April 20, 2010
Seniors Katharine Tatum (left) and Justin Younker captured the top honors at the Concours de la Maison Française (a contest for college and university students of French in northeast Ohio) earlier this month in Cleveland.
WOOSTER, Ohio - Seniors Justin Younker and Katharine Tatum extended a College of Wooster tradition by capturing top honors at the Concours de la Maison Française (a contest for college and university students of French in northeast Ohio) for the 13th consecutive year earlier this month in Cleveland. Younker, a double major in French and international relations from Wooster, won the $1000 Grand Prize, while Tatum, a double major in French and studio art from Ann Arbor, Mich., won the $750 First Prize.
Younker, a first generation college student and a member of the Scot soccer team, did not begin to study French until his junior year of high school, but he proved to be a quick learner. He took advantage of an opportunity to study abroad in Lyon, France, for two months as a senior at Triway High School through a self-designed study-abroad program. When he came to Wooster, he placed out of all the introductory courses because
of his experience in Lyon. "I was blessed to have made contact with Professors (Carolyn) Durham and (Sharon) Shelly early in my academic career at Wooster," he said. "They greatly facilitated my self-designed study-abroad program for the entire academic year of 2007-2008. Because of their strong desire to have their students study abroad, they worked with me to help guarantee that I would receive all of my French credits after enrolling at a French university. The French department gave me a lot of liberty to successfully self-design my own study-abroad experience." Younker went on to write a 76-page Independent Study completely in French with guidance from
Professors Harry Gamble and Ibra Sene. "They really helped me with my writing skills," he said. "In addition, our hour-long meetings about economics and politics were conducted entirely in French. These sessions greatly strengthened my command of the French language."
Tatum, who serves as a French tutor and has lived in the Maison Française (French House) since her sophomore year, started taking French courses in high school after a brief introduction in middle school. Ironically, French was one of her least favorite subjects in high school so it came as a surprise that she chose it as major in college. "I decided to continue on once I got to Wooster
because I felt I had an obligation and civic responsibility to be proficient in another language," she said. Tatum soon discovered that the classes were interesting and the professors were engaging, so she opted to make French her major area of study. "I still believe it is important to become proficient in a foreign language, especially in this day and age as globalism really starts to take hold, but my experience in working with the French department here at The College of Wooster has made me even more aware of the importance of excellence in teaching," she said. "I feel like I've done a complete 180. I came to Wooster with little interest in French or teaching, and now I'm
leaving here thinking that may be exactly what I want to do."
Durham, the Inez K. Gaylord Professor of French at Wooster, said that the department is very proud of this year's winners. "I know that Justin and Katharine are as pleased as we are to be part of what is fast becoming a College of Wooster tradition," she said. "Our students have done so well in past years that the French Department feared that this year's candidates might feel undue
pressure, but clearly that wasn't the case. Justin and Katharine simply went out and repeated last year's exceptional results by taking the top two prizes.
"The Maison Française competition not only honors outstanding academic and linguistic achievement," added Durham, "but it also evaluates and challenges students by asking them to write a timed essay in French without prior knowledge of the subject and to hold an extemporized conversation with native speakers of French."
The Maison Française de Cleveland is an American non-profit organization in greater Cleveland that promotes Franco-American cultural activities, including French conversation. In order to compete in the Concours Annuel, students must be recommended by a member of the French faculty from the educational institution they attend. Each college or university may nominate up to two contestants for the competition. The annual event brings together students of French from colleges and universities throughout northeast Ohio. Contestants are judged on both oral and written expression by a panel of native French speakers.
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