|Spanish Professor Honored For Involving Herself and Students in Latino Community
November 05, 2007
Contact: Bill Giduz
Charlotte’s Latino American Coalition recently honored Spanish department chair Magdalena Maiz-Peña for her contributions to the local Latino community. The ceremony, held at a gala fiesta to celebrate Mexican Independence Day, cited Maiz-Peña for her dedication to the study of Latin American women writers, her work in higher education, and her decade of service with Latino and non-profit organizations.
|Magdalena Maiz-Peña |
She was president of the state chapter of the Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, and of the Asociación Internacional de Literatura Femenina Hispánica.
At the upcoming Modern Language Association of America annual convention in Chicago she will preside over a panel entitled, “International Humanities in the Age of Terror: Women’s Activism and Scholarship,” sponsored by the Women’s Caucus for the Modern Languages.
Her scholarly interests focus on Hispanic women’s literature, and frequently involve joint research and writing with her husband and Davidson departmental colleague, Professor Luis Peña. She has published two books, and many articles and papers for journals and conferences. She explains that her scholarly activities also focus on “crossing borders,” such as genre and representation, pointing out the commonalities between people of different cultures and geographies.
She traces that interest to her childhood in Monterrey, Mexico. She grew up with a bilingual mother who made her acutely aware of the importance of insights into other cultures, and made sure that Magdalena and her 11 siblings spoke English as well as Spanish.
As important as are her personal efforts on behalf of Latino organizations, Maiz-Peña has also won praise for influencing numerous Davidson students to serve and learn about the growing Latino community around them.
She constantly promotes volunteer opportunities to her students as a means to learn Spanish while providing a community service. They have served as translators at Davidson’s Free Medical Clinic. They have held internships with a lawyer who serves the Latino community, and worked at a Latino store and a Latino radio station. She especially believes that the efforts of Davidson students as tutors in “English as a Second Language” programs have been of immense help to Latinos in accelerating their learning about American citizenship, health issues, gender equality, and inter cultural dialogue.
She’s meeting soon with members of a North Carolina teachers’ organization and non-profit groups to arrange summer internships for Davidson students in public schools. “The classroom experience is extended into an emotional, personal, and existential experience as they come to know this community of people,” she said.
|In addition to teaching students, Maiz-Pena conducted lunchtime Spanish language lessons for faculty and staff several years ago.|
Maiz-Peña said she’s heartened at the eagerness and steadfastness with which students respond to the needs of the Latino community. “Students have embraced the desire to serve,” she said. “The students come back changed. They come back respecting the warmth and work ethic of the Latinos. And they come back understanding the risks Latinos have taken to give a better life to their children.”
She said students recognize that the increasing number of Latino residents is an important development in the New South, and they want to learn more about Latino culture and language. About 360 of Davidson’s 1,700 students are enrolled in Spanish language and literature courses. Maiz-Peña was one of four Spanish professors when she joined the faculty in 1992, but now there are ten faculty members. Almost fifty junior and senior students have declared Spanish as their major.
“High schools are preparing students with more Spanish courses,” she said. “Many of our students are enrolling here already with basic language literacy, and there is a great demand for conversation and culture classes. It’s surprising to me that some of our upper level courses are full of non-majors. It’s amazing to be teaching courses completely in Spanish with students from political science, history, religion, English, anthropology, biology, and other majors. An increasing number of pre-med students are deciding to major or minor in Spanish, or to study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country because they are very aware of the importance of mastering the language and understanding the culture.”
Maiz-Pena’s enthusiasm and sensitive attention to student needs inside and outside the classroom has been rewarded with every one of the college’s major teaching award. She received the Thomas Jefferson Teaching Award in 1995, the Omicron Delta Kappa “Outstanding Teacher” award in 1997, the Student Government Association “Faculty Award” in 2004, and the Hunter-Hamilton Love of Teaching Award in 2006.
|Maiz-Pena at the center of a circle of students in the language laboratory.|
She is gregarious in the extreme, and cannot contain her enthusiasm for her subject or her need to share life and learning with others. She served as faculty advisor for the Organization of Latin American Students for five years, and dines regularly at the Spanish table in Vail Commons. Students find comfort in her large brown eyes as she accepts their confidences, and she expresses genuine joy at their intellectual discoveries.
One of her award nominators wrote, “The potency of her magic was such that I believed I was her personal project, but over the years I realized that every student became her project.”
Her productive scholarship, extracurricular involvements and intense personal attention to students require a tremendous amount of efficiency and energy. “I go home exhausted,” she admitted. “But I can’t see any other way of teaching than an emotional engagement with students and issues. That’s who I am. I think if I don’t feel that some day, it will be a sign that it’s time to get out!”
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently regarded as one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.
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Posted By: Bill Giduz