Student & Alumni Stories

Student Stories

Molly O’Donnell ’18

German and Spanish double major
Middle East/North Africa Studies (MENA) minor

“The faculty of the Modern Languages Department have been extremely helpful in allowing me to develop as a student. They are always there when you have questions and are extremely supportive in all of my dreams, especially when it comes to taking so many languages and studying abroad.”


Involvement: Clarinet Ensemble and Wind Symphony Field Hockey Club Secretary of Model United Nations Culture 2 Culture mentor for international students from Germany, China, and Mozambique Volunteer with the Computer Literacy Program, which tutors underprivileged children in Meadville Researcher working with Professor Barbara Riess on the Argentine poet Jorge Luis Borges International Club Study abroad in Buenos Aires


Derek Reno ’16

Environmental Science and French double major

“The Modern Languages faculty are top-notch professors and are a wealth of information about both the language and the culture. With their help, I’ve been able to drastically increase my fluency in the French language. What’s more, I was given the great opportunity of living in the French House of the Max Kade International Wing of North Village. In the French House, my housemates and I lived with a native French teaching assistant who encouraged us to only speak French on a daily basis within the house. Living in a sociable, francophone atmosphere around the clock for a whole year allowed me to build my French fluency by leaps and bounds.”


Involvement: Member of Phi Sigma Iota, the International Foreign Language Honor Society Volunteer coordinator for the College’s DeHart Local Foods Dinner Research assistant to the chair of the Department of Environmental Science GIS and Remote Sensing teaching assistant in the ES Department Summer intern with the Meadville Community Wellness Initiative


Maria Mervine ’18

“The most amazing and fulfilling experience I have had since I became a student at Allegheny is the internship I participated in during the summer after my sophomore year in Fismes, France. I learned about the internship through one of my French Language professors, and I hurriedly applied. Through this internship, I traveled first to Paris and learned all about the history of the city for several days, and then I traveled east to Fismes, France, which is a small town just west of the city of Reims. There, I was able to work in the Office of the Mayor and help them prepare for their inauguration of a historical monument honoring the lives of American (specifically Pennsylvanian) soldiers who rebuilt the collapsed town during World War I. A connection between Meadville and Fismes has endured ever since this period, and I am so grateful that I was able to meet the wonderful people living in that small community, practice and strengthen my French-speaking skills, and live with the most amazing and welcoming host family.”


Alumni Stories

Cheryl Torsney, Ph.D. (‘77) with sons Benjamin Torsney, Ph.D. (‘08), right, and Edward Torsney (‘12)

“Although my Ph.D. is in English, French has come in pretty handy over the years.  I could read literary theory in my doctoral program in the original French, and I taught American literature as a Fulbrighter at the Université de Savoie in Chambéry.

“When my children were young, I traded childcare with my bff, a French professor. Thanks to my foreign languages training, I understood their demands that the peau be removed from their apples before they’d eat them.

“Thanks to my French major, I experienced a strange sort of language interference when chatting with the locals in El Paso, TX, my former home.  I could understand their Spanish, but when I opened my mouth to reply, French came out.  Zut alors!”

— Cheryl Torsney ’77


“I recently graduated with the class of 2017. I got my bachelors of science in biochemistry with my minor being Spanish. I have had the opportunity to put my language skills to use on many occasions. Last year with the Nicaragua EL I was so fortunate to have a smaller language barrier to help me develop bonds and relationships with the community we were working with.

“Now I am working in a hospital in Boulder, CO. I am an aide for the medical/surgical unit and there have been several patients in my assignment and simply on our floor who had limited English skills and a preference for using the Spanish language. There are translators for primary communication between the patients and doctors and various representatives who are part of their health team, however they are not always available. My fluency in Spanish has allowed me to provide more personalized care to someone who can feel a bit alienated when everyone who is helping them cannot understand their needs or they do not fully understand our instruction and treatment.

“I am so blessed to have been able to perfect my skills at Allegheny and put them to use in a practical setting.”

Thanks to the Spanish department,

— Morgan Hazzard ‘17


“I graduated in 2014 as a Spanish major and Biology minor. I was on the pre-health track. My focus was always to work in healthcare bilingually, but I had a strong interest in global health. My comp was about the theory of biopolitics as portrayed in films from Spanish speaking countries. It examined several public health issues and how both the political philosophy, and the cultures themselves examined them. I studied abroad my junior year in Ecuador, where I focused on public health. I also participated in the Nicaragua EL trip, and Allegheny alumni service trips to El Salvador and Honduras.

“I went to Miami soon after graduating to start Physician Assistant school. It was a 2.5 year program in which I worked in Spanish and English to examine, interview, and explain treatment options to patients. I also served as the Medical Spanish TA. Despite being in South Florida, I was often the only person who could translate in my clinical experiences.

“From there, I moved to Fort Myers, Florida where I began a career as a Physician Assistant in Psychiatry. I treat my own patients and often spend my whole day speaking in Spanish. I am one of two Spanish speaking providers, but am the only one who speaks Spanish as a second language. I work with immigrants from a variety of Latin American countries, and my experiences have helped me to understand their cultures. Being able to work in Spanish has provided many opportunities, and I am grateful that I was able to gain this knowledge through Allegheny.”

— Katherine Deutch ‘14


“At Allegheny I was a Computer Science major, and I minored in Spanish. Shortly after graduation, I took a job in the tech support department for a credit reporting agency. While my CS major helped, it was my Spanish background that got my foot in the door. I supported customers in English and I was the sole Spanish speaking tech support for the company.

“This job was not what I wanted as a career, but led to better opportunities. Half a year later I took a tech support role with DynaVox, where we produced communication equipment and educational software for people with communication disabilities. At DynaVox I served English speaking customers and again was the sole Spanish speaking tech support for the company.

“After a year in tech support at DynaVox, I moved into the R&D department as a Test Engineer. Not only did I test our software but I assisted in the localization of our software to Spanish so that native Spanish speakers could benefit from our products.

“Currently I am a Senior Software Engineer with Thermo Fisher Scientific. While I haven’t spoken Spanish in quite some time, or used it directly in my current role, my language education at Allegheny has provided me with numerous opportunities that have lead me down my current career path, for which I am truly grateful.”

— Bryan Johnston ‘05

Alumni Careers, a sampling

A further sampling of our alumni demonstrates the variety of careers they pursue, the important work they do, and the distinguished positions they achieve:

Rosemary Geisdorfer Feal ’77, executive director of the Modern Language Association and professor of Spanish (on leave) at the State Univ. of New York at Buffalo

Michael Burns ’85, assistant district attorney, Erie County, Pennsylvania

Joel Nagel ’86, attorney, Nagel & Goldstein, Pittsburgh; currently serving as an Ambassador for the Government of Belize in Vienna, Austria

Wendy O’Connor ’88, procurement financial analyst, Rohm & Haas Co., Philadelphia

David Callahan ’91, treasury portfolio manager, Charles Schwab Investment, San Francisco

Michael Knapp ’91, operations manager/interpreter, Languages by Nicole, Inc., Pittsburgh

Rachel Hayward ’92, ESL instructor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles

Deborah Momsen ’92, vice president of secondary marketing, Self-Help Credit Union, Durham, North Carolina

Marie Warner ’94, oral history assistant, Foreign Service Institute

Wojtek Moskwa ’94, journalist, Reuters

Warren Payne III ’95, trade economist, U.S. House of Representatives

Priscilla Bennett ’98, teacher, Valley School of
Ligonier, Pittsburgh

Victoria Cortes ’99, senior researcher, National Geographic Television

Sarah Gilbertson ’99, Special Assistant to the Commissioner, Alaska Dept. of Fish & Game

Sasha White de la Cobas ’00, Deputy District Attorney, Riverside County California

Melissa Berger ’01, investment banker, Parker/Hunter Inc., Pittsburgh

Rebecca Varathungarajan ’01, local manufacturing coordinator, Yves Rocher Services, Exton, Pennsylvania

James T. Saunders ’04, Director of International Research, Economic Research Institute

Carly Shane ’04, International Enrollment Manager, Robert Morris University

Wilma Mast Dunkle ’05, teacher, Crawford Central School District

Lauren Destafano ’06, finance/operations, Intel Corp.

Hillary Bennett ’06, International Operations Coordinator, U.S. Grains Council

Sandra Larson ’07, Principal Security Advisor for a cyber intelligence firm

Jocelyn Sabruno ‘07, instructor of Spanish at Washington HS, Washington, PA

Amy Erdlen ’08, Congressional aide, U.S. House of Representatives

Kimberly Tranel ’08, naturalist, Catalina Island Conservancy

Meghan Fazinger ‘10,  English Language Fellow, U.S. Department of State

Mitchell Close ’12Bilingual Team Coordinator/Internal Consultant, AmerisourceBergen Consulting Services

Wenonah Echelard ‘12, International Marketing Manager, Tictail, NYC