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The Language of Family

  Tuesday, September 1, 2015

As one often hears, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Just ask Judy Montgomery Hicks. Her passion for all things German inspired her teaching of the language at various Virginia schools, including Denbigh High in Newport News and Hickory High in Chesapeake. In the fall of 1979 she even taught English at Christopher Newport.

Years later, granddaughters Kelli ’14 and Kathryn Montgomery ’15 followed closely in her footsteps, majoring in German at CNU. “She was actually my German teacher for all of high school and Kathryn’s for a year,” Kelli says.

As American firms add overseas branches, proficiency in a foreign language can prove pivotal in a global marketplace. Courses and programs offered through the Department of Modern and Classical Languages and Literatures (MCLL) teach students to speak and understand various foreign languages, develop skills in reading and writing, and appreciate cultural diversity.

It’s not surprising that the Montgomery sisters grew up learning and speaking German. Their mother’s side of the family derived from a German heritage; their father’s side grew familiar with the culture due to a military background. Growing up the sisters found themselves immersed in German ways – from enjoying German dinners to hearing German hymns at bedtime. As Kathryn notes, the language and customs have always been a part of her family experience, “whether by culture or by blood.”

In 2014 Kelli walked the commencement stage as the sole German major, in addition to completing a second major in political science and a leadership studies minor. “People ask what it’s like to be a language major,” she says. “It’s all inclusive. I have taken history, writing, cultural courses, all in German.”

Kelli thrived as a resident assistant with the Governor’s German Academy through the Virginia Department of Education. That summer job required organizing and leading cultural, recreational and social activities for high school students completing a full-immersion language program. On campus she tutored students in German, was president of Alpha Phi sorority and won the Foreign Language Leadership Award for her involvement in the Governor’s German Academy – an MCLL honor recognizing community outreach and campus leadership related to the study of foreign languages. She also received the MCLL award for the best senior capstone paper.

Currently employed in GEICO’s management development program, Kelli applies her language expertise by working with customers from multicultural backgrounds. “At the end of the program I’ll be a supervisor in the claims department, so my leadership minor and the lessons from multiculturalism come into play,” she says. In the evening she takes online business courses to advance her knowledge and skillset.

Besides majoring in German, younger sister Kathryn is pursuing a minor in linguistics, which explores language in society, the nature of language variation and myriad issues related to language use. She eventually plans to earn a master’s degree in applied linguistics. “I learned about linguistics and teaching English as a second language from Dr. Laura Deiulio,” she notes. “I hope to travel abroad to other countries to teach English.”

Deiulio, an associate professor of German recently teaching abroad in Scotland, has enjoyed mentoring the Montgomery sisters. “They both put a high priority on serving others,” she notes, adding that the Department’s professors strive to make the program “klein aber fein”: small but high quality.

Active both on and off campus, Kathryn was a member of Alpha Sigma Alpha sorority and Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity. She also served as a health services technician in the U.S. Coast Guard. She has high praise for her major program and faculty. “I had a good relationship with all of the German professors, and they checked up on me during the summer; we’re like a close-knit community,” she says. “It contributed to the one-on-one with my professors and to my overall learning in class.”

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