Professor of Foreign Languages (Spanish) Ann St. Clair Lesman, Ph.D., is the 2015 recipient of the David T. Gies Distinguished Service Award given by the Virginia chapter of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese (AATSP), after being nominated by a contingent of Shenandoah professors and an alumna.
The award recognizes individuals who have worked toward improving the teaching of Spanish in Virginia, above and beyond the general job requirements.
“I am, of course, very pleased to have been selected, but also, reading the nomination letters by my colleagues and friends was really touching,” said Dr. Lesman. “I was particularly moved by the letter by my former student, Colleen Foster [’12]. That’s what it is all about — everything we do — it’s about making a difference for the students.
“I am really lucky that the area where my talent lies — languages — allowed me to have a career where I can give students something that can make a difference in their lives, and I can do a little bit toward bridging the gaps between cultures in our country, a task that I see as very important. I feel lucky because what I was good at let me do something I felt was important — and was also a great deal of fun.”
In her letter, Foster extolled Lesman’s ability to empower her students in the learning process. “Dr. Lesman cultivates a flexibility between students’ Spanish-speaking lives and English-speaking ones. No matter their comfort level, she nudges them to expand it just a little farther and take risks both aloud and on paper,” said Foster.
“She nourishes the idea that, even if you are not ready to churn out a dissertation in Spanish, you are still a Spanish speaker,” Foster continued. “You are a citizen, even if a mumbling and shy one, of the Spanish-speaking world — and her class is just a springboard to open the rest of it to you. Every student in Virginia would be incredibly lucky to have a Spanish teacher who endows and empowers them with that gift of ownership.”
Associate Professor of Hispanic Studies Andrea Meador Smith, Ph.D., was part of the nominating group from Shenandoah, and received the following response from the AATSP about Lesman and her work:
“Thank you for your efforts in spotlighting an individual with such far-ranging influences on students and teachers of Spanish. The many laudatory comments included in the letters of recommendation left no doubt in our mind that she has been, and continues to be, someone who creates opportunities for teachers and students, who participates in the community, acts as a mentor, is a leader in her profession, and is a genuinely exciting and creative person.”
In her letter to the selection committee, Dr. Smith cited numerous benchmarks in Lesman’s career at Shenandoah University, including becoming the first adjunct Spanish professor at Shenandoah in 1990, the first full-time Spanish professor in 1997, and the first chair of what is now the World Languages & Cultures Department, also in 1997. Lesman, who will retire in May 2015, also designed and implemented a Spanish major at Shenandoah in 2001.
Smith also noted that Lesman is “a model of the excellence that we strive for at Shenandoah University and the passion for language teaching that the AATSP promotes.”
In additional nomination letters, Lesman was described as “a lifelong teacher and learner of languages,” “an educator who shows strong evidence of encouraging and helping students to learn in ways that comfort and challenge them both at the same time,” and as someone who “continues to be a model in her tireless efforts for mentoring new teachers, the international community, and opening the Hispanic World not only in the USA but beyond.”