Deutsche all day

March 20, 2017

More than 140 high school students descended on campus for German Day, a long-term collaboration among local language educators. (Photo by Phil Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

Germany plays a major role in Anchorage, with German restaurants and markets dotting the city (plus one train-traveling polka band). Germany also, importantly, provides a serious economic impact. In 2011, the state’s most recent tourism study found German-speaking tourists made up 13 percent of the international market (that’s thousands more tourists than all of Asia combined). With lodges and tour companies operating in German across Alaska, it’s only fitting the largest city has a German education program to match.

So Willkommen to college!

On March 3, in collaboration with the Anchorage School District (ASD), UAA’s German program hosted high school students from across the city for the 17th German Day.

“It’s a real recruitment effort,” Dr. Nataša Masanovič Courtney, chair of the department of languages, said of the event, which brings students to UAA both to practice German and explore the campus. This year, more than 140 high school students spent the morning engaging with college students who planned the event’s German activities.

Though Nataša would love if those 140 kids all enrolled in her class at UAA, she knows that’s unlikely. The day, she says, is structured around showing off campus, connecting high school students with current college students, and showing off the value of the students’ hometown university (particularly the German program).

German Day has become part of the education fabric in Anchorage. Over 17 years, many high school students stayed involved as college students. Some college students even became German teachers, and now return with their own high school classes. German Day is a collaborative link among city educators, and just one of many reasons the Anchorage School District won a national advocacy award for German education last year.

Stay at home and see the world

While Anchorage teens often talk about leaving the state for college, German Day provides a different message: stay in town, save some money, and you can still see the world. Alaska’s in-state tuition rates are among the lowest in the country. On top of that, the languages department has a strong track record of supporting students in international opportunities after college. In the last 10 years, the German program alone has produced nine Fulbright recipients and ten Congress-Bundestag recipients — all 19 students earned competitive scholarships to live and work for a year or more in Germany.

Over two months, Nataša planned the event with student volunteers on Thursday evenings, right after their 400-level German literature class. Of her 13 volunteers, 12 are pursuing a major or minor in the language (in addition to degrees in engineering, math, logistics, philosophy, geology, education and art). Over pizza dinners, the group settled on art and architecture as this year’s theme.

The March 3 event began with a brief welcome, followed by a student panel in the largest classroom on campus, a packed-to-capacity 139-seat Rasmuson Hall auditorium. Lining the stage, the 13 UAA students introduced themselves, their path to college and why they opted for UAA (along with their favorite word in German).

After a Q-and-A and an interactive trivia quiz in German, the group split into smaller classrooms for student-led lessons on art and architecture. One room pulled up a photo-panorama of Munich for a game of vocab bingo (Suchen Sie die Statue! Wo ist der Springbrunnen?!).

Of course, no cultural day is complete without food. Participants crossed the entire campus on a German-language architecture scavenger hunt before ending the day at Creekside, elbow-to-elbow in the tray line with residential students, where the chefs had prepared a special menu of pork schnitzel and German-style braised red cabbage.

Local language education nets national recognition

Cody Rixse, an art and German double-major, leads a classroom discussion on German art and architecture in Beatrice McDonald Hall. (Photo by Phil Hall / University of Alaska Anchorage)

German Day is a proven link between ASD and the university, another feather in ASD’s nationally recognized cap. In 2016, the American Association of Teachers of German awarded ASD its top honor for German language advocacy, the first time a school district had received the Friend of German award (previous recipients include NBA forward Dirk Nowitzki and the Bayer Corporation).

“We have the most complete German program in the United States,” said Jo Sanders, curriculum director at Rilke Schule, Anchorage’s K-8 German immersion school. In Anchorage, she said, students can begin learning German at 18 months and continue every year through high school. UAA is a vital next step.

“With a language, you don’t stop,” she said. “This link is so important.”

That connection is equally valued from the university side. “I have not worked with any other group that has been so dedicated to what they do,” Nataša said of ASD’s German educators. “Without them and their inspiration for their students, I don’t think we would have students at UAA for German.”

Thanks to Anchorage’s tight community, some of Nataša’s former students are now her peers at German Day, like Dimond High teacher Charles Beattie. After attending German Day as a Bartlett student, he helped plan the event while studying math and German at UAA.

“I remember how much fun I had at [German Day],” he said of his first visit. “It was just great to be on campus as a high school student. That was very liberating to take a day off school to check it out and be in a classroom.” Now it’s his students’ turn. Charles, who previously taught at a STEM school in Dresden on a Fulbright fellowship, brought 17 of his Dimond students to campus this year.

With hundreds involved each year, German Day is undeniably a collaborative effort. “We all work together very collegially,” Nataša said of the city’s German educators. And she credits her students, too. “I would not have been able to do this event if I did not have nice and capable students around me.”

German Day comes but once a year, though German education never stops in Anchorage. In a true depiction of local dedication, after wrapping a day literally dedicated to Germany, UAA students, alumni and faculty still headed to Black Cup for Kaffeeklatsch, a community conversation table hosted weekly by the German program every Friday, unfailingly, for the past 14 years.


Written by J. Besl, UAA Office of University Advancement 

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