Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures’ own James McConnell has added another accolade to his list of accomplishments as an educator at NC State. McConnell has been with the department since 2005 and was promoted to senior lecturer in 2013. Prior to joining the Wolfpack, McConnell attended the University of Arizona for undergraduate and graduate school. There he earned his Master’s degree in Hispanic Literature and taught for five years.
Aside from the many courses he leads everyday on campus and online, McConnell runs a summer study abroad program in Segovia, Spain and launched a program called VOLAR (VOLuntarios Ahora en Raleigh) alongside Dr. Shelley Garrigan in 2012 which won a seed grant of $10,000. They then selected Debbie Kane as the director of the program it has become an environment for Spanish speaking students to grow and interact with the larger Spanish speaking community in Raleigh and beyond.
What follows is an interview we did with James via email in which he talks about his Faculty Fellow award, his passion for the Spanish language and his appreciation for the vast opportunities presented at NC State.
What did it mean to you to be named a 2018-2019 Faculty Fellow?
I was overjoyed to be named a Faculty Fellow. Any type of recognition at a university is welcome and it’s appreciated even more when it’s from a department/entity that you know well and truly respect.
Are there any specific moments in your career that you attribute to this success?
In 2011 I was named Outstanding Teacher of the Year for Higher Education through the Foreign Language Association of North Carolina. This gave me a lot of confidence that I didn’t have before. However, there are several experiences I’ve had during my time at NC State that made me feel I had value that would make me a viable candidate to be a Faculty Fellow. Presenting on different technologies at state and national conferences helped me focus more and work harder to fine tune certain skills and the overall opportunities presented to me through my department have helped me develop skills in a variety of areas that have contributed to making me a better instructor.
What would you consider to be a highlight in your career?
This is it! Well, it is one of them. There isn’t one specific highlight and that is actually good because it keeps me striving to do more. Being awarded a $10,000 seed grant, receiving awards for our VOLAR program, being named Outstanding Teacher of the Year, and acknowledgment for the summer study abroad program I run have all been spaced out pretty well during my time here, so each time I get those positive affirmations it rejuvenates me and makes me realize I’m in the right place.
How has your experience as a senior lecturer in the Department of FLL been at NC State?
Fantastic. Our department is very collegial and we’re led by someone who has good vision and is willing to offer opportunities to productive individuals. If I worked at a different university, I wouldn’t have had half the opportunities afforded to me here.
What drew you to a career in teaching?
I have an older sister and a younger brother. My sister taught me a lot growing up and I taught a lot to my brother. It’s something I’ve always enjoyed: the sharing of information with others. My first semester of graduate school I was given two classes of my own to teach and the first day was a bit terrifying. After a few days, I realized I enjoyed it immensely and wanted to keep doing it.
Did you always know you wanted to teach?
In some form or another, yes. Friends and family had mentioned it to me while growing up and I had already done so in other facets; I taught gymnastics, did outreach programs for marine biology, and was a scuba instructor before moving into academia.
Do you have any passions that have impacted you personally or in your career?
Reading. I was a voracious reader in elementary school and that continued into college, pushing me to do a Master’s Degree in Hispanic Literature. It opens you to so many new worlds. There’s a great J.K. Rowling quote: “If you don’t like to read, you haven’t found the right book.” Go find your book.
What advice do you have for current NC State students studying foreign languages and literatures?
Take it seriously, like you should any class. Try to do more than what you think is your best work; you can really surprise yourself. I see former students very frequently who tell me, “I loved your class but I forgot all my Spanish.” No, you didn’t, you’re just not using it. “Use it or lose it” is true. Finding a way to incorporate the language into your daily routine will help you maintain those abilities.
How has being proficient in a foreign language opened doors for you in your life?
It’s honestly given me hundreds of thousands of dollars and helped me to travel all over the world. No lie. Knowing a foreign language has provided me with multiple jobs and afforded me the ability to travel to Fiji, Egypt, The Solomon Islands, all of the Caribbean, The Galapagos Islands and more, all paid for by someone else.
Have you ever learned anything from your students?
Thankfully, I learn something from my students on a daily basis. They’re the reason I was named a Faculty Fellow.