The World Languages and Literatures department recently received notable accolades with the French major ranking in the top 10 among colleges granting the most bachelor's degrees in foreign languages. The Chronicle of Higher Education posted the rankings for the 2016-2017 academic year and the French major graduated 23 bachelor's degrees at the University of Nevada, Reno, with the number one school graduating 44.
"Berkeley is double our size in terms of student enrollment and faculty, but we have the same amount of majors. Berkeley has 14 French professors - we have two tenure-track professors," Lynni Weibezahl, French lecturer said. The University of California, Berkeley ranked just one spot above the University of Nevada, Reno, graduating 25 French majors last year. Weibezahl wasn't surprised at all by the results and touted many of the recent accomplishments in her area.
Student enrollment in French has remained steady at about 100 majors, with about 23 graduating each year. Weibezahl said she personally seeks out the students she thinks will excel in the French program by talking to them individually when she comes across them in her introductory French classes. "We are coming up with innovative ways to teach and keep kids interested. Retention is extremely important for us," Weibezahl said.
Another program that French is launching soon to help retention rates is the Pack Teach program, by offering a dual degree in French and Education. This program is slated to be open for enrollment in the fall of 2019. Over the last several years, language programs in local high schools have been dismantled, but now Weibezahl is seeing a trend to bring them back. "I get a call at least once a year from the school district which needs French teachers and until now we haven't been able to identify students who can both speak well and have teaching credentials."
In addition, the department has noticed a trend of students interested in linguistics. Students are increasingly more interested in learning French through the study of literature. Recently, the department developed a French for business class, a French translation class and other electives that are more literature focused. Now they have hired a French linguistics professor to start soon so that they can meet the demands of students.
The Study Abroad Program is also benefiting because French recently got approved for students to earn CO14 credits while studying in France. Before now, the department had a difficult time finding an application for French students to earn the CO14 credits, but now they can write about their experiences while abroad and how to manage cultural differences.
The French major is increasingly becoming more popular for students across campus. This may be a result of the department's hard work in informing students of potential career opportunities after they graduate. Associate Professor of French, Isabelle Favre pointed out that 32 countries across the globe recognize French as an official language; and every state in the United States has at least one French company.
Miriella Melara, lecturer of French also teaches a class to help students prepare for the DELF exam, which is a diploma administered by the French government and tests competency levels. Melara's class prepares students to pass the exam, which she said looks very good on résumés - especially among international and French companies.
"Then we get emails years later, like from someone who just took the LSAT, one of the questions on the exam had a quote from a French author - and the student replied ‘I knew exactly what it was.' When that happens - it's wonderful," Melara said.
Among the vast amounts of research the French professors and lecturers produce, the books they print (two just recently published) and the passion they bring to the classroom and ensuring the success of their students before and after they graduate, are the reasons this program is excelling. Weibezahl said she wouldn't be surprised to continually rank among the top universities graduating French majors.