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English, French major looks forward to teaching English in France after graduation

| Judy Berthiaume

Photo caption: Angela Hugunin, who will graduate this month with majors in English-creative writing and French and a certificate in organizational communication, says it was experiences outside of the classroom — on campus, in the community and in other parts of the world — that made her time as a Blugold so extraordinary. Among those experiences was studying abroad in France, where she will return in the fall to work as a teaching assistant through the Teaching Assistant Program in France.

Angela Hugunin has had fabulous professors and interesting classes during her years studying at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

Still, Hugunin, who will graduate this month with majors in English-creative writing and French and a certificate in organizational communication, says it was experiences outside of the classroom — on campus, in the community and in other parts of the world — that made her time as a Blugold so extraordinary.

“In many ways, my involvement outside the classroom has been more influential in helping me discern my future path than my classes,” says Hugunin, a native of Eagan, Minnesota. “I’ve learned a great deal from my classes, of course, but there’s a different type of learning that comes from applying that knowledge.”

The many opportunities she found as a Blugold are among the reasons she came to UW-Eau Claire, Hugunin says. When she was touring the campus, the student tour guides talked about the many experiences they had that went beyond the typical classroom learning, she says.

“I was drawn to the beautiful campus, the size of the campus population — not too big, not too small — and the promises that there would be opportunities for everything from internships to undergraduate research to studying abroad,” Hugunin says. “I knew I was interested in pursuing many of those opportunities, and UWEC felt like a great home base for those things.”

When she came to campus, she brought with her a love of the French language, as well as several French credits from high school, and her passion for writing.

Still, it took her time before deciding on her French and English majors, Hugunin says, noting that she appreciates the university even more because none of her professors or her advisors pressured her to declare a major until she was ready to do so.

In the years since declaring her majors, Hugunin says she “feels so fortunate to have been supported, encouraged and challenged by professors in both of my departments.”

A thriving literary scene

While she has always loved to write, Hugunin was hesitant about trying to build a future around it.

“I loved writing, but it took me over a year before I decided I was willing to commit to it as a major and an integral part of my future career,” Hugunin says. “The literary world can be intimidating, but my professors have equipped me with skills and connections that will be immensely beneficial as I move forward.

“I also discovered a thriving literary scene here in the Chippewa Valley, and I’m so grateful for the opportunities it’s offered me.”

It’s been a joy to watch Hugunin grow as a writer and as a person, says B.J. Hollars, an associate professor of English who has been one of Hugunin’s mentors.

“For years, I've marveled at Angela's intellectual growth by way of her essays,” Hollars says. “But I’ve also noticed the way she lifts up those around her. Her success is tied to the success of her classmates and her professors, too. Simply put, Angela is committed to mutual success, and such selflessness and generosity has paid off in a multitude of ways.”

Hollars has been a wonderful mentor and teacher, Hugunin says.

“From sharing inspiring course content and honest feedback to helping students make meaningful connections within the literary community, B.J. does so much to support students,” Hugunin says. ”I’ve had the good fortune of taking three workshops with B.J., and they’ve left me inspired, connected to my fellow writers and eager to write.”

Hollars was especially helpful as she was considering majoring in creative writing, helping her find an academic path that was right for her.

“It was a little scary to make the decision because it meant trying something new, but I was also certain that writing was something I wanted to continue to pursue,” Hugunin says. “He talked through courses I could take, as well as student organizations and other opportunities, including internships, that would be helpful if I wanted to continue to hone my craft while at UWEC.”

Hugunin was still a freshman when she tagged along with a friend to a NOTA (None of the Above) meeting. She knew right away that she wanted to be involved in the student organization, which is a creative community for Blugolds that releases a new publication each semester featuring student artwork, literature and music.

“I had no idea what to expect,” Hugunin says. “I tagged along just to see what it was all about. At that point, I loved writing and wrote often, but I rarely shared my work. That night, I stumbled upon a creative community that was encouraging, honest and welcoming, and that was a turning point for me. I continued engaging with that community from then on, and it’s led me to many opportunities.”

Hugunin’s first published pieces were in NOTA, and she later served as poetry editor and editor-in-chief of the publication.

NOTA taught her how essential community is to creative pursuits, Hugunin says.

“It’s one thing to make things for yourself or to keep them hidden, but something powerful happens when people exchange ideas, when vulnerability has room to breathe, and when a community gathers to listen and learn,” Hugunin says. “In my editorial roles, I’ve also grown as a critical thinker, a careful reader and a concise writer.

“I’ll leave NOTA with skills that will serve me as I move into the post-grad literary world. I’ll miss the people and all the creativity that goes into each publication.”

Whether she's serving as editor for NOTA, publishing in the Barstow & Ground literary journal, performing for the Chippewa Valley Writers Guild's Sound & Stories series or presenting at the Provost's Honors Symposium, Hugunin always can be counted on to exceed all expectations, Hollars says.

Hugunin says yes to every opportunity that comes her way, and she learns and grows along with them, Hollars says.

“Every once in a while, I experience that profoundly humbling moment when I realize my students have taught me far more than I've taught them,” Hollars says. “Angela is a prime example of this. By way of her leadership and big spiritedness, she serves as a shining example of what students are capable of, and how much they have to offer in the service of a better world."

Learning the French language and culture 

Her language classes at UW-Eau Claire are engaging and relevant, and her French professors are supportive in every way, Hugunin says.

With her strong interest in the language and the culture, Hugunin is a great fit for UW-Eau Claire’s French program, says Dr. Jessica Miller, a professor of French and one of Hugunin’s mentors.

“She has consistently demonstrated patience and kindness as well as inquisitiveness and thoughtfulness,” Miller says. “Those traits will undoubtedly contribute to her success after graduation. Not only is she genuinely interested in people, their languages and their cultures, but she also understands that learning is a long-term commitment. To reach her goals she gives herself time to listen, reflect and make deep connections that allow her to anchor the knowledge and skills she acquires.”

For Hugunin, a highlight of her time as a Blugold was spending a semester studying in Lyon, France, which she describes as “one of the most formative experiences of my time in college.”

In France, she lived with a host family and attended a French university, where all classes were taught in French.

“I got to learn alongside students from China, Bolivia, Syria, Ukraine and many other countries,” Hugunin says of studying abroad. “It was humbling to make so many multicultural friendships, and to have French as our only language of communication helped my French immensely. Over the course of the five months I spent in Lyon, I was amazed at how much I grew as a French speaker.

“More than that, I grew in my independence and self-confidence. I could take my courses entirely in another language, form friendships that were only in French, navigate the métro and bus system, and adapt to life in another country. This was a whole new way of life for me.”

While rewarding, living abroad was sometimes challenging, Hugunin says. However, even the challenges were opportunities to grow her knowledge, skills and confidence, she says.

“There were some days that were extremely difficult — I would grow frustrated at how I felt like an outsider or how much I struggled with an assignment — but other days made it all worth it,” Hugunin says. “Waking up just as the sun was peeking over the neighbor’s house sometimes meant feeling drowsy, but then I’d catch a glimpse of a cat on the roof or I’d meet my host mom in the kitchen for coffee and I’d have to pinch myself.”

The people she met there were incredibly kind, and they were eager to tell her about their lives while also wanting to know about hers, she says.

One of the most rewarding parts of her semester abroad was volunteering in French schools to help teach English, Hugunin says. She was assigned to two middle schools and one elementary school.

At the middle schools, she led English clubs, while at the elementary schools she did everything from teaching lessons to sharing about Midwestern culture, all while encouraging students’ comprehension of and confidence with the English language.

It was rewarding to spend time with the students, and she discovered that she enjoyed sharing her love of language with other language learners.

“After my semester in Lyon, I realized I want to continue to learn more about the French language, and I want to keep investing in multicultural friendships and learning,” Hugunin says. “As I thought about my post-graduation plans, these were factors in my decision to pursue more international experiences.”

In the fall, she will return to France to work as a teaching assistant through the Teaching Assistant Program in France (TAPIF).

“I’ll be back to sharing the English language with French students, and I couldn’t be more excited,” Hugunin says.

Other meaningful experiences

While she embraced all that the English and French departments offered her, Hugunin also found valuable outside-the-classroom experiences in areas outside of her majors, Hugunin says.

Among the most meaningful was the three years she spent working as part of an interdisciplinary research project that was studying public perception of climate change.

Her team’s focus was on open-ended responses from people who shared their thoughts related to climate change. Recently, the team shifted its focus to look more specifically at emotionality within the responses.

“I love this work because I get to collaborate with teammates from different disciplines, and the faculty leading it are wonderful mentors who really care about the work we’re doing and care about each of us student researchers,” Hugunin says. “We’ve gotten to ask some fascinating questions related to climate change and the ways we communicate about it, and I’m so excited to see where the team will go next. It’s been an honor to be part of a project that began before me and will continue long after I graduate.“

Making the most of the campus community

Hugunin, who is part of the University Honors Program, encourages future Blugolds to reach out to others as they find their place on campus.

“Asking for help, asking someone to coffee or asking if you can drop by office hours can feel scary, but those things are often so worth the risk,” Hugunin says. “I’ve found the UWEC community to be full of people who care and want to help students succeed. Sometimes, it takes a little bit of bravery to make those meaningful connections, but they can make a big impact.”

After all, she says, it’s the people here that help make UW-Eau Claire such a special place.

“I’m leaving UWEC full of gratitude for the learning opportunities I’ve received and the people who have made this place a home over the past four years,” Hugunin says. “I’ll always be thankful for the professors, the advisors, the classmates and the friends who have supported me, encouraged me and helped me grow.”