Department of Spanish and Portuguese

College of Letters & Science

Alumni Profiles

INTRODUCTION

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is very proud to have helped shape our students’ academic and professional careers for over 70 years. Both languages have proven to be instrumental in furthering and widening their educational and professional profile. In fact, many of our students have found jobs in very diverse areas and recognize that a major in a foreign language has opened doors that never would have been available otherwise.

We are keenly aware that the close relationship between the Department of Spanish and Portuguese and its students, fostered during their years at the university, does not end with graduation. Alumni are an essential part of the department. They remind us of the important role we play in students’ lives not only as maturing individuals, but also as professionals. Alumni also represent a very important network for current and prospective students, who like to hear about and connect with others who have had similar experiences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Allow us to be part of your next adventure by sharing your experiences with us. Send us an update about yourself: Where are you working? Are you pursuing a graduate career? If so, where? Have you travelled to a foreign country since you graduated? How useful has your major in a foreign language been? Please also send us your photos. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese is honored to have had the opportunity to be part of your lives.

 

Kristina Midori Lynch

I graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2008 with a double major in Spanish and Communication Arts. Not only did my Spanish major aid me in my professional development, but it also helped me grow personally as well. It was both challenging and rewarding, the perfect blend of art and science. Being able to learn and build my language skills while at the same time looking at the vast history, literature and culture of Spanish-speaking countries was so fulfilling. In many ways learning a language is like solving a puzzle, the skills of which translate directly into problem solving in a corporate environment. When I graduated in 2008, the economy was entering a time of uncertainty that created a shock to the entire US workforce. While it was difficult to find a job, having the Spanish language skills and degree I earned from the University gave me a tremendous advantage compared to other candidates. Every job I have applied for has asked if I spoke two or more languages. Being able to answer “yes” set me apart. To begin my career, I received an amazing opportunity as a National Management Trainee for a large retailer, where our customer base was over 50% Hispanic. This paved the way for every job I’ve taken, including my role as an Associate Marketing Manager for a major fashion retailer in San Francisco, where a large portion of our target market is in Mexico. Throughout my entire professional career, in every role I have ever taken, I’ve always found a way to incorporate what I learned as a Spanish major. I can honestly say I would have not gotten where I am today had it not been for the skills that I learned in the Spanish language program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

 

Lily Walljasper

My studies in the Spanish department have so integrally played a role in my career endeavors thus far – not only the result of being able to converse in another language, but more importantly the inherent sense of confidence that comes along with that ability. I can much more easily venture out of my comfort zone in all facets of my life, both professionally and socially. In pursuing positions, the fact that I had declared a Spanish major and studied abroad undoubtedly gave my résumé a nice boost. However, the most evident manifestation of my Spanish studies is not in my application materials or my ultimate career choice, but simply in the way I am able to more meaningfully interact with other people.

 

Austin King

My path to the law was a winding one, but on each leg of the journey I have benefited enormously from my fluency in Spanish, the product of my Spanish Language major at UW-Madison. As a young elected official on the Madison City Council, I was the only member of the body who could speak Spanish fluently, and frequently found myself on Spanish-language radio or giving interviews to La Comunidad or Voz Latina. This outreach proved crucial in mobilizing the Latino community behind my proposals to raise the minimum wage and guarantee paid sick days for workers, among others. When I left Madison for New Orleans to work as the national director of the ACORN Financial Justice Center, I found myself speaking Spanish daily with our members and organizers as we fought to save homes from foreclosure and pass legislation to stop predatory lending practices. I spent my second year in law school with Make the Road New York, an immigrant membership organization, conducting interviews with clients in Spanish and helping them recover wages stolen by their employers. When I went to a big law firm the next summer, my Spanish fluency (and corresponding "Spitaliano" proficiency) landed me at the firm's offices in Rome for a month, living and working on the Spanish Steps, after which I finally got to Spain (indeed my only regret from my time with the Spanish Department is that I never studied abroad). Now, as a law clerk to a federal judge, I still have occasion to use my Spanish in translating letters from defendants, to say nothing of its quotidian uses in New York. But it is not just the ability to communicate in Spanish that has benefited my career; I know that my Spanish Language major immeasurably improved my ability to communicate in English because I am far more careful with grammar (and particularly punctilious with the subjunctive) and flush with a vocabulary of cognates. Most future lawyers are probably considering majors in political science or philosophy, but the gravamen of this work is language and communication, skills that I honed, happily if at the time unwittingly, through my major in Spanish Language.

 

Mario Koran

I graduated from UW-Madison in 2005 with a BA in Spanish literature. In 2013, I graduated from the school of journalism with an MA in journalism. After graduation, I was accepted to the New York Times Student Journalism program and spent a summer working for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. In 2013, I was hired as an education reporter at Voice of San Diego, an online investigative news outlet.

Last year, the local chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists named me Journalist of the Year for my work uncovering corruption on the school board.  

This year I was selected as a New America California fellow. As part of that fellowship, I've launched a reporting project focused on students who are learning English, exploring the ways the local education system is serving these students and their families.

It's exciting to realize how closely my education aligns with the work I'm doing today as a reporter. I chose to study Spanish because I felt much of the Spanish-speaking population was undeserved, and I wanted tools to help families gain access to quality services. It took me a few years, but when I found journalism I realized reporting can be an effective way of using the truth to advocate for change. Today, my education, experience, passion and talents are aligned. I'm no longer confused about what I want to do for the rest of my life.

 

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