The Best Plan is...No Plan! | Faculty Spotlight on Ana Fernández Dobao

Submitted by Holly J Winters on

Congratulations to Ana Fernández Dobao who has been promoted to the rank of Associate Professor with tenure, effective September 2014. Dobao, hired in 2007 as Assistant Professor and Language Program Director, said, “It’s been a long road, and a lot of work. I gave 120% and it has now paid off.”

Dobao described herself as someone who doesn’t plan things. “I don’t know what I want until it is in front of me and then I make the most of opportunities that present themselves.” She added, “Once I make up my mind, I don’t look back.”

Dobao, from Galicia in northwest Spain, received her PhD in English, with a focus on second language acquisition, from the University of Santiago de Compostela.  While writing her dissertation, Dobao, who is passionate about traveling and living in other countries, did a one-year exchange with Brown University, followed by a one-year fellowship in Montreal.

She intended to go back to Spain after the year in Canada, but Dobao loved Montreal and applied for a lecturer position “just to see” what would happen.  She got the job and stayed for four years, teaching Spanish - in French! Dobao speaks four languages: Spanish, French, English and Galego, the native language of Galicia. “I spoke Galego in school for a few hours a day,” she said, “and with my grandparents at home.” Dobao still speaks Galego with friends when she visits home.

Dobao again planned to return home to do post-doctorate work but, curious to know what other possibilities were out there, applied for and landed the job of Assistant Professor and Language Program Director at UW. Six years later, she has become tenured.

Achieving tenure is a relief for Dobao. “It means I can stay in Seattle and at UW,” she smiled. “One of the things I like about UW is the flexibility to pursue my interests.” Of the three courses she teaches one is required but she chooses the others. Dobao created a course called Bilingualism: Made in the USA. “I wanted to explore the topic and thought it would be useful and relevant for students to look at bilingualism as a social and individual phenomenon. Was her hunch correct? “I had to turn people away it filled up so quickly!”

Dobao enjoys the multi-cultural and multi-lingual environment of the department. “I love walking down the halls and hearing many languages being spoken.”

Dobao’s role as Language Program Director involves overseeing the Spanish as a Foreign Language Program curriculum, supervising 100 – 300 level instruction and training the Teaching Assistants. “We hired Ana to professionalize our language program.  She has done that in spades,” remarks department chair Tony Geist. “In addition to the normal responsibilities, since I joined the department we revamped the entire curriculum,” Dobao explained, “including textbooks, learning goals, syllabi, evaluation criteria, what we teach and how we teach it.” She does not take sole credit for the massive project. “It was a collaborative process,” she said. “I could never have done it without Joan Fox, Philip Markley, Maria Gillman and all the teachers who gave valuable feedback and input.”

Another benefit of tenure for Dobao is the opportunity and freedom to research. “I long to explore areas outside my comfort zone,” she said, “and I have the time now that the deadlines of a tenure-track are lifted.”

One of the topics she plans to explore is Heritage Language Learning. Dobao wants to do research with Spanish heritage students in order to better understand how they learn and how people learn language. “I would love it if this could help enhance the way we teach language,” she said.

Needless to say, the last three to four years have left little time for Dobao to do much else besides work. She is hoping to travel again and plans to go to Cusco with the Study Abroad program. “I’ve never lived in Peru before so I would look forward to that.”

Will she ever go back home? “All my family is in Spain,” she said “and they want me to come home.” Although she visits home one to two times per year, she said, “They have probably lost all hope by now! I miss them but a good job can keep me here.”

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