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Spanish professor Maria Paredes Fernandez has been an instructor on many abroad programs like Penn-in-Madrid and Penn-in-Alicante.

Credit: Tiffany Pham , Tiffany Pham

It’s not every day that you get to run a road race with your award-winning instructor.

Maria Paredes Fernandez, who was named the 2016 Teacher of the Year at the college level by the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese, served as an instructor for two summers with Penn-in-Alicante, for one summer with Penn-in-Madrid and most recently for two summers with Penn-in-Buenos Aires.

An avid runner, Fernandez encouraged students to sign up for road races and marathons while abroad. She accompanied them on all of their excursions and was a positive force both in and out of the classroom, her students said.

“She encouraged learning,” her former student and Wharton junior Kayvon Asemani said. “She encouraged you to speak if you wanted to say something and never set up a space where you could feel uncomfortable.”

In addition to working as a lecturer in the Department of Romance Languages for the past six years, she serves as a course coordinator, as a pre-major advisor for the College and has recently become an advocate for Penn First, a group geared towards first-generation students.

“She is a wonderful colleague in a program that requires more than just teaching,” said Spanish lecturer and Penn-in-Buenos Aires Program Director Jean O’Bryan Knight. “She helped to get students integrated into the culture quickly.”

Growing up in Upper Darby, PA as the daughter of immigrant parents, Fernandez said she did not really embrace her heritage until her time as an undergraduate at Pennsylvania State University .

“Ironically I had wanted nothing to do with Spanish just because I wanted to fit in with everyone else growing up, and I hated that I had to speak Spanish at home,” Fernandez said. “When I was in college, I took a Spanish class, like a Spanish for heritage speakers class, just to see what this is all about. At the time I thought that my major was going to be kinesiology, and I realized that I really liked the language a lot.”

During her senior year, while completing her degree in Hispanic studies, she discovered her love of teaching after her professor asked her to work as a language instructor for incoming students.

“I really enjoy teaching,” she said. “I love my students. I love the capacity that I get to meet students because I get to interact with them as people.”

Following this unexpected introduction, she received her masters from the University of Delaware and worked as an instructor in various programs before coming to Penn.

In years past, she and her colleague Kara Moranski have been recognized for their technological contributions to language learning at Penn. They were awarded grants for various projects, such as the creation of an introductory video, which is now shown to most incoming students in introductory romance language courses, and the reorganization of course content on canvas.

“You’re always happy to see Maria coming down the hallway,” Knight said. “Because she’s always smiling and there’s something fun going on.”

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