New award in language instruction announced by college

By: Linda Glaser, 
September 19, 2016

The College of Arts & Sciences announces a new annual award recognizing excellence in language instruction among lecturer faculty: the Sophie Washburn French Instructorship, named in honor of Sophie Washburn French. The awardee will hold the instructorship for one academic year and will receive professional development funds in the amount of $5,000. The inaugural award winner is Silvia Amigo-Silvestre, a senior lecturer in the Department of Romance Studies, who has taught Spanish at Cornell since 2001.

Nominations were solicited this summer from chairs and directors in the College. In their announcement, the selection committee said they had faced a difficult task, as the nominations “included a large group of dedicated, energetic, and innovative lecturers.”

Amigo-Silvestre was chosen for the “phenomenal innovations” she has brought to the teaching of Spanish, including a partnership with the University of Caldas in Colombia that has thus far enabled 464 Cornell students, enrolled in multi-section intermediate courses such as Spanish 1230 and Spanish 2090, to engage in weekly email and bi-weekly Skype conversations with University of Caldas students. She has collaborated with other Spanish instructors in Romance studies to facilitate the incorporation of this exchange in other courses such as Intermediate Spanish for Medical and Health Professions (SPAN 2070) where students are paired with medical students at the University of Caldas.

The exchange is designed to develop students’ linguistic and intercultural competence. After taking a Cornell anthropology course, Engaging Other Cultures: Learning How to Learn about Cultural Differences, Amigo-Silvestre developed an ethnographic approach that promotes intercultural understanding and encourages students to reflect critically beyond descriptions. Students discuss topics such as family, career and life aspirations, education, religion, politics, and racism, and reflect on the cultural perspectives and practices of their Colombian counterparts as well as their own. They are encouraged to identify and reflect upon similarities and differences while suspending judgment, and to form and corroborate hypotheses. 

“The students in these classes report that they see marked improvement in their linguistic and intercultural skills,” said Marilyn Migiel, professor of Romance studies and senior associate dean for arts and humanities. “Silvia’s teaching is crucial for the linguistic and intercultural competence that she promotes. As a recipient of an ICC Internationalizing the Cornell Curriculum Grant, she is currently organizing a trip to Colombia for students who have completed the exchange. She is also contributing to the field by presenting in conferences both nationally and internationally.”

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