Kaitlyn Rogers: FLL Major Extraordinario

FLL Major Kaitlyn Rogers in a traditional Mayan huipil and corte dress (Guatemala).

FLL Major Kaitlyn Rogers in a traditional Mayan huipil and corte dress (Guatemala).

The first impression you get when you meet Kaitlyn Rogers for the first time is that you are in front of a very intelligent and inquisitive person. Her sparkling eyes are particularly memorable: they don’t simply contemplate the world; they also constantly weigh in, inquiring and conversing with everything around her.

Kaitlyn, a double major in Spanish and Biology, is president of the FLL Spanish Club, and an aspiring medical student. As a Jefferson Scholar, she recently participated in an experiential learning trip to Bermuda.

She was my student several  semesters ago, and she was outstanding. The following is the full version of an email interview I conducted with her.

Samuel Sotillo: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go to HS? What are you majoring in at NC State?

Kaitlyn Rogers: I grew up in Chapel Hill, NC about 35 minutes away from the NC State campus. I attended East Chapel Hill High School where, in addition to all the “typical” classes, I also took four years of Spanish. I knew I wanted to continue studying Spanish in college so I declared a double major in Human Biology and Spanish.

SS: Why did you choose your FLL Major?

KR: I started studying Spanish in 5th grade and have been taking Spanish classes ever since. By my senior year of high school I’d gotten to the point where I could hold a (slightly disjointed) conversation in Spanish and I didn’t want to lose that ability. I also knew that studying Spanish would make me more employable. I’m hoping to attend Medical School post graduation and speaking Spanish will not only help my application but, long term, make me a more effective doctor.

SS: What opportunities within your FLL Program have been most beneficial to your education? Of these, which would you recommend to incoming FLL students?

KR: I know that many of the foreign language programs have clubs and would recommend that any foreign language student, whether they’re a beginner or advanced, check those clubs out. I joined the Spanish Club at NC State in the fall of 2011 and I was elected president of the club for the 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 school years which has given me a lot of great opportunities to not only make friends but also to learn about Hispanic heritage and culture (the subjects of our group meetings). Spanish Club also hosts conversation groups which have given me the opportunity to practice my speaking skills with other people who are also passionate about learning Spanish. Practice really is the only way to learn a new language and conversation groups, whether they’re part of a class or offered by a club, provide an excellent, low stakes setting for people to make friends and become better, more confident speakers.

The other major opportunity I’ve had (and would recommend for every foreign language student) was to travel abroad. In my case, I studied in Guatemala for seven and a half weeks this past summer with NC State’s Ethnographic Field School. While I was in Guatemala I conducted 21 formal and informal interviews asking about the Guatemalan healthcare system, how and when patients decide to go to the doctor, and some of the obstacles doctors and patients encounter when it comes to providing and receiving quality healthcare. Beyond my actual research project, I learned a lot about Guatemalan and indigenous culture. I wore the traditional Mayan huipil and corte (blouse and skirt), made tortillas on a wood burning stove, watched the Disney Channel dubbed in Spanish and had long conversations with my host mother about school, the cost of eggs in the market, her family, my family and what it means to be Guatemalan, indigenous or American. My trip will be useful from a curricular standpoint, allowing me to get an Anthropology Minor as well as providing me with the material for my Thomas Jefferson Scholars capstone project. Beyond that, however, I learned a great deal about myself and the beauties of a culture that is both similar and different from my own (something which can only be touched on in a classroom setting).

SS: What does it mean to be a Jefferson Scholar? Do you think that being a FLL Major may have helped you to be better prepared as a Jefferson Scholar?

KR: I was invited to join the Thomas Jefferson Scholars Program in my senior year of high school after indicating on my NC State application that I was considering double majoring in Spanish and Biology.  The Jefferson Scholars are a small group of about 40 students all of whom are double majoring in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHASS) and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS). Every student in the group is double majoring in the sciences and humanities and many of us are FLL majors. We meet biweekly to listen to guest speakers and discuss any club business but, more than that, we are involved in several service projects around campus (Shack-A-Thon and The Warming Tree), we just hosted our inaugural Distinguished Lecture Series, and we take two trips each year, one in the fall and one in the spring. This past May the Jefferson Scholars Program introduced a new, international element to the program inviting all the juniors and seniors to travel to Bermuda for a week where we learned about marine biology, ecology, and the island’s culture.

SS: What community engagement opportunities related to your FLL Major have most influenced your professional vision and practice? Was your involvement with any of these community activities based on a faculty/staff recommendation or course requirement?

KR: Last fall I got an email about an internship with the Urban Ministries of Wake County Open Door Clinic. I mentioned in my cover letter that I was a Spanish major who was very comfortable speaking Spanish and, for that reason, was awarded the internship. I spent three months working with English and Spanish speaking applicants in the eligibility department and, in the spring, started working as a nurse. Although the clinic has interpreters who help with Spanish speaking patients (and I often get their help with taking patient histories), it’s great to not be reliant upon their availability to check in a patient or schedule a follow up appointment. Speaking Spanish was what got my foot in the door at the clinic and has been incredibly useful in my work since then.  I’ve had my moments of confusion when patients use unfamiliar words but I’m continuing to learn and this experience has reaffirmed my desire to not only be a doctor, but to be a doctor who is fluent in Spanish.

SS: How has your FLL coursework and research influenced your decision to pursue a particular focus or area within your field?

KR: I’d love to do something like Doctors Without Borders and am definitely interested in the Peace Corps but working at the clinic in Raleigh has also illustrated the need for Spanish speaking doctors locally. I was initially interested in going into pathology or anesthesiology which are fields of medicine with low patient contact. My work in the clinic has made me realize how much I enjoy working with patients, however, which, combined with my Spanish degree, has me more interested in fields where I will not only have more patient contact but contact with Spanish speaking patients.

SS: What is the most challenging aspect of your FLL Major? What’s the most rewarding?

KR: The biggest challenge for me as a Spanish major has always been mastering Spanish grammar. I love being able to speak with native Spanish speakers at my job, in a store, or while I was studying abroad but sometimes find that I don’t have the necessary language skills to understand or be understood. These moments are always frustrating but especially in a classroom when poor grammar and an incorrect conjugation can affect your grade. Fortunately, these moments of absolute confusion are becoming less frequent as I continue my Spanish major and my Spanish language skills improve. It’s incredibly rewarding to reread a short story which I struggled with in high school only to realize that I understand it perfectly now.  All those classroom discussions of literature have also increased my confidence in my spoken ability and having an actual conversation in Spanish has become easier. I still have those moments when I realize my Spanish skills are completely inadequate for the task at hand (I avoid speaking Spanish over the telephone at all costs), but they are less frequent than they were three years ago.

SS: When you think of the future, what gives you a sense of hope? What concerns you?

KR: I won’t graduate until December of 2014 due to my dual degrees but I’m already starting to think about life after college and what that will entail. Like a lot of soon to be graduates I’m looking forward to finishing college and continuing on with the next stage in my life (which will hopefully be Med School) but I’m also worried about studying for the MCAT, the med school application process and creating backup plans. More long term, I look forward to seeing gay marriage legalized in all fifty states. I’m delighted to see healthcare coverage expanding here in the United States and hope that trend will continue until everyone will have access to the medical care they need regardless of their personal finances or citizenship.

SS: What’s next for you after graduation? What are you looking forward to?

KR: I’m planning to graduate from NC State in December of 2014. After that I hope to go to medical school although I’m also considering taking a gap year (or two) to join the Peace Corps or another volunteer organization. I will most definitely miss NC State and all of the friends I’ve made here but I’m also looking forward to being somewhere new.

By Samuel Sotillo, Lecturer/Webmaster, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.