Engineering professor earns Spanish degree

Published: January 19, 2023

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In an effort to further collaborations with student recruiting in Latin America, Alice Smith, the Joe W. Forehand/Accenture Distinguished Professor of the Auburn University Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, recently earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Spanish from Auburn University.

Smith’s original intent was not to earn a degree, but only to learn the language. She began by taking one course each semester. She wanted to earn grades in the classes as motivation and to do so she was required to register as an undeclared liberal arts undergraduate student.

One fall semester, Smith was unable to register for classes. When she inquired about the problem with her advisor, she learned that she had too many credits to have an undeclared major.

“I told the advisor I was not interested in getting a degree, but she said I could by just taking more Spanish classes, as I intended to do anyway,” Smith said. “So, I become an undergraduate Spanish student. It was a thrilling transition for me and one I never anticipated.”

Although the courses were more challenging than she expected, Smith said the process of earning the degree was enjoyable.

“I learned so much and stretched my brain in so many new ways,” she said. “I also became a better teacher myself by adopting some techniques I experienced as an undergraduate Spanish student.”

Smith’s Spanish education will benefit many aspects of her career. She travels frequently to Latin America, specifically Chile and Colombia, to recruit graduate students and pursue research opportunities. She is currently part of a new research project funded by the Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología, or CONACYT, the equivalent of the National Science Foundation, or NSF, in Chile, and her current group of doctoral students is primarily Latino.

As a result of a standardized international examination at the end of her studies in reading, writing, listening and speaking, Smith is also officially certified with a Global Seal of Biliteracy with Functional Proficiency Level in Spanish.

“This experience has been personally enriching to me beyond measure,” Smith said. “I love learning, especially about other cultures, so Spanish was the perfect study for me. The instructors I had were all interesting and effective educators. I am grateful to Auburn for allowing me this opportunity.”

Submitted by: Carla Nelson

Alice Smith