Department of Languages, Literatures & Cultures
What are you currently working on in the area of public engagement?
I am currently working on several events that are part of our community outreach effort.
My colleagues Cynthia Fox, Susan Blood and I are coordinating activities for Francophone Week on campus, with a French lunch at the Patroon Room, a documentary viewing and our ninth annual Francophone Day when our UHS students visit the campus not only to gain an early college perspective, but also to have a French culture immersion experience very different from the classroom setting. From a scavenger hunt to a roundtable session with native speakers (this year from Togo, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Haiti, Quebec and France), all entirely conducted in French, the day’s activities help encourage students to use their language skills in more authentic circumstances.
I am also organizing an immersion program in French for the Minds-On educational program coordinated by the Rensselaerville Institute. Advanced French students from local high schools are engaged in hands-on activities conducted entirely in French by my colleagues from the department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures; Frederic Meni of the Center for Language and International Communication, Hélène Pafundi and Komla Amegashie. This is the only full-day immersion program in French available to local schools and it is designed to reinforce and the regular school curriculum. The rule of the day is “French only” and teachers have expressed that “…it is an excellent experience to be with students who all want to try to use French as much as possible.” Interacting with native French speakers is often a first for these students as reflected in a teacher’s feedback: “[it’s] fantastic to see [them] begin to just speak as if it’s normal”.
Another outreach event I am involved with is designed for professionals. As a liaison for the UHS French program, I plan an annual workshop on campus for the almost 50 teachers enrolled in the program. Many UHS teachers view this as a unique opportunity to meet and interact with peers teaching university content courses, to keep up with best practices, and to immerse themselves in French for a day. Jeff Brown, from Averill Park High School comes back every year “…because the UHS French teacher workshop is designed specifically for us. Véronique solicits ideas from us so the presentations and teaching suggestions are relevant and practical. Being able to focus an entire day on the needs of French teachers is a great benefit for people like us who are isolated professionally.”
How did you get involved in this work?
I come from an environment in Europe where foreign languages are an essential part of young people’s education and are in effect a lot more connected to people’s lives and communities. Therefore my involvement in this type of activity naturally started early on when I volunteered for a community based after school program as a tutor for German and English. Connecting languages to community-based activities was always enjoyable and most of all enriching for me. When I came to the US, I first took part in Franco-American heritage group meetings in Maine, had a weekly radio show in French and gave presentations at local schools, in addition to teaching Montessori, middle school, high school and university students as well as adult education. In Albany, my outreach work has been primarily facilitated by my UHS liaison work which serves as a bridge between high schools and the French Studies program here at UAlbany. It provides me with unique insight and promotes connections to language professionals and language learners.
What is the greatest reward in your publicly engaged work?
A lot of what I do with high schools, the UHS program, my own classes and events on campus is connected and intertwined. From my standpoint, I can first engage with students in high school French classes and immersion programs, then meet them again in our on-campus courses and then see them move on to do work in which they apply the language skills they’ve acquired. I find witnessing this whole process and helping to facilitate it rewarding as an educator.
What are your future plans for your publicly engaged work?
I would like to expand outreach opportunities both for early and advanced learners. With the support of the Rensselearville Institute, I used to offer immersion experiences in French for 8th graders from Glens Falls and Saratoga area schools. It would be great to run these again as well as more programs for high schools.
Building on what we already have is an essential aspect to outreach activities and with the integration of technology in our classes, I feel we have gone beyond the normal class setting, globalizing the student experience in the classroom. With the support of the Center for Language and International Communication (CLIC), my students regularly engage with students from the Université de Haute-Alsace in France and complete tasks designed to further their linguistic skills, cultural knowledge and intercultural competence. We have a rich population of students with Francophone backgrounds on campus and thanks to the UHS program, we have students who already have an intermediate proficiency level in French when they start university. We hope to build on and increase our offering of courses to include higher level and more specialized courses for professional purposes with the intent to connect our students to companies working with France and Quebec in New York state.
I am able to do this work and take advantage of these opportunities because the resources such as funding, administrative support, skilled and trained French specialists and native speakers, are readily available. It’s important to make sure that we do what we can to keep in close contact with these francophone connections on campus, in the schools and local communities. If we are to function effectively in a globalized world, being able to relate to and engage more with others locally or abroad, we need to start early and have access to enough resources.