Lawyer Alexis Lambert received the Outstanding Young Alumni (OYA) Award from the UF Alumni Association earlier this year

Alexis LambertNineteen years after graduation, people still ask me why I chose Spanish as my major. It certainly wasn’t my original plan; having scored a 5 on the AP Spanish exam, I had already satisfied UF’s foreign language requirement. But I decided to take one class in the department at UF to see what it was like. We never knew what was coming in Professor Pharies’ class, but it was always interesting and fun. I realized that majoring in Spanish would give me all the advantages of a small, liberal arts college experience without having to sacrifice the perks of a big school.

I read the Quijote with Professor Armon, learned about modern Peninsular literature with Professor Nichols, and studied Latin American film and culture with Professor Avellaneda. It was a great mix of art, culture, history, and politics.

During my second year of law school, we studied a case that hinged on the meaning of the verb deber.  In this case, the defendant moved to suppress statements he made after he was arrested. He had said “debo yo llamar a mi abogado” to the police officer. With only a transcript and no audio, the court had to weigh whether the defendant was asking if he should call his lawyer or saying that he must call his lawyer.

Throughout my career, Spanish has come in handy. Whether it was translating press releases or interpreting in constituent meetings, being bilingual has made me more employable in a competitive job market. I’ve also used my language skills in volunteer work. Every summer, I serve as a translator to a team of American medical professionals who provide free surgical care to patients in Antigua, Guatemala. This year, I had to tell a 36 year old patient he had the same cancer that I did. I told him he could cry for one day but then had to go to war; I was beating the disease, and he could, too. He came back the next day with labs and images indicating the best of a bad situation: only one cancer, in only one place. With surgery and radiation, he would be changed, but not destroyed — just like me.

My education at UF refined a skill that has allowed me to meet incredible people, see beautiful places, and experience life way beyond my suburban South Florida upbringing. I’m forever grateful.

To learn more about the Outstanding Young Alumni (OYA) Award, click here

Libby Ginway and Theresa Williamson after her talk “Community Resistance in Post-Olympic Rio de Janeiro” Nov. 12, 2019

Professor Libby Ginway and then-graduate-student Andréa Ferreira first piloted a class on favelas — Brazil’s low-income communities — as the theme of the culture course in the six-week study abroad program in Rio de Janeiro during Summer B 2010.  Rio was a logical setting for the class, since favelas are visible near the airport and throughout the hills surrounding the city, and students regularly expressed curiosity about these communities. Local specialists in anthropology, environmental history, music, religion, and photography were invited to class to present to the students that summer.

The course was a success, and continued in future summers. It was especially meaningful during the summers of 2014 and 2016, when both the World Cup and the Olympics were hosted in Brazil. In Rio, students saw firsthand the impact of the games through the evictions from favelas and the militarization of the police as incursions were made into these communities in the name of security.

In Fall 2016, Dr. Ginway taught a version of the course in English, cross-listing it with Latin American Studies. She introduced students to a wide range of readings, from urban studies and anthropology to history, crime and governance, in order to provide a solid background and historical perspective, and to avoid the sensationalized violence of films such as City of God (2002). She then used fiction, film, and studies on tourism to examine issues surrounding the “gaze” and issues of power and spectacle. Finally, they examined daily life in music, dance, and visual arts — especially graffiti and photography—as a means of expression, therapy, and activism. For the final course project, each student presented a final paper on favelas from his or her disciplinary interest: the topics included health and educational systems, Brazilian soap operas, film and activism through art, issues of crime and justice and gated communities, families and youth, and the role of NGOs (non-governmental organizations). According to Dr. Ginway, this was by far the most satisfying part of the class, as students proved they had assimilated complex issues that affect the social reality of these communities and their role in Brazilian society.

Dr. Ginway is teaching the course again in Fall 2019 and has invited Rio community activist Theresa Williamson, who regularly tours U.S. campuses, to her class later this semester.

View Previous Editions of the Spanish and Portuguese Studies Newsletter

The Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies is excited to announce the development of a brand new major, effective Fall 2019, which will be replacing the two current majors (Spanish, Portuguese) offered by SPS. The BA in Hispanic and Latin American Languages, Literatures and Linguistics includes three possible tracks for students: 1) Spanish; 2) Portuguese; and 3) a combined Spanish and Portuguese track.

We undertook this reform in order to more accurately reflect the nature of our departmental offerings, and to better appeal to the changing interests and needs of our students. Our Spanish and Portuguese offerings are evolving, in conjunction with the changing face of humanities disciplines nation-wide, and have moved away from the traditional philological approach to explore new areas such as linguistics, film, and language for professions. At the upper division, we offer coursework in linguistics focusing on theoretical as well as applied areas, such as sociolinguistics, bilingualism, language in contact, and new approaches to language teaching and learning. The offerings in literature and culture include advanced coursework in film and society, popular culture, the visual arts and literature, and courses on themes such as violence, gender and sexuality as well as pressing socio-political issues in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.

What’s more, the new curriculum provides us with the opportunity to highlight and combine the two languages that comprise our department, as well as the modern curriculum we offer and the potential for interdisciplinary study. UF has already taken the first step in recognizing the unique status of Spanish and Portuguese in our state by creating a separate department for our languages, while combining other world languages into one department. As the only institution in the FL state university system that maintains a separate department for Spanish & Portuguese, we are uniquely poised to distinguish ourselves with this degree program. By including a track combining coursework on Spain, Spanish America and Brazil, our program helps foster the “translingual and transcultural competence” (Modern Language Association, 2007) students need in order to be successful in today’s multilingual world, with an emphasis on the languages and cultures that are among the most important for the state of Florida.

Farewell to Susana Braylan

Senior Lecturer Susana Braylan is retiring in May 2019. Susana first came to UF as an undergraduate student in 1980, earned her MA in Spanish Literature in 1990, and was hired as a full-time Lecturer in Spanish in 1997. She recalls with gratitude the influence of those professors who opened her eyes to a new world and shaped her into a more enlightened person. Susana mentions in particular Dr. Adolfo Prieto, “mentor and guide, great friend and advisor,” and Dr. Geraldine Nichols, who opened the doors to feminism and feminist thought for her.


Portrait of Susana Braylan

Over her more than two decades working at UF, Susana has served the department in a wide range of capacities. Reflecting on these, she says she believes the most important educational project of her time, and her major contribution to SPS, was to coordinate the Spanish as a Heritage Language Program (formerly the Bilingual Program, and originally the Native and Near-Native Speakers Program, designed and directed for several years by Dr. Reynaldo Jiménez). Susana introduced changes to the program and vigorously promoted it across the UF campus. She is pleased to leave the Bilingual Program in the capable hands of Drs. Diego Pascual and Víctor Jordán-Orozco.

Susana’s participation in SPS’s study abroad programs constitutes her most cherished professional experience. She accompanied groups of UF students four times to Santander and twice to Valencia. She also initiated and directed a program in Buenos Aires, which ran for only a few years. Susana particularly enjoyed having her students share their experiences with her, as well as witnessing the amazement and joy they felt at discovering new places.
Susana has kept in touch with many of her former students, especially via social media. “They make me feel that I have made a small but positive mark on their lives, which assures me that although I will be retired I will remain present in their lives,” she writes.

As for her retirement plans, Susana wants to spend time with family members she has barely seen lately, especially the growing number of grandchildren she has around the world in Texas, Argentina, and Spain. She and Horacio plan to move to North Carolina, where they will be able to cruise the Blue Ridge Parkway on their Gold Wing motorcycles!

Dr. Lynn Scott followed a somewhat circuitous route into the then Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. At the “advanced age of 23,” as Lynn put it, she moved to Mexico with her English-speaking husband and only then began learning Spanish—primarily by having to shop for basic household necessities. Lynn had studied both French and Italian in college, and her background in those closely related Romance languages proved to be quite useful. During and after her year in Mexico City, she continued to study Spanish on her own, and her confidence and competence in the language continued to develop. After substitute-teaching at Buchholz High School in Gainesville, Lynn decided to jump into the MA program in Spanish at 40+ years of age. “I loved it — the intellectual stimulation of the classes, the teaching, the research,” she writes. Dr. Geraldine Nichols (now Professor Emerita) encouraged Lynn to continue her studies in the UF Ph.D. program. As Lynn recalls, “it was hard with two kids at home, but it was a great cultural and intellectual experience. I’m still in touch with several of my graduate student colleagues who treated me as an equal and, better yet, respected my knowledge.” While working on her Ph.D. dissertation, Lynn’s research was supported with a CLAS Dissertation Fellowship and grants from the Tinker Foundation and the Program for Cultural Cooperation in Madrid. In addition, she was named the Tybel Spivack Scholar in Women’s Studies in 1993. Her dissertation focused on the early 20th-century Spanish author, Carmen de Burgos, and she completed her Ph.D. in 1999. Lynn’s essay on one of Carmen de Burgos’s works was published in the Feminist Encyclopedia of Spanish Literature. Lynn recently donated her copies of many of the author’s writings to the department.

Lynn Scott

“It was hard with two kids at home, but it was a great cultural and intellectual experience.”

Once Lynn was no longer teaching and had some free time, she and her husband were invited to join a Spanish-speaking social group called Los Amigos de Gainesville where they were the only non-Latino couple. Lynn writes: “It was great for my Spanish and I learned to dance the merengue—sort of!” But she and her husband have decided that it’s time for them to leave Gainesville and move closer to their three grand-daughters, the eldest of whom is only 5. “Unfortunately,” Lynn concludes, “they’re in cold Connecticut.” But she looks forward to the move as a new adventure.

Kaley Barbára believes that adding a Spanish minor at UF has impacted her life more than she would have ever thought possible. Learning about the language, art, and music of the Spanish-speaking world sparked a desire in Kaley to immerse herself in the culture. During her first two years of college, Kaley traveled to both Spain and Ecuador. She wanted to use her knowledge of the Spanish language in a real-world setting and explore new cultures. Kaley writes: “Knowing enough Spanish to converse with the local people allowed me to gain a much deeper understanding of their cultures than I would have as an English-speaking tourist.”

While traveling in Ecuador, Kaley witnessed severe poverty in many of the local communities, and she learned about the hardships many people face living in third-world Latin-American countries, which was a very difficult but eye-opening experience. But she was also able to climb the beautiful volcanos outside of Quito and to visit the Amazon rainforest.

Kaley Barbára

“The significance of learning a second language has been incomparable for me and I hope to generate value in the world because of it.”

Kaley’s trip to Ecuador prompted her to explore career opportunities beyond those in U.S.-based corporations. She now hopes to work one day with the World Bank and to look for development opportunities in Latin-American countries. To complement her undergraduate studies in finance and Spanish, Kaley began working towards a combined Master’s degree in International Business in order to become more familiar with international capital markets. Next semester, in conjunction with her master’s program, she plans to return to South America with the purpose of learning more about business movements there.

Ultimately, Kaley believes, studying Spanish has made her more mindful of the world around her. As she puts it, “I have become more aware of the opportunities I have been blessed with. I have the ability to pursue a higher education and to live in a country with an innumerable number of job opportunities. The experiences I have had because of my Spanish courses made me realize I need to use my privilege to help others.”

Dámaris was born in Alicante, in the southeast region of Spain. She grew up speaking valenciano with her grandparents and Spanish at home. Additionally, Alicante is a city on the coast, and so Dámaris grew up surrounded by people of different nationalities who vacationed in the summer, and by immigrants who decided to settle in Alicante. Being exposed to a multilingual environment sparked her interest in language acquisition and maintenance.

Dámaris graduated with her PhD in Hispanic Linguistics, with a focus on psycholinguistics, in 2018. During her time at UF, she recalls that courses she took in the Department of Linguistics with Dr. Edith Kaan and Dr. Wind Cowles influenced her growing interest in the psycholinguistics of bilingualism, and when Dr. Jorge Valdés Kroff joined the Department of Spanish and Portuguese Studies in 2015, all the pieces fell into place for what would become her dissertation research. In that work, Dámaris explored the cognitive mechanisms that bilinguals use to acquire languages. Specifically, she was interested in studying the effects of lexical frequency and grammatical styles in different groups of native speakers from Florida.

Dámaris currently is a Visiting Assistant Professor of Spanish at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. There, she teaches language classes and is working on developing courses for heritage speakers of Spanish. As she reflected on her time at UF and her transition to academic life, we asked Dámaris if she had any advice for those interested in or already pursuing graduate study. She responded: “Time management is very important for leading a balanced life so that you can have time to relax and enjoy life … and that can only be done in graduate school if you are well organized.”

This year, SPS is thrilled to welcome three new faculty members to our department, and we are excited to introduce you to them here.

Antonio Sajid López, Ph.D.

Antonio Sajid was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico. He is an actor, an author, and a professor of Spanish and cultural studies. Antonio received his B.S. in Secondary Education in Spanish and French from the Pontifical Catholic University of Puerto Rico in 2003, and his M. A. in Hispanic Studies from the same institution in 2010. Later that year, he joined the doctoral program in Spanish and Latin American literature at UF, and graduated in 2015 with his Ph.D. in Spanish, and with a certificate in Latin American Studies.

Antonio has been the recipient of numerous honors and awards. In 2009 he received a Highly Qualified Spanish Teacher Award from Puerto Rico Department of Education, and in 2013 he was the recipient of the university-wide Graduate Teaching Award. Currently, Antonio teaches courses that emphasize social justice through experiential-learning, literature, culture, cinema, and close readings of primary texts. His research and teaching integrate multiculturalism and community service, while his areas of academic expertise include Spanish American theater, cultural studies, service-learning, and creative writing.

Diego Pascual y Cabo, Ph.D.

Diego, a native of Spain, joins SPS as an Assistant Professor of Hispanic Linguistics and as the Director of the Spanish Heritage Language Program. Before coming to the University of Florida, he worked as an Assistant Professor at Texas Tech University for five years.

Diego, who is a 2013 UF Ph.D. graduate, specializes in Heritage Speaker Bilingualism. Over the past few years, his work on this topic has appeared in several scholarly journals, such as Applied Linguistics, Linguistic Approaches to Bilingualism, Heritage Language Journal, Foreign Language Annals, Hispania, and International Review of Applied Linguistics (among others). He is currently involved in several research projects that explore various aspects of Spanish as a Heritage Language, such as language acquisition and development, emotional dynamics, classroom interventions, experiential service learning, and identity negotiation.

When he is not busy teaching or researching, Diego likes working out and staying active. He also enjoys cooking, reading, and chatting with friends, but above all, he loves spending time with his wife, Laurie, and his two children, Teo and Pau.

Jennifer Pretak, Ph.D.

Jen is from Southern California, where she earned a B.A. in Spanish from the University of San Diego, a M.A. in Hispanic Literature and Linguistics from San Diego State University, and a Ph.D. in Spanish literature at the University of California – Riverside.

Jen is passionate about helping students realize their full potential in any academic setting and has taught Spanish language and Hispanic literature and culture courses at various post-secondary institutions, including UC Riverside, UC San Diego, Christopher Newport University, Norfolk State University — and now at the University of Florida. Jen’s research specialization is in Modern Peninsular Literature and Culture, focusing on neoliberalism and postmodern aesthetics of contemporary Spanish transmedia literature. Her current project is titled “The Nocilla Generation and the De-politicization of the Contemporary Postmodern Narrative of Spain”.

As the Administrative Coordinator of the Lower Division Language Program, Jen is happy to support the instructors of the LDLP while working with students of all kinds of academic needs, so they can be successful and encouraged to advance their studies in Spanish and Portuguese at UF.

For this issue’s program spotlight, we take you to Seville, Spain and let you experience the first-hand reflection of Karla Geigel, who participated in this program in Summer 2018.

A Gator in Seville

“My decision to study abroad in Seville, Spain, was the best decision I could have made for myself. I got to fully embrace and experience the culture of Spain as I stayed with a host family, took classes, and explored cities in the south of Spain.

My favorite excursion was an overnight trip we took about halfway through the program to Córdoba and Granada. Our first stop, Córdoba was gorgeous. Not only did i have the best café con leche that I think I have ever tasted, but we also got to see one of the most unique cathedrals that Spain has to offer. Before the Christians conquered Spain, the country was primarily inhabited by Muslims, and that history is evident throughout Córdoba, where many of today’s cathedrals were previously mosques. We visited one called “La Mezquita,” which had some of the most stunning architecture I have ever seen. The drastic differences in style and building material are a testament to its history as a mosque and later a cathedral.

We then went to Granada, where we enjoyed the mountains and vistas of beautiful southern Spain. One of the most incredible palaces I have ever seen, the Alhambra, rests in the middle of these mountains. The history of the city, the palace, and the opportunity to see a real flamenco show added to the overall experience of learning Spanish language and culture while in Spain.

As a science major it was wonderful to learn about something outside of what I’m used to and to get to experience it all in person. Living abroad for 6 weeks and getting to interact with the local sevillanos through activities, classes or pick-up soccer games, is something I would choose to do over and over again.”

This December, Dr. Clara Sotelo is retiring from a teaching career that has spanned the last 45 years, 23 of which have been at the University of Florida. Anyone who has passed through Dauer Hall in the past two-plus decades has surely interacted with Clara. She has taught all levels of Spanish language, literature and culture, and for several years she has coordinated the instructors working with Intermediate Spanish. Clara is a passionate teacher and a gifted administrator, as her students and colleagues will attest to. But upon learning of her retirement, we are reflecting also on all the other aspects of her life that we have come to appreciate, and which we will miss dearly.

Clara is a lover of literature, a passionate advocate for social justice, a gifted singer and dancer (who can often be heard humming to herself as she sashays down the hall), a dedicated servant to our community, and a devoted lifelong learner, always eager to learn more, experience more, and do more. The world is a better place because of you, Clara, and we’re grateful for the time and talent you have given to SPS along the way. We wish you well in this next phase of your life!



“I hope I made a difference in the lives of some students, even if in a small way. I have kept in touch with several of them, some of whom are my friends today. I will never forget the ones who let me know the influence I have had on them, and those who have offered to visit me in Colombia, where I will retire to work for the environment.”