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Spanish, Portuguese professor receives innovation award

By Hailey Mallendick, For The Miami Student

Spanish and Portuguese professor Nohelia Rojas-Miesse was awarded the first-ever John E. Dolibois Faculty Award for Innovation in Global Programming. Along with the award, Rojas-Miesse also received a $1,500 scholarship to aid in improving her study abroad programs.

"It's nice to be recognized," said Rojas-Miesse. "I wasn't expecting to be recognized. It is a validation for all of the work that I have done."

Professor Julie Szucs has worked with Rojas-Miesse in the Spanish and Portuguese department.

"This award was well-deserved," said Szucs. "She's always innovating, both in study abroad and in her classes, thinking of ways to improve or to offer something different to meet the needs of Miami students."

Rojas-Miesse earned the award due to her work with her two study abroad programs in Nicaragua. She has taken more than 180 students to Nicaragua since she started her programs in 2009.

Her week-long medical study abroad program is going on its fifth year and the summer immersion study abroad program is going on its eighth year.

"I think that they provide unique opportunities for students," said Szucs. "Because they combine language immersion through homestays, cultural excursions that allow students to see the beauty and cultural richness of Nicaragua, and most importantly, in my opinion, volunteer service that really allows students to become a part of the community."

Senior August Conner, who participated in Rojas-Miesse's summer immersion Spanish program, said the trip had big impact on her academic career.

"It was the best decision I've ever made and I have nothing but good things to say about it," said Conner. "I decided that I enjoyed Spanish and wanted to minor in Spanish, so because of her trip I am still taking Spanish and will be going to Spain next summer."

Senior Maren Peter also participated in Rojas-Miesse's summer abroad in Nicaragua program and has taken several of her Spanish classes.

"I am able to incorporate what I learned in Nicaragua and apply it in the classroom," said Peter.

She'll use the award money for travel, looking for new study abroad destinations.

"I want to explore the possibilities of collaborating with different departments in the university and possibly reach out to other disciplines that would want to do a program abroad," said Rojas-Miesse. "I think it would be really interesting to combine Spanish and something else, like engineering."

While Rojas-Miesse does enjoy putting on her programs in Nicaragua, it takes a lot of work to plan them.

"Study abroad would not exist if it were not for the faculty that are willing to leave the comforts of home to give students these experiences," said Rojas-Miesse. "All of the faculty that do these programs should be recognized because it takes a lot of work that often goes unnoticed."

Rojas-Miesse spends a lot time during the normal fall and spring semesters planning and organizing her trips for winter and summer breaks. Between her job as a professor and organizing her trips, she said she sometimes finds herself working 24/7.

"Nohelia sacrifices a lot of time and energy coordinating trips to Nicaragua and ways Nicaragua can be incorporated into her teaching," said Peter. "Nohelia is an incredible professor and she is very passionate about what she does."

The John E. Dolibois Faculty Award for Innovation in Global Programming will now be given each year to a faculty member who continues to demonstrate innovative ideas in the field of international education, much like Rojas-Miesse has. It will be presented during International Education Week every year.