Associate Professor of Romance Languages
Education: bachelor's degree in Spanish from the State University of New York at Buffalo; master's in Spanish at Middlebury College doctorate from Penn State.
Dr. Robert Kahn plans to visit Costa Rica for the 17th time this summer with students mostly from Millsaps College.
"I see the value in study abroad," said Kahn, who has directed the Millsaps study abroad program to Costa Rica since 1996. "To me, world peace begins on the individual level. It can promote harmony if someone experiences another culture and gets to know people in other countries."
A professor at Millsaps since 1976, Kahn recently included a provision in his will to leave the College $130,000 to strengthen and support the Costa Rica study abroad program.
"I wanted to do something meaningful that could change lives," he said.
Kahn's gift will allow the College to offer a scholarship to a well qualified student with financial need for study abroad in Costa Rica. His gift will also fund an award for the top student majoring in Spanish, and it will ensure the well-being of the Costa Rica study abroad program.
Kahn said he was inspired by the Judy and E.B. Robinson, Jr., International Fellows Program, which provides grants for students participating in study abroad programs offered by Millsaps faculty. A student must have a minimum 3.0 grade point average, show financial need, complete an application, and write a required essay to be eligible for the Robinson Program.
"I have seen the impact of students being selected as Robinson Fellows and hope my gift will have a similar impact," he said.
Kahn hopes his gift will encourage alumni and friends to make donations to assist students with financial need for study abroad opportunities. He believes that studying in another country rounds out a student's education by providing a wider view of the world and introducing a variety of cultural experiences. He notes that study abroad can enhance a student's resume. "I tell students that speaking Spanish could especially help them in today's economy to get a job."
The Costa Rica program through the years has attracted up to 35 Millsaps students and students from other colleges and universities for sessions from two- to 12-weeks long. One of the courses offered is Learning Spanish through Service Learning. In this class students visit a school, an orphanage, or an assisted living center and interact with the people there.
Kahn's inclusion of service learning in the Costa Rica program is in keeping with what he requires from students he teaches on campus, said Barbara Brunini, program coordinator for the Faith & Work Initiative at Millsaps. "He designates one Spanish course as a service learning course each semester. His students have tutored students at St. Richard Elementary, Murrah High School, and at St. Mary's English as a Second Language Program. They have also volunteered with Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance," she said. It takes 15 hours of service for a course to qualify as service learning.
Kate Royals, a Millsaps 2010 graduate, said living in Costa Rica for a month helped improve her Spanish-speaking skills.
"The only way to truly learn a language is to be immersed in the culture, and this was the best way for me to do so at the time. Being in classes all day long and speaking only Spanish with professors whose first language is usually Spanish really forces your mind to work in a way that youcan't quite get in the U.S.A. Costa Rica is a beautiful country with many natural attractions. I did everything from seeing a volcano to zip lining to riding horses on the beach, so there is definitely a balance of academics, fun, and culture."
Alexis Guilbeau, a Millsaps student who plans to return to Costa Rica this summer for the second time, characterized Kahn as "a professor who cares about what students want to do." Kahn found Guilbeau an internship in San José at Fundación Mujer, an organization that helps poor women establish their own businesses. "The Costa Rica trip completely exceeded my expectations, and I am happy to have been given the opportunity to go again," Guilbeau said.
Originally from Elmira, N.Y., Kahn joined the Millsaps faculty after completing his doctorate. He received his undergraduate degree in Spanish from the State University of New York at Buffalo, his master's in Spanish at Middlebury College in Vermont, and his doctorate from Penn State.
Kahn credits his ability to speak French and his degrees in Spanish with helping ensure his hire at Millsaps in 1976. "I got the job because I was qualified in both languages," he said. "I tell students that speaking Spanish may be the one extra thing that gets them employment. It can be a plus."
Kahn teaches beginning to advanced classes in Spanish, and he also teaches Spanish and French in the College's noncredit Community Enrichment program. Millsaps requires a student to study an ancient or modern foreign language in order to receive a bachelor of arts degree.
"I especially like to teach first-year Spanish so I can see how much students who have no or very little knowledge of the language progress," he said. "I like to see the growth."
He sees growth in students who study in Costa Rica, too. "I can see them little by little become more confident about speaking Spanish. They blossom."