How Spanish Helps Alumni Get Ahead

Alumni

How Spanish Helps Alumni Get Ahead
by Leah Grout Garris 


In Fall 2011, Mount Mercy hired Assistant Professor of Spanish Belkis Suárez to launch the university’s Spanish minor. Little did she—or anyone else—know the impact this program would have in just a few short years. 

When Assistant Professor of Spanish Belkis Suárez started, five basic courses were in place. Today, the Spanish program offers 14 courses. Her goal was to develop curriculum where students spoke Spanish from day one—even if they’d never spoken it before. “People often say, ‘How is that possible if they don’t know the language?’ But at a small university like ours, students get to be immersed in it.” 

Spanish is the second most-spoken language in the United States. Fatmir Kote ’15 experienced this firsthand when he moved to the United States from Albania. “I lived in Arizona to attend a community college in Tucson. I took the bus, and the majority of the people on the bus spoke Spanish.” As a result, he developed an interest in Spanish, attempting to learn a little on his own.

Spanish students

“Adding Spanish to your degree is almost like having a master’s degree without really having one,” says Belkis Suárez, assistant professor of Spanish. 

When he joined Mount Mercy, his Spanish skills really took off. “Belkis does a great job speaking in Spanish to students about contemporary issues, like immigration, that books don’t,” says Kote. “She immersed us in the language. Not only are you learning Spanish, but you are also learning the culture.” 

A native Spanish speaker from Venezuela, Suárez is known for bringing in news articles from Latin America, the Caribbean, and Spain for class discussions, and sharing recipes in Spanish—along with samples to try. “Culture is intrinsic to language,” says Suárez. “Students learn in context with things like real music, recipes, movies, and food.”

Today, Kote works for the U.S. Department of Labor as a wage and hour investigator, where he helps Spanish-speaking clients get answers to questions about paychecks and overtime. “When you speak Spanish to another Spanish speaker, you lower their defense mechanisms and increase their level of trust immediately,” he explains. 

Tyler Keith ’15 came to Mount Mercy with no Spanish-speaking experience and now speaks it every day. 

Spain

Keith studied German in high school, learning enough to study abroad. When he came to Mount Mercy, however, he identified an opportunity to utilize Spanish. “From the start, I wanted to be a counselor or psychologist,” he says. “My advisor let me know that I should strongly consider the Spanish minor if I wanted to enter a helping profession.” 

“After two years, even before he had earned his Spanish minor, he was already speaking the language well,” says Suárez. 

Keith now spends his days at North Carolina-based Coastal Horizons as a bilingual, in-home therapist. He translates and interprets for his clients’ medical appointments and court hearings, and for families who need help communicating with their children’s schools and teachers.

Keith and Kote both say they wouldn’t be where they are today without their Spanish minor. “Even on my acceptance letter to graduate school, the dean handwrote, ‘Your Spanish will serve you well in this program.’ It was one of the reasons they accepted me,” says Keith. “It also helped me secure my job.”

Tyler

The majority of the 33 students enrolled in Mount Mercy’s minor program have goals similar to those of Kote and Keith: They want to learn Spanish because they know it is an asset. 

“A recent, straight-A student told me, ‘I know if I graduate from Mount Mercy with Cs, but can speak Spanish, I will beat out other candidates who may have graduated with As but don’t know Spanish.’ And I agree,” Suárez says. “Adding Spanish to your degree is almost like having a master’s degree without really having one.” 

Tyler Graduating

Suárez believes that MMU’s unique environment—a small university with high numbers of international students—offers diversity and invites language learning. In her mind, adding Spanish to a quality Mount Mercy education increases career possibilities.

“You’d be amazed at how much people’s faces light up when you introduce yourself in their language,” says Keith. “It’s life-changing.” 

 


 


Belkis Suárez, Assistant Professor of Spanish