Department of Spanish and Portuguese

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HomeDepartment LifeNewsNewsCongratulations to our Graduates and the Marsha Gray Ehrlich Scholarship recipients

Congratulations to our Graduates and the Marsha Gray Ehrlich Scholarship recipients

UW-Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank speaks at Saturday's Commencement ceremony at Camp Randall Stadium. Bryce Richter, University Communications

On Friday, May 12, 2017, the Department of Spanish & Portuguese held its third annual reception to honor the Fall 2016, Spring and Summer 2017 graduates with majors in Spanish and Portuguese. The celebration was held in the On Wisconsin room of the Red Gym. The Department Chair and Undergraduate Advisor delivered messages of congratulations to all the graduates, and distributed graduation certificates to all those in attendance.


At the reception, the Department recognized three exceptional Spanish graduates, awarding them with the first annual Marsha Gray Ehrlich Scholarship. The Department of Spanish and Portuguese was recently honored with a generous donation from Marsha Gray Ehrlich, a former graduate student in our Department, and an inspirational teacher during her long professional career. Marsha Gray Ehrlich received a Master of Arts, with a major in Spanish, on August 17, 1968. She carried the preparation she received from our Department and her love of Spanish to New York, where she taught Spanish and Latin in public schools for more than thirty years, before retiring in 2002. During her career at New York’s William Cullen Bryant High School, Ms. Ehrlich carried her love and passion for languages inside and outside the classroom, as close members of her family, inspired by their aunt, studied Romance languages, and travelled and studied abroad in Europe and Latin America. The entire Spanish and Portuguese Department would like to express our profound gratitude to Ms. Gray Ehrlich's for her incredibly generous gift. It is exceptional people like her who remind us of the long-lasting impression that an instructor can have on a student's education. Marsha Gray Ehrlich was keenly aware of the importance, responsibility, and reward of being a teacher, a commitment to education that we strive to continue in our Department. It is highly gratifying and humbling to have a former student remember us and, in this selfless and abiding manner, show her appreciation for what she learned and help us continue our teaching mission.


It was a difficult choice, and a true pleasure and privilege to read about our graduating students’ academic accomplishments, as well as their selfless commitment to community service. We wish we could give out awards to all the candidates for this scholarship, because everyone certainly deserves recognition. We commend our Spanish and Portuguese majors for all they have done and continue to do to help improve the lives of those in our community. For that, they have the profound respect and admiration of the entire department.


The Department chose three outstanding candidates, one junior and two graduating seniors, who have maintained academic excellence and shown a sustained commitment to community service related to the Spanish or Portuguese language and culture:


Shaunna Newton received Bachelor’s degrees in both Gender & Women’s Studies and Spanish in spring 2017, and was admitted to several leading graduate programs in public health. According to her research mentor, supervisor, and collaborator, Professor Jenny Higgins, Shaunna has engaged in an impressive array of professional experiences, from conducting doctoral-level qualitative research to drafting a women’s health bill for the Wisconsin State Assembly. Although an undergraduate, Shaunna is already conducting research at the level of many doctoral students. She has co-authored a scholarly paper submitted for publication this spring, and is the lead author on another peer-reviewed paper, which is almost unheard-of for an undergraduate. Shaunna thus shows excellent promise as a public health researcher, scholar, and advocate, and as a professional poised to focus the bulk of her efforts on the health of Black and Latinx women. She has worked with the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health as a health care reform intern, helping with the meaningful implementation of the Affordable Care Act in the Badger State. Her experience and hard work resulted in her taking the lead in drafting a bill on patient confidentiality that will soon be introduced to the Wisconsin State Assembly (another exceedingly rare accomplishment for an undergraduate). She volunteers as a Spanish translator at Share the Health, a free clinic for low-income women in the Dane County area. As the foregoing summary demonstrates, Shaunna is eminently deserving of the Marsha Gray Ehrlich Scholarship. We hope it will make a small difference in her ability to attend graduate school and devote her career to improving the health and lives of Black and Latinx women.


Francisco Martínez majored in Spanish and Life Sciences Communication. He describes himself as the proud son of Mexican immigrants who arrived in the United States more than twenty-five years ago, carrying “nothing but dreams and aspirations.” His earliest childhood memories are of the financial hardships and discrimination his family endured, of the time he had to spend away from his parents, and the inadequate education that essentially compelled him to teach himself English. His personal experiences as the child of immigrants led him to become involved with immigrant rights groups as early as in his high school years, and volunteer his services as an interpreter for Spanish-speaking families at local hospitals and other government offices. His ample and generous contributions to community service have continued since his arrival on the UW-Madison campus, where he has also succeeded in establishing a remarkable level of academic achievement. A wonderful and emblematic example of Francisco’s genuine and compassionate desire to serve his community is his decision to participate in the Teach for America (TFA) program after his graduation from UW-Madison. TFA is a non-profit organization that places college graduates in two-year teaching positions in low-income communities across the country. After a demanding application and interview process in fall 2016, Francisco was accepted to TFA, and this fall he will be relocating to Las Vegas, Nevada, to teach in an elementary school whose student population is over 80% Latinx. For his selfless and enduring commitment to the Wisconsin Idea, Francisco, too, wholly and unequivocally merits the recognition that the Marsha Gray Ehrlich Scholarship denotes.


Alma Sida Ontiveros is a Junior majoring in Spanish with a GPA of 3.9. She is particularly interested in human rights issues. Aside from being on the Dean’s list, and inducted into the National Honors Society, Alma has been in a Spanish tutor for the PEOPLE program as well as in the highly prestigious Wisconsin International Scholars Program [WISCP]. A native speaker of Spanish, a community activist and volunteer, Alma is on her way to Law School. Through WISCP she has been able to learn about and become closely involved with the different cultures and peoples that make up our local community. She has volunteered for the Immigration Justice Clinic whose purpose is to help detainees who have a viable case. Since many of the detainees are often from Latin America, she has played a key role in putting together the legal documentation that would enable law students to identify feasible cases and assist them at no cost. Not surprisingly, an immigration law office working with local Latinx community soon recognized Alma’s volunteer work and hired her as a Legal Assistant. In this capacity, she has learned about family benefits law and about the legal issues and challenges that the Latinx community faces. Alma has pursued her work with the Latinx community, providing them with crucial information. She has translated documents, talked to clients, discussed issues with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services and has continued to advocate for immigrant rights, with such bodies as the Latino Chamber of Commerce and Centro Hispano. As she has said, “I'm not an attorney, so I can't give [immigrants] legal advice, but I can teach them about their rights.” Alma means soul in both Spanish and Portuguese, and we would venture to say that the name fits the person to a t in this case.


-Submitted by Luís Madureira, Professor and Chair, Department of Spanish & Portuguese