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An LAS alumna now advises students in study abroad

You could say that Sarah Vowels landed a dream job for someone with a Latin American Studies degree--as a coordinator of study abroad, helping today's students find the ideal international program through which to create their own life-long memories and life-changing learning. 

But this path wasn't the one Vowels envisioned when she declared an LAS major, along with Spanish. She intended to teach English as a second language to Spanish speakers, and felt that LAS gave her a huge cultural advantage over the regular Spanish degree alone.

"I wanted to have a deeper understanding of the cultures in the Spanish-speaking world, and I wanted to build my skill set for working with English language learners," Vowels explains.

She did indeed gain that deeper understanding she hoped for, through several international immersion experiences. First in her language immersion in Spain and then through her TEFL practicum in Arequipa, Peru, Vowels became more and more adept as both a world traveler and a global citizen.

"Finally, I could experience what I had been learning in my LAS classrooms: I touched the 12-sided stone in Cusco, I (attempted to) dance salsa, I read letters from imprisoned Chileans in detention centers in the Museo de la Memoria in Santiago. My study abroad experiences in Latin America, combined with the knowledge I gained from my LAS coursework shaped me into a meaningful traveler and a global citizen." she said.

A student internship at the UW-Eau Claire Center for International Education as a senior led to an internship at the national level association of international educators in Washington, D.C..and ultimately to her being hired back at UW-Eau Claire as a full-time professional.

"The 10-week internship helped me get my foot in the door, and in August of 2014, I found myself back at UWEC with my first professional position at the Center for International Education.  This position allowed me to build a solid foundation of what it means to be a professional in higher education and in international education."

In May 2016, Vowels left Eau Claire to become the Education Abroad Coordinator at Colorado State University.

"I use the knowledge from my LAS degree to assess best program options for prospective study abroad students to Latin America, to communicate with our partner universities in the region, to prepare my students for culture shock, and to inform my students on the rich history and traditions they will experience, all with the goal of shaping them into meaningful travelers and global citizens," Vowels says.

When asked what influenced her path the most as a student here, the answer was easy for her — the faculty, hands down.

"I valued the professors the most, no question. The LAS professors’ passion for teaching and the material was so evident that you couldn’t help but be fascinated with every subject.  The interdisciplinary nature of the LAS degree was another aspect that I really valued, as I was taking coursework from a variety of departments," she said.

"The LAS faculty identify students for research, internship, and extra-curricular opportunities to deepen their learning and put their knowledge gained in the classroom to practical use.  The program is also dynamic and in-touch with the needs of their student population; in my senior year, they were developing certificates and tracks for students to find a specialization in the program, whether it be in teaching, phonetics, business, or healthcare," Vowels added.