Dreaming of a better life in the “land of opportunity,” Angelica Trevino was determined to someday come to the United States with her daughters to join her husband, who was already living here.
In Mexico, she had earned her bachelor’s degree in business administration and a master’s degree in human resources while working at different companies training employees. But as her career goals changed so did her ultimate goals—to learn English, get a job and earn a master’s degree in Spanish.
This year, she will be able to check off one of those.
Debra Andrist, chair of the foreign languages department and professor of Spanish, said that when the foreign languages department became an independent program in 2007, the process of creating a master’s program was led by program director Rafael Saumell-Munoz, professor of Spanish.
“The master’s program really helps round out the Spanish section of the foreign languages department. We have undergraduate classes that can now prepare students to go on into master’s level classes,” Andrist said. “The program has grown exponentially since it began, and Dr. Saumell has been instrumental in finding applicants and candidates and capable faculty for the program.”
The program began with eight students in 2011 and has now grown to 43, Andrist said. As the program sends off its first four graduates this spring, Saumell and Andrist hope this milestone will indicate more growth and interest in the program in the future.
Mary Smith, a Spanish master’s candidate, noted that the program at SHSU has been instrumental in bettering her opportunities in potential job fields. Smith hopes that a master’s in Spanish will give her an edge in the business world as she pursues a career in the oil and gas field in Central and South America, as well as teaching as an adjunct Spanish professor and operating an independent translating company.
“I happened to luck into the program when I started my search in 2011,” Smith said. “What amazed me was that when I placed that first phone call asking for information on the program, I had a personal return call from Dr. Saumell within a few minutes. That response was the catalyst for joining the program. My hope is that the program continues to flourish and that as the first graduating class we can serve as proof that reaching this goal is possible.
“Every day it becomes more difficult to advance in the business world with only a bachelor’s degree, so I figured if I was going to do a master’s degree it had to be done consecutively. This way I would not lose any momentum as far as studying and retaining the information I had just gained in the last four years,” Smith said. “The longer the wait time between degrees, the more difficult it becomes to stay with a program and regain habits necessary to study and do the coursework.”
Jennifer Gongora, another student graduating from the master’s program this year, said that the close-knit atmosphere of the small program has transformed her educational experience.
“I received my bachelor’s degree from SHSU and I have always felt very at home here. Upon graduation, I was hesitant to leave, so when I heard about the Spanish master’s program I didn’t see the need to search any further for a place to continue my education,” Gongora said. “Being in the first class has allowed us to get to know everyone in the department and program very well and have a truly tailored educational experience, one that wouldn’t have been possible at a larger program.”
Many of the students in the program, like Andres Ruiz Olaya, have plans for earning a doctorate in areas where their knowledge of Spanish will help them, such as in art, literature and history. Olaya was the first graduate assistant in the master’s program and said that through that opportunity, he has been able to “be a witness to how the program has grown and improved.”
“My goal is to pursue doctoral studies that will help me achieve my career goal of teaching and conducting research in Spanish language and literature. I would like to continue my research on literature as a reflection of Hispanic cultures, identities and nationalities,” Olaya said. “I feel very proud to belong to the first-generation of graduates. I am very grateful to the Spanish faculty for teaching me new aspects of the language at a higher level and pushing me to further my career.”
Gongora, like Olaya, has plans to eventually earn a doctorate in Spanish. She hopes to teach Spanish at the college level. For now, she said the Spanish master’s program has afforded her opportunities and given her ideas on where to go next in the Spanish field more than she could have found anywhere else.
“I jumped at the opportunity to continue my education with a program that I knew was small and still starting up because I knew I would know my professors and have a unique master’s program experience,” Gongora said. “I was also familiar with the professors in the department and knew that they are dedicated and wonderful educators.”
Part of the reason the program stands out among other master’s foreign language programs is because of the unique faculty and students that bring a variety of experiences, dreams and skills to the table, Andrist said.
She noted that the people, students and faculty alike, who are drawn to the program are driven, hardworking and dream big—qualities that highlight a love of Spanish and a passion for education.
“Demographically, Houston has thousands of Spanish-speaking people and there are so many jobs that utilize bilingual skills,” Andrist said. “This program at SHSU is so important and thrives because of its proximity to the city. There has been a great response to the program, and we see that it is needed here.
“But the success of our candidates isn’t just because of demographics; it is also in large part thanks to the commitment and quality of the faculty who take every opportunity to teach their students about Spanish linguistics and culture in a way that is both thorough and challenging and the students who respond eagerly and work hard towards their aspirations.”