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To Meet Growing Need For Translators, Friends University Refocuses Spanish Degree Program

Jerry Smartt teaches a class at Friends University.

Traditionally, most university Spanish degrees have focused on literature and culture. One college in Wichita has changed its Spanish language program to meet a growing demand for interpreters and translators.

When Jerry Smartt was studying for her four Spanish degrees, the focus was on literature and culture.

"I have an entire wall in my office that is nothing but my best friends, which are my books," she says.

But now, the professor of Spanish at Friends University says the degree program is focused on the more practical. Since last year, the school has offered a Spanish degree with an emphasis on translation and interpretation.

"When I began to redirect this, it was it was quite a sad but thrilling experience to sort of leave those friends and turn it toward something that would be absolutely practical," Smartt says.

The program still includes classes on culture and Spanish-language literature; the degree is still a Bachelor of Arts. But Smartt says that even before the school refocused its Spanish degree, she had noticed her students taking jobs as interpreters and translators, "whether it was in the medical field, it was a law field, social services. It was teachers, it was in airports, it was translating Bibles."

The Bureau of Labor Statistics says employment for interpreters and translators is expected to grow close to 20 percent over the next decade, due mostly to an increase in the number of non-English speakers in the U.S.

"It's very much a 21st century degree," Smartt says. "And another thing about this generation of students is they're pretty smart about the marketplace, and pretty smart about making those four years work in college."

Smartt says although not many schools offer the program, she doesn't expect it will be the case for long.


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Nadya Faulx is KMUW's Digital News Editor and Reporter, which means she splits her time between working on-air and working online, managing news on KMUW.org, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. She joined KMUW in 2015 after working for a newspaper in western North Dakota. Before that she was a diversity intern at NPR in Washington, D.C.