As students work through courses each term, they often are so focused on the course requirements and that the opportunity to connect with instructors is often missed. Research shows, however, that students who establish connections with instructors and faculty within their institutions perform better in social and academic settings.
Some courses by nature foster the sharing of more life stories and teacher-student interaction or are enriched by companion programs such as clubs. But, the recent pandemic and campus closure put another barrier between teachers and students even within these high contact courses.
In spite of the campus reopening, many students back in the classrooms and club participation increasing, newer students may not be as familiar with their instructors as they may have been in years prior to the pandemic.
One instructor who has been a cornerstone for the UCC campus since before the pandemic is Associate professor, Nick Tratz. Professor Tratz joined the UCC Spanish program as one of three instructors but is now the only remaining instructor and he also facilitates the Spanish club that meets once a week.
Professor Tratz did not begin his academic career with plans on becoming a Spanish teacher. When Tratz attended college in North Dakota he studied aviation. “After a semester of doing it I realized I enjoyed flying but didn’t really want to do it as a career,” said Tratz. He returned home to Boise, Idaho but did eventually earn a pilot’s license.
Back in Boise, he began taking courses in geography while also returning to his love of the Spanish language that he had discovered in high school.
While working on his degree, he was given the opportunity to study abroad in Salamanca, Spain allowing him to be fully immersed in the language and culture. During his time abroad, he really started to explore his passion for the idea of teaching so he might share his love of the Spanish language with others but still felt the pressure to follow a more practical career path.
After graduating with his double major in geographic information systems and Spanish, he began a job mapping for almost two years but could not ignore his enthusiasm for the Spanish language and culture. “One of the mapping projects was creating a digital version of transmission line right-of-ways from maps dating back to the 1930s. Others involved conservation efforts for sage grouse and agricultural (crop) mapping,” Tratz said.
Professor Tratz returned to grad school this time at Washington State University where he worked as a teacher’s assistant teaching Spanish 101 and 102. He also participated in an exchange program swapping with a Costa Rican student for a semester, giving his first experience in Latin America where he got to see the subtle differences in the Spanish language between mainland Spain and other Latin American countries.
Towards the end of his time at grad school, he realized he wanted to work more with students than in research. Many universities are geared towards research and writing papers whereas community colleges focus more on students and teaching, so professor Tratz began his search for teaching positions within community college networks.
Professor Tratz also married during his last year of grad school and found an open teaching position at UCC. His UCC interview happened to coincide with the dates for their wedding, honeymoon and travel dates. “It seemed meant to be, really cool,” Tratz said.
Within two years of moving to Roseburg, his first child was born; he is now a proud father of five children ages one-and-a-half to nine years old. As far as pets, the family’s long time Russian Blue cat Tuppence passed away last year and the family hopes to invite another family pet into the home once their youngest is a little more independent.
Professor Tratz and UCC history professor Charles Young have a long standing friendship and have frequently hiked together since about 2013. For example, the two went on a trip to Peru in 2017. Professor Tratz’s kids’ favorite activity is to go to professor Charles Young’s house to jump on his trampoline, although Tratz has introduced his two oldest to skiing in hopes they can enjoy the sport as a family for years to come.
On campus, professor Tratz is responsible for teaching all of the Spanish classes offered as well as the English as a Second Language (ESL) courses and the Spanish club activities.
When it comes to teaching, professor Tratz generally focuses on learning through storytelling. It’s a method he learned from a keynote speaker Blaine Ray who shared his techniques for comprehension and retention that focused on understanding and repetition. Much of the classroom work centers around building stories as a group, developing, building and acting out stories that allow a student to be fully engrossed in the language process. This teaching technique helps to keep interest as well as language fluency high.
Prior to the pandemic, classes often participated in community events and the occasional restaurant outing in order to allow students opportunities to practice their skills. Professor Tratz in the past has also invited a bilingual theater group called the Miracle Theater from Portland to perform for students.
For more information on courses in Spanish, Spanish club or English as a second language contact Nick Tratz via phone or email Nick.Tratz@umpqua.edu.
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