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From Student to Professor

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    2006 graduate Chris Tanguay is teaching French this year in the same classrooms he was in as a student. (Photo by Shelley Dormont)

French Program graduate returns to teach at Southwestern

When he was hired to be an instructor of French at Southwestern for the 2010-2011 academic year, Chris Tanguay didn’t have to worry about finding the classroom he would be teaching in. He had already been in that room as a student at Southwestern eight years ago.  

Tanguay was hired to teach French this year while Francis Mathieu, assistant professor of French, is on leave for a junior sabbatical.

“We were looking to hire a qualified teacher with lots of energy and creativity,” said Erika Berroth, associate professor of German and chair of the Chinese, French and German programs. “When I let Chris know about our position he responded with great enthusiasm. We had a competitive pool of applicants and identified Chris as our top choice.”

Since graduating from Southwestern in 2006, Tanguay has been working on a Ph.D. in French at Rice University. His dissertation is on French science fiction and biopolitics, in particular representations of the human body in futuristic texts. He hopes to complete his degree in another two years and get a full-time teaching job at Southwestern or another liberal arts college.

For Tanguay, getting to teach at Southwestern before he even completed his Ph.D. was a dream come true. He taught French III last semester as well as a literature course on how love and the couple are perceived and presented in French literature and cinema and an overview course on the history of France stretching from Gallo-Roman times up to the beginning of the 20th century. This semester he has been teaching two sections of French IV.

At first, Tanguay said he was nervous about teaching at Southwestern because he knew he had a lot to live up to. But by all accounts, he had lived up to expectations.

Berroth said students praise Tanguay for his enthusiasm and accessibility. “Chris’s classes are perfectly balanced and make the material easy to learn and understand,” she said. “He is great at motivating students to improve their critical skills and stretches the boundaries of what they feel they can accomplish.”

Aaron Prevots, associate professor of French, echoed Berroth’s comments. “Chris is especially sharp as a French specialist and engaged as a pedagogue,” Prevots said. “It is a real pleasure see his intuitive understanding of students’ needs.”

Tanguay said his year at Southwestern has “been a magnificent experience” and he has learned a lot about best practices both in the classroom and out of it. “The students at Southwestern have made it all worthwhile,” he said. “They’re the most engaged and intelligent I’ve had yet,” he said.

In addition to teaching at Rice, Tanguay has taught French to participants in the Houston Grand Opera’s Young Artist Program. “One of the things they offer these artists is the opportunity to learn different languages in order to prepare them for interacting with foreign artists, composers and directors and to help them in case they are ever hired by a European studio,” Tanguay said.

Tanguay said he didn’t come to Southwestern planning to study languages. In fact, he hated the Spanish he had to take in high school. He decided to take French at Southwestern because his father works for a French company and on business trips to Paris he would sometimes bring him back French comic books.

“After my first few classes of French, I just fell in love with the idea of becoming fluent in the language and in as many languages as I could,” he said.

Tanguay said he is indebted to Christian Hiltenbrand, his first French professor, and to former French Professor Suzanne Chamier, who helped guide him through the language and literature of France. Economics Professor Dirk Early and English Professor Helene Meyers also inspired him. By the time he graduated from Southwestern, he knew he wanted to be a teacher himself.

Tanguay said his experience at Southwestern prepared him well for graduate school.

“My classes, and more globally, the particular university experience offered by Southwestern (community, dorm life etc.) taught me how to think critically and sharpened my curiosity,” he said. “I may have already been inquisitive, but my time at Southwestern taught me how to direct that in the most effective way possible, which makes things such as researching efficiently and intelligently much easier. In addition, the variety of courses I took at Southwestern, thanks to its nature as a liberal arts institution, gave me a broader perspective of different academic disciplines and ways of approaching problem solving. A better grasp of just the basics of how the disciplines of sociology or history work, just to name a couple, has allowed me a better understanding of how integrated they are in my own field.”

Chris is not the only sibling in his family who developed a passion for languages at Southwestern. His younger sister, Amy, graduated from Southwestern in 2008 with a double major in German and English, and earned a Fulbright Fellowship to teach English in Germany. She is now in a German Studies graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania.