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Romance Language Alumni Talk Career Options and Tips

April 5, 2017

A group of six Northwestern alumni spoke on Thursday (April 20th) about the ways in which their undergraduate language studies have shaped their career paths and continue to enhance their professional opportunities.

The panel, held in the newly-renovated Kresge Hall and geared towards current undergraduate students studying Spanish or French, featured Redmond McGrath (Weinberg ’12), an associate attorney at Webster Powell, P.C.; Elisa Meggs (Weinberg ’11), a program manager at the cultural exchange organization CCI Greenheart; Zachary Pfau (BMus’08), a learning and development solutions designer for Murex S.A.S in Paris; Aja Ringenbach (Weinberg ’13), a visa specialist and program advisor at IES Abroad; Jake Rosner (SESP ’12), a union organizer at Unite Here Local 1; and Kate Suellentrop (Weinberg ’12), a senior strategist at FCB Chicago.

The speakers kicked off the panel by urging audience members not to underestimate the value of a second language, and emphasizing the ways in which their own undergraduate language studies helped them stand out to employers following graduation.

“Even in the first years after college, I’ve had a number of great opportunities opened to me,” said Ringenbach, who studied Spanish during her time at Northwestern and continues to use the language as an advisor at IES Abroad. “[Studying a language] adds an extra tool to the tool belt. It signals to others that you have an interest in opening your mind to other cultures.”

The alumni noted that the payoff of studying a second language is quick to manifest itself outside of the work space, too.

 “You can put other people at ease when you speak not only their language but their culture,” said Pfau, who skyped into the panel from Paris, where he has been living since 2008 when he came as a Fulbright scholar.

Rosner, who uses Spanish in his job as a union organizer in Chicago, agreed.  “Language…lets me build much deeper relationships and bonds with people,” he said.

The alumni wrapped up the panel by encouraging current students to keep practicing their language skills outside of the classroom, especially by studying abroad.

“Study abroad early and often,” said Meggs, before highlighting the ways in which the university has equipped its students for success in any environment, be it abroad or domestic. “Just going to Northwestern and being in a fast-paced, demanding environment, you’re more prepared than you think.”

After the event, students lingered to chat with panelists one-on-one, utilizing the opportunity as a chance to ask more personalized questions and seek out language-specific advice. 

“On your own, it’s hard to think about how a language skill will be useful in the future,” said Kelsey Pukelis, a current undergraduate student who has taken courses in Spanish and attended the Thursday panel. “So it’s nice to hear from different people how and to what extent they try to incorporate [language] into their lives. It’s not always an obvious connection.”

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