous literatures and cultures, and her work is centered on comparative study between indigenous peoples in both North and Latin America. Katie is particularly interested in issues surrounding self-representation in indigenous identity and resistance movements. As Katie continues her work at UT Austin, she hopes to engage in ethnographic study, joining her research with social justice to help enhance the platform for Indigenous-Latino issues, and create a widely accessible space for these students in academia.

Three women standing next to each other
two men and two women in a group photo

In April 2014, Katie joined Dr. Shelli Rottschafer, Aquinas Associate Professor of Spanish, on a panel for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Council for Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) conference in Durango, Co. The paper Katie presented was titled “Los argentinos descienden de los barcos: La raza invisible y la identidad indígena como una fuerza de resistencia” and focused on identity and resistance in indigenous groups in contemporary Argentina. For Katie, it was an honor to present at the RMCLAS conference. It is an encouraging conference for students and a fantastic venue for networking with great minds from across disciplines, as well as a valuable space for accessing new ideas. Most of all, it was wonderful to present with Dr. Rottschafer and continue to maintain the Aquinas connection. Katie is looking forward to participating in RMCLAS in the years to come.