As her students can attest, Associate Professor of Spanish Ariel Strichartz expresses ideas and herself enthusiastically. Behind this energy is a history of personal growth and learning. Her professional passions and interests clearly translate into her classroom curriculum and teaching style.
Strichartz did not take a linear path to teaching. As an undergrad, she attended Rice University, where she majored in Spanish. To make travel money while she studied abroad in Spain, she taught English classes to young students.
“It was a really hard gig … and I thought, ‘I am never going to be a teacher. Ever,’” Strichartz said.
After college, Strichartz worked as a headhunter for a firm that placed technical specialists. Specifically specializing in placing Macintosh programmers. Realizing the work environment was not a good fit, she went back to school at the University of New Mexico. Initially, she hoped to go to law school due to her interest in immigration policy. However, when the day of the LSAT came, Strichartz realized her interests were heading in a different direction.
“I was immersing myself in history and poli sci classes and lit classes,” Strichartz said. “And once the law school thing fell out of the picture, I could just do literature. And I was so excited. And then I started taking history, to support that, to give me contextualization for what I was analyzing in literary texts.”
The interdisciplinary master’s program in Latin American studies led Strichartz to pursue her doctorate degree in Spanish at the University of Kansas. She credits the opportunity largely to the support and encouragement she received from her family. After teaching Spanish at the University of Kansas, Strichartz applied to teach at St. Olaf. Despite the distance from home, Strichartz feels she found a good fit here in Minnesota and hasn’t looked back since. She teaches intermediate and upper level Spanish courses and has led interim trips to Ecuador five times.
Despite having an initial aversion to teaching, Strichartz now considers the profession a gift.
“It pulls you out of yourself, because you’re interacting with other people,” Stritchartz said. “And ironically, some of the best classes I’ve had are on some of my worst days. You give, but you get so much more back.”
Language classes require a unique pedagogy that often pushes students outside of their comfort zones.
“I think [making mistakes] is a really great way to learn what it’s like to be the other,” Strichartz said. “Maybe [students] will be more sympathetic to groups who are considered the ‘other’ than the dominant majority, because they know what it’s like to suddenly not have the ability to express their ideas, or to cast about for the right word, or worry about whether it’s a formal or informal register, all those things that go into translation.”
Beyond teaching, she spends much of her time researching and writing. Strichartz specifically focuses on theater in Argentina and Chile, literary treatment of food and theater under dictatorship. During her sabbatical over the 2015-16 school year, she studied comparative memory in theater addressing the Armenian genocide, performed in post-dictatorship Argentina. Over the summer, Strichartz attended the National Endowment for the Arts’ theater conference in Buenos Aires, participating in forums and attending 16 plays.
Teaching, researching and traveling occupy much of Strichartz’s time and energy, but she also enjoys keeping active by doing yoga and Zumba. She brings her positive, hardworking attitude to experiences both inside and outsite the classroom.
“It’s important to learn that it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s a messy process, but you have to do it to get better,” Strichartz said.