Skip to main content

Connecting all the dots in her classrooms: One LAS teaching grad's story

| Denise Olson

Sometimes the teacher becomes the student once again, and one Latin American studies teaching alumna is determined to be a student for life, in her ongoing learning about Latin America and its people.

When Alicia Fields arrived at UW-Eau Claire as a freshman, she already knew she intended to major in Spanish education through Latin American studies. The Stoughton native actually comes from a family of Spanish speakers, but hadn't become fluent herself, in accordance with her grandmother's wishes. As a freshman, she knew she wanted to change that.

"My extended family speaks Spanish, but my grandmother insisted that her family not learn it because she wanted her children to become 'Americanized.'  While growing up, I tried to pick up Spanish, since everyone spoke it at large family functions. Through this experience, I realized at a young age that language is much more than speaking the right words or having correct grammar — it's about connecting with people," Fields explained.

Blugolds have two options in the path to becoming a K-12 Spanish teacher.  The regular education studies coursework with a Spanish language major, and the comprehensive  Latin American studies teaching degree both lead to a license to teach Spanish in elementary or secondary grades. Fields currently teaches upper level Spanish, Spanish III and advanced placement Spanish at Edgewood High School in Madison.

"In my experience, the biggest advantage of a Latin American studies degree is that it helps you become a well-rounded individual. You are able to make connections to the culture which lead to the exploration of the Spanish language on a deeper level. I loved being able to learn about biology, history or literature through a Latin American lens and then being able to discuss these topics in Spanish," she said.

Looking back on her time as a Blugold, Fields mentioned two faculty members in the LAS program who each had a significant impact on her goals and outcomes, and evidently she made a strong impression on them as well. 

"Although Alicia was an excellent student, what I liked the most about her was that she was an engaged student, willing to expand her knowledge and try new experiences," said Rose Marie Avin, professor of economics and Latin American Studies. "During her study abroad in Argentina, she immersed herself in the culture in order to have a deeper understanding of its history and economy."

Analisa DeGrave, another affiliated faculty in LAS and professor of Spanish, noted a similar curiosity in Fields. "Throughout her years at UW-Eau Claire Alicia demonstrated genuine intellectual curiosity about the world and Latin America in particular.  Her love for Spanish, her enthusiasm, and her kindness of heart undoubtedly will create a spectacular learning environment for her students," DeGrave said.

Like many interdisciplinary degrees, the strength of Latin American studies program at UW-Eau Claire lies in its emphasis in teaching students to connect broad topics to a wide array of specific situations. Students like Fields learn to connect the histories, lives, cultures and language of the Latin American countries to the global populations, not just those of Latin heritage. 

"The value of LAS is that you become a lifelong learner after graduating. The program gives you the tools to continue your education and sends you on your way. Through this interdisciplinary degree, I was able to expand my world in ways I would never have done on my own. I took classes on the geology of the Andes, economics of Argentina, literature of Latin America, biodiversity and conservation of Costa Rica and so much more. My view of the world is broader because of this program. It has taught me to keep researching and studying because Latin America is always changing and there is always something new to learn," Fields related.

"As far as my job search was concerned, in the interviews I have done people always ask about my degree choice and what makes it different. This gives me a chance to describe my passion for connecting the language to the Latin American culture and then to the lives of my students."

Outside of her classrooms, Fields has found another way to keep growing her knowledge of Latin America, which was to establish a book club with other area Spanish teachers. The group reads and discusses a monthly selection from their various encounters with Latin American literature during their time as students. She finds this social extension of her academic interests to be very rewarding. 

"Through my time at UWEC, I learned that is important to take time for personal growth because it is the best way to keep your passion alive for the language and culture."

Photo caption: Alicia Fields, third from the left, in her classroom with Spanish students at Edgewood High School of the Sacred Heart in Madison.