By Susie Allen
Photo by Robert Kozloff

Felipe Rojas knows that learning a new language can be stressful. That’s why he works hard to take the pressure off and encourages his students to find pleasure in the process.

“Forget the grade, learn the language, and have fun doing it,” he says of his approach to teaching Spanish.

Rojas, a sixth-year graduate student, has taught first- and second-year Spanish and co-taught a Gender Studies course in his time at UChicago. The Chilean native is currently at work on a dissertation about the figure of Ganymede in Spanish literature of the Golden Age.

Rojas’ advisor, Frederick de Armas, the Andrew W. Mellon Distinguished Service Professor in the Humanities, Spanish Literature, and Comparative Literature, has shaped Rojas’ approach to teaching. “He gives a lot of information, but also gives students the ability to express themselves,” Rojas says. “He’s always been great about providing students with feedback, and being very flexible with his students. He’s very open to student expression.”

He also credits Janet Sedlar and Maria Cecilia Lozada, both senior lecturers and Spanish Language Coordinators, for providing him with the tools to teach Spanish more effectively and improve students’ overall aural, oral, and writing skills.

In his classroom, Rojas tries to create a relaxed atmosphere. “I always tell them, you’re going to make mistakes—that’s the whole point. You’re not perfect, or else you wouldn’t be in the class,” he says.

It helps that he can relate to his students: “I watch reality TV, I go out, I have a life outside of the classroom.”

He engages them in conversation about their lives and the topics that interest them, which is one of the most rewarding parts of a teaching language courses, he says. “I really enjoy getting their opinions, and getting to know them more in a different language.”

Rojas was surprised and touched that his students took the time to nominate him for the Booth Prize. “Realizing that a student wrote something for me—it kind of caught me off guard,” he says. “I thought it was really sweet and really nice.”

Originally published on June 3, 2013.