AQ Difference

Outstanding Senior Awards 2015
Senior Awards



Graduating Senior Zach Stepanovich was honored as the Outstanding Senior for the 2014-2015 academic year.


Congratulations, Zach!

Studying Abroad in Costa Rica


Studying Abroad in Costa Rica


Aquinas student Travis DeHaan is studying abroad in Costa Rica during the spring 2015 semester. He chose this program not only because it is well tailored to his biology and Spanish interests but also because it offered the most excursions out of all of the AQ study abroad opportunities. When asked about his feelings just before his departure, Travis said aside from missing loved ones, all he could think about was the warm weather, friendly people, and immense biodiversity that awaited him. >Read More 

New Mexico



Aquinas in New Mexico, “The Land of Enchantment”


During the spring 2014 semester, the Chicano Literature class taught by Dr. Shelli Rottschafer, Associate Professor of Spanish, went on a culminating service learning trip to New Mexico to visit all of the places studied in the course.


>Read More

Student Research Symposium 2014
Student Research Symposium 2014

Aquinas junior, Elizabeth Nelson, and her faculty mentor, Dr. Carmen Ruiz-Sánchez, Assistant Professor of Spanish, participated in the Summer Scholar Program last summer (2013) and researched on the innovative uses of demonstrative pronoun “eso” or “that.” Elizabeth Nelson presented the results of the project at the Student Research Symposium on April 30, 2014.


“We're attempting to understand the use of the word "eso" (which usually means "that") in Spanish. "Eso" is often used in spoken communication as what some people think of as a useless "filler" word to close gaps in a conversation,” said Elizabeth. “However, we think it might serve a more important function than that. To discover whether or not this is true, we had to look at some individual occurrences of the word "eso" in context to determine whether it somehow aids the speaker in communicating a message to the listener.”


Elizabeth Nelson is thankful to have a faculty mentor like Ruiz-Sanchez throughout this project. She acknowledges all of the hard work that Ruiz-Sánchez has put into helping Nelson learn how to conduct a sociolinguistic research project. Ruiz- Sanchez is highly satisfied with the results of the project and is impressed by Elizabeth’s outstanding work.


Alumna Profile: Katie Carty ‘10

Katie Carty ‘10


The exceptional opportunities Aquinas offers extend far beyond the classroom. For alumna Katie Carty ‘10, her experiences at Aquinas paved the road to achieving her dreams. An English and Spanish major with a minor in creative writing, Katie was drawn to the many clubs, activities, and events at Aquinas that accentuated her passion for her studies. Katie also participated in the College’s study abroad program, spending a semester in Costa Rica. It was this program that inspired Katie’s passion to become a global learner, joining her scholarly endeavors with real world applications.

>Read More

Aquinas College Latina Students Meet Arturo Rodriguez
Aquinas College Latina Students Meet Arturo Rodriguez

On Thursday, October 17, 2013, Mr. Arturo Rodriguez presented at the Sí se puede Breakfast held on Aquinas campus. This is an annual gathering to celebrate César E. Chávez’s efforts with human rights, immigration issues, and agricultural worker rights. Rodriguez is the president of the UFW: The United Farm Workers of America. He has held this position since 1993.


Invited to the presentation were Dr. Shelli Rottschafer and three of her students from SH301 Advanced Composition. Melanie Tramper ‘16, Iris Torres ‘17, and Laura Rico ‘15 reflected upon Rodriguez’s words, their cultural heritage, and how these apply to the Aquinas charisms of service, learning, and community.


Melanie Tramper (Sociology, Community Leadership and a Spanish minor) noted that President Rodriguez spoke of the hardships and triumphs the UFW has had.

He reflected on his time working with the group founder, César Chávez and the legacy he left behind. Much of the subject matter President Rodriguez addressed was directly related to life at Aquinas College for these students.

Iris Torres (Pre-Med and a Spanish minor) said, “While listening to Arturo Rodriguez during the breakfast, I felt as though it related a lot to the concepts I have been learning about in my Spanish courses at Aquinas. For example, he spoke about the struggles that the people had to go through and how they overcame all the negativity that others were giving them.” Iris feels César Chávez and Arturo Rodriguez’s stance on activism relates to Aquinas’ mission regarding being active in our community and within the world at large. 


Laura Rico (Spanish and Art) expressed her thoughts as a first generation Mexican-American, whom shares some of Rodriguez’s aspirations. “I definitely think it is time for our country to address immigration reform that can begin to pave the way for many individuals in this country to become legal citizens. I also think it is crucial that people are aware of the conditions that farm workers have to endure, in order to help to grow and harvest the food we eat.”  Rodriguez’s passion draws attention to the importance of improving conditions and how the matter of organizing farm workers today has changed since that UFW was started.


Rico was reminded about her own efforts when she helped found the Latino and Latina Student Association (L@SA) at Aquinas College during the 2013 Spring semester. She says one of her greatest accomplishments has been building a student organization that unites students and faculty to learn about and promote service in the Latino community.

After the breakfast concluded, Rico was able to briefly talk to Rodriguez and asked him what message he would like to pass on to the next generation of Latinos. Rodriguez said, “Get involved.” He stressed the importance of being active in the local community and how important every small contribution from an individual can lead to greater change.


My Eyes and Mind Were Opened

By: Shelby Sidor ‘13

Shelby Sidor ‘13

While studying Spanish at Aquinas, I not only learned another language, but I learned about a world so much bigger than I had ever imagined; a world with a number of different cultures for me to explore. Originally I entered Aquinas pursuing a biology major to enter the health field. However, it didn’t take me long to hear about the study abroad programs Aquinas offered.  I soon realized I could continue my goal for a health career while also studying Spanish.


My opportunities with Spanish all started in my Hispanic Grand Rapids Service-Learning class, where my eyes and mind where opened to an issue I had never considered, immigration. At the same time, I volunteered at a local school, César E. Chávez Elementary, where I learned how children in Grand Rapids that speak Spanish have the opportunity go to a

bilingual school. There, they could be comfortable speaking Spanish, but they are also integrated into an English classroom in order to develop both language abilities. From this experience, I discovered that I am pulled to serve others and have a desire to learn more about different cultures.


One of the most significant opportunities that Aquinas provided during my academic career was the ability to study abroad in Costa Rica. This semester-long opportunity pushed me out of my comfort zone. In Santa Ana, Costa Rica, I took 17 of the most edifying credits I have taken through Aquinas. This was because I was learning the information first-hand, by actually experiencing it. I didn’t read about other people’s experience or opinions in a book. I had my own and with them, I created my own knowledge and opinions. Throughout the semester, we went on numerous trips around the country and lived with host families. This allowed me to be completely immersed into the Costa Rican life-style and continued to develop my desire to learn of other cultures.


This passion led me to participate in service-learning trips, such as ‘Casa Hogar’s’ excursion to Peru where I continued to use my Spanish skills while encountering a life-changing experience.  My travels in both Costa Rica and Peru helped form who I have become today. They allowed me to learn more about my role within the world and at home because I was able to learn more about myself and the world around me.


Now that I have graduated from Aquinas, I am entering the master’s program for occupational therapy at Grand Valley State University. Having my Spanish education, I have developed a way to see from another person’s perspective and to understand that their point of view has been formed by the culture in which they have been raised. I will have the opportunity to work with and help more people by knowing a second language. It also has allowed me to work on networking throughout Grand Rapids. Not only will I now be in touch with more people, but I also know how to create connections with others, so in turn, I can help more people with the education I have received from Aquinas College.

2012-2013 Spanish Senior Awards
Outstanding Seniors 2012-2013




Congratulations to Chris Skurka and Molly Feldman (pictured at left with Stéphane Bédère, Assistant Professor of Spanish & French)!


Chris and Molly were honored as the Outstanding Seniors in the Spanish program for the 2012-2013 academic year.


Read Chris and Molly's reflections on being an AQ Spanish major below:

Molly Feldman   Chris Skurka
When I began my journey at Aquinas College, I knew that I was going to pursue a major in Spanish.  Spanish had always been my passion and was always something that I truly enjoyed to study. I decided that I would enter the Education program and study to become a Spanish teacher. By becoming a teacher, I knew that I would be able to share my passion with others and hopefully inspire them in the process. I am so excited that every day I will be able to teach the language that I love to others and show them the wonders of the Spanish culture. Aquinas provided me with experiences and opportunities that have been truly amazing. I was so fortunate to be able to study in Salamanca, Spain where I was able to live with an outstanding family, study at one of the oldest universities in Europe, and travel throughout the country of Spain. In every Spanish class that I took at Aquinas, I had phenomenal professors who took a genuine interest in their students and pushed me to be the best that I could be. Any time that I needed anything from them, they were always willing to help. The Spanish program at Aquinas College has truly prepared me for my future endeavors in the field of education, and I could not be more appreciative of all of the support, resources, experiences, and knowledge that I have gained from my Spanish major.   While I changed my secondary major a few times throughout my Aquinas experience, Spanish was always on the table. I have been studying the language since grade school, and I was anxious to grow closer and closer to fluency. I loved that the Aquinas Spanish major was comprehensive: Courses focus on the oral as well as written and cultural aspect of the language. I was especially excited that in my junior and senior years, the program began to offer more courses in the fields of interpretation, translation, and linguistics. The fundamentals taught there have prepared me well as I continue my Spanish studies in graduate school. As a master’s student of communication, I plan to analyze Spanish/English medical interpretation experiences. I wish to discern if there exists a correlation between accuracy of the interpretation and satisfaction of the patient, interpreter, and/or physician. I am confident that the skills I have acquired from the department combined with the support from the incredible faculty have put me on a path toward future success.
Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies

Aquinas Alumn Samuel Johnson recently presented at the Rocky Mountain Council on Latin American Studies (RMCLAS) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Joining him on his panel were Dr. Shelli Rottschafer, Assistant Professor of Spanish at Aquinas College, and Dr. Damián Wilson Vegara, Assistant Professor of Linguistics and the Director of the Heritage Language Program at the University of New Mexico. The nationally renowned annual conference was held April 3-6 this year and featured the work of over 200 scholars from around the United States.


Their panel was titled “Chican@ Sites of Resistance: Poetic, Linguistic, and Organized Resistance to Hegemony.” Sam’s presentation focused on the Brown Berets, a militant wing of the Chicano Protest movement born out of the divisive sociopolitical landscape of 1960s era Los Angeles, California.

Latin American Studies


Read the full article (pdf): Latin American Studies

Creating Community Through the Spanish Language and Research

Creating Community Through the Spanish Language and Research

On Friday, March 22, 2013, the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts & Letters was held at Hope College. Aquinas' Department of World Languages represented AQ by presenting two panels in the Spanish Language, Literature & Culture Section at this annual conference.


Dr. Shelli Rottschafer selected several students from her previous Advanced Composition in Spanish courses. The first panel focused on The Use of History in Spanish-Speaking Movies, "Pan's Labyrinth" (2006) and "Machuca" (2004). Presenting in this panel were Katie McKay ‘14 (Spanish and English major), Justine Westermann ‘13 (psychology and Spanish major), and Megan Rogers ‘14 (Spanish and English for secondary education major).


"It was not only good practice for speaking Spanish, but also getting my ideas out into the professional world,” said senior Justine Westermann. “I felt very prepared by my Spanish professors within our language department and Aquinas’ focus of social justice."

The second panel was The Mother's Role and Social Criticism within "La Siesta del Martes" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The presenters were Katrina Danko ‘16 (business major and Spanish/sociology minors), Sarah Wade ‘16 (Spanish major), and Azra Fazil ‘16 (Spanish and business major, German minor).


"I was able to practice my Spanish in front of a group of peers and it exposed me to other language departments at another liberal arts college within West Michigan," said first-year student Azra Fazil.


Junior Megan Rogers said overall, "The experience was not only academically stimulating, but also a great opportunity for Aquinas students to bond with each other within our local community." 

Creating Community Through the Spanish Language and Research
Presentation: AQ Meets César Chávez
AQ Meets César Chávez

Essays were presented on February 26, 2013 by three AQ seniors doing independent study projects at César Chávez Elementary School.

Pictured (from left to right): Marissa McCorry, Camille Charette and Ashley Kapteyn


Read their essays (pdf):

Pura Vida: AQ in Costa Rica
By: Zach Stepanovich
Zach Stepanovich

I was determined to wear my torn khaki shorts and summer short sleeve shirt to the Grand Rapids Airport on January 8, 2013, the day we left for Costa Rica. I knew when the day’s travels were over I would not regret my choice of attire. After a few sad farewells and two flights prolonged by extreme anticipation, our plane touched down at the San Jose airport, just a few miles outside the bustling tropical metropolis that is the capital of Costa Rica. As the plane doors cracked open, the warm moist tropical air and blazing sun pushed through and it began to hit me; YES, Zachary Stepanovich, your semester abroad in Costa Rica has finally begun. >Read More

Join AQ Casa Hogar
Casa Hogar



AQ Casa Hogar is a student group that meets on Fridays (during the academic year) at 2 p.m. in the upper level of the Cook Carriage House. Want to learn more about the mission of Casa Hogar? Join us!

Aquinas & Justice for Our Neighbors Partner for Local Immigration Panel

By Lauren F. Carlson, '12

Pictured above (left to right) - Back row: Marissa McCorry (International Business and Spanish Double Major) - Club Español Presidenta; Dr Shelli Rottschafer - Assistant Professor of Spanish. Front row: Ms. Lauren Carlson (English 2010) - Legal Assistant JFON; Ms. Liz Balck - Regional Attorney JFON; Angelica Herrera (English and Bilingual Education Endorsement) - Poet; Roni Ranville (Spanish and Business Administration minor) - Club Español Representativa


Aquinas College as a whole has a penchant for social justice. In my four years on campus, as I navigated the tricky waters of general education, picking a major and a minor, switching that particular major and minor, and earning my credits toward my degree, I couldn't help but learn the College's and the community's desire for a greater good, and interest in supporting local organizations and populations. As an English major, I was afforded a fantastic education in literature, history, and the arts, which aided a better understanding of my role in society, and the value of the written word. As a Spanish student, I was able to garner a skill for conversational bilingualism, and an awareness of the Latino community in Grand Rapids, the United States, and abroad. Lastly, as a writing minor, I grew to understand all too well the importance of language in any culture, as it shapes our values and perception of the world around us.

In my junior year at Aquinas, I had the unique opportunity to interview for a position at Justice for Our Neighbors West Michigan (JFON), a ministry of the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), that had a local office in my church. Honestly, I knew little about immigration in the legal sense, and understood only that, as a student of Spanish and English, I possessed the language skills necessary to support an attorney in the role of legal assistant. Truly, the foundation of an education in language, as well as my prior work experience, allowed me to learn new skills and apply daily lessons to the

complex work at hand. Each day, I learned more about the organization, and the wider message of immigration reform in the United States.

Justice for Our Neighbors is a nonprofit organization that provides high quality legal services to those who cannot afford the many and complex legal forms and processes in immigration law. A faith-based and national organization, JFON also seeks to provide education and advocacy throughout the states, as legal workers, attorneys, and coordinators utilize the unique stories of their clients to further the mission of welcoming communities. JFON's West Michigan chapter has a small staff of three individuals: the regional attorney, the regional coordinator, and myself, the legal assistant. These three roles work together to provide over a hundred clients in a wide range of family and humanitarian based immigration cases.

On Wednesday, November 28, 2012, JFON partnered with the Spanish Club at Aquinas College to provide an informative immigration panel at the Moose Cafe. On the panel sat myself, JFON's Regional Attorney Elizabeth Balck, Assistant Professor of Spanish Dr. Shelli Rottschafer, and poet and current AQ English and Bilingual Education student, Angelica Herrera. The panel began with a short explanation of my own road to a career in immigration, and continued with Ms. Balck's summary of JFON's operations and a few of the complex paths through immigration law in the United States. Dr. Rottschafer offered her educational perspective on the influence of Aquinas students working within the Latino community whom volunteer at César E. Chávez Elementary School, which has a transitional bilingual program.    


Lastly, Ms. Herrera shared her own family's immigration story, as her parents struggled with their concept of “The American Dream” as they transitioned into life within the United States. Her poem, "Identity Lesson," offered a personal perspective on the heart of immigration in America. The panel provided a unique opportunity for the students of Aquinas to learn about the complex processes of immigration law, as well as the impact of immigration within our smaller and larger communities.


Identity Lesson
by Angélica Herrera '13

Who am I?
Where do I come from?
Do you really want to know the pieces of my puzzle?


I come from the high Sierra Mountains of Mexico,
from the green and red chiles.
I come from the small town with no plumbing –
only a bucket to do our business,
a river to take a bath.
I come from the hot days and cold nights,
from the busy streets,
home to stray dogs and drunk men.


I come from long, sweaty nights
after a Quinceñera fiesta.
I come from high heels
and shiny dresses.
I come from a secretless family
who knows everything
about anyone and anything.


I’m from long periods of time
in a crowded, cement kitchen,
making tortillas for a family of a hundred,
waking up to a rooster in the far distance.


This is who I am.
A Mexican-American in the United States
Trying to make something of my puzzle.

Angélica Herrera '13



Presentation: "Tongue-Tied: Engaging Hispanic Grand Rapids at Cesar Chavez Elementary"

Speakers: Shelli Rottschafer, Emilie Becht, Shelby Side and Nicole Crafts

October 30, 2012

Aquinas Alumni in the Land of Enchantment Fall 2012
By: Erin Lamers-Johnson '11
AQ Alumni

New Mexico attracts a unique blend of people. Samuel Johnson (2011 history and Spanish), Erin Lamers-Johnson (2011 Spanish and biology minor), and Joseph Leestma (2012 history and Spanish minor), all have found their unique paths to Albuquerque New Mexico.


This autumn, the Aquinas alumni met with AQ Spanish professor Dr. Shelli Rottschafer who was visiting her alma mater, The University of New Mexico. Sam Johnson and Joe Leestma are beginning their master degrees in Latin American Studies at the Latin American and Iberian American Institute at UNM. Erin Lamers-Johnson is completing prerequisites in organic chemistry before furthering her studies in the medical field. Sam and Joe currently are in a first-year seminar together. One of their comments was that their training at a small liberal arts school helped them gain the confidence they needed. Now that they are in

graduate school, they are of the most vocal in their seminar - participation comes easily. "Aquinas provided me with the best of both worlds: a great liberal arts education and also a strong base in biology, which has given me a huge advantage in my current classes," said Erin.

Alumni Profile: Samuel Johnson '11

Samuel Johnson

Following graduation I worked in the Admissions office at Aquinas and as an interpreter and translator at Godfrey Lee Public Schools. Currently I am pursuing a Master’s Degree in Latin American Studies at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque under a Graduate Assistantship. Through my assistantship I will be aiding in the planning of study abroad trips to Ecuador and Cuba as well as helping to organize academic conferences and recruiting students to our program. My studies will focus on Latin American History and Spanish American Literature and Culture with hopes of teaching or working at a higher educational institution in the U.S. or Central America after graduation.


While attending Aquinas College I majored in both Spanish and History, and I was able to study abroad in Salamanca, Spain

and Santa Ana, Costa Rica. Participating in both study abroad programs opened my eyes to the diverse travel and service opportunities available to Spanish students. While abroad I spent a majority of my time and money traveling all over Iberia and Central America. I learned much about not only the language, histories, and cultures of Spain and Costa Rica but also about myself. Studying abroad was essential to my education and enabled me to be successful in my endeavors after graduating from Aquinas. If you have the opportunity to study abroad get out and explore the country you are in. Indulge in everything your host country has to offer and you will be better off for it. My advice to all students would be to take advantage of all the opportunities, foreign study and otherwise, available to you as Aquinas students!