Austin Parsons

UNC undergrad Austin Parsons helps Chapel Hill schoolchildren enrolled in a dual-language program make videos to share with their counterparts in Spain. The videos were part of the “21st Century Pen Pals” project in the Spring 2012 semester, supported by the Buchan Fund.

Bill Maisch, senior lecturer of Spanish in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, used a grant from the Buchan Excellence Fund in his Spring 2012 class, Spanish 255.

Spanish 255 is a conversation-level class aimed at having students improve from classroom proficiency to fluency—meaning they work on being able to converse with native speakers. This is often accomplished through study abroad in a Spanish-speaking country, but Spanish 255 introduces Carolina students to native speakers right here in Chapel Hill, by having them volunteer in ESL (English as a Second Language) classes in a local elementary school.

“Many UNC students studying Spanish will not have the opportunity to travel abroad for study in a Spanish-speaking country,” Maisch said. “Serving as ESL volunteers is another way for them to increase their fluency. When you are learning a new language, conversing with native speakers shows you your abilities and limitations.”

But Spanish 255 isn’t just about polishing your skills, Maisch said. It’s about service.

Carolina y el Español

Carolina students taking Spanish can thank Duke Buchan III ’85 and his early obsession with the World Book Encyclopedia for innovative learning experiences that make the language more relevant than ever.

Buchan is the highly successful founder and CEO of Hunter Global Investors L.P.,
a money management firm based in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he lives with his
 wife Hannah and their three young children. Read more…

Maisch structures the class to focus on student leadership and service-learning reflection. Each class begins with a reflection discussion and three classes during the semester are devoted entirely to student-led reflection.

“I try to guide students to discover on their own what they are learning,” Maisch said. “I try to avoid telling them what I think they should be learning or where they can find literature on it.”

The Buchan Fund, along with another grant, allowed Maisch and collaborators to create the “21st Century Pen Pals” project.

“A team of us in the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures, with colleagues in the Language Resource Center and the Center for Faculty Excellence, came up with the idea,” Maisch said. “It was a true team effort. And of course, it was made possible by the grant from the Buchan Fund and another one from Lenovo. The funds enabled us to pay a graduate student, Britt Newman, to coordinate all the disparate groups, and wrangle the technology, so elementary students in Carrboro, N.C., could talk to elementary students in Seville [Spain].”


“The elaborate planning for this project in terms of people and technology would not have been possible without the Buchan Fund grant.”


Specifically, three UNC students enrolled in Spanish 255 and volunteering at an elementary school in Chapel Hill worked with three other UNC students who had already taken the class and were studying abroad in Seville. The Seville crew volunteered at Claret School there.

“Our six students worked with the elementary schoolchildren to help them plan and prepare short bilingual videos in which they introduced each other to their favorite toys, likes and dislikes, their cities, their schools, families, cultures and daily lives,” Maisch said. “The elaborate planning for this project in terms of people and technology would not have been possible without the Buchan Fund grant.”

The outcomes of the project were significant, Maisch said, and he plans to expand it in Spring 2013. “The UNC students, for example, were amazed and humbled by the Spanish language and near-native pronunciation of the non-Hispanic children enrolled in Chapel Hill’s bilingual programs. This led to interesting research on second language acquisition in young children.

“And of course, the elementary schoolchildren in both countries were enthusiastic and curious about the daily lives of their counterparts. Upon seeing the uniforms of the Claret School kids, the Chapel Hill kids asked, in Spanish: ‘Why are you all wearing the same clothes?’”

Plus, the connections made last spring have given rise to some inspiring new collaborative efforts in Service Learning between Chapel Hill and Seville, Maisch said. “My interest in our students learning to deal with authentic Spanish is not just for those in Chapel Hill, but also and most especially for our study abroad students, particularly those in Seville, who need to get out and learn to speak to and understand native speakers of all ages. As academic director of the Seville program, I have encouraged our program instructors there to incorporate Community Service Learning into their classes for our undergraduates. Just recently I got a very encouraging report and some photographs from our program instructor in Seville, Ángeles Lamprea, who reported great success with our students’ work this week with both preschool children and the elderly.”

By Claire Cusick