French major turns lifelong dream into academic achievement

Emily Koester’s love of the French language started while watching French films and listening to French music.

Senior Emily Koester, who is student teaching at Sperreng Middle School in St. Louis, recently earned the prestigious Hammands Scholarship in January. (Photo courtesy of Emily Koester)

Senior Emily Koester, who is student teaching at Sperreng Middle School in St. Louis, recently earned the prestigious Hammonds Scholarship in January. (Photo courtesy of Emily Koester)

While growing up in the small, central Illinois town of Tolono, Ill., population 3,400, Koester attended a small school district that did not have French in its curriculum. To help fuel her passion for the language, Koester began using the Rosetta Stone app. Koester also took some Spanish courses as a student at Unity High School.

Now an SIUE senior, Koester enters her final semester sharing her lifelong passion with Sperreng Middle School middle schoolers in St. Louis. As part of the Teacher Education Program, Koester currently works full-time as a French student teacher at Sperreng.

“She truly loves languages—loves French,” said French professor Debbie Mann. “She has an enthusiasm for it that I think is going to be engaging and motivating for her students.”

Koester recently earned the prestigious $1,000 Hammonds Scholarship in January. Named after the late Dr. Cleveland Hammonds Jr., the scholarship is awarded to undergraduate students in the teaching program who demonstrate academic excellence and community service.

“I definitely think [teaching] is something that comes naturally to me,” Koester said. “There’s so many factors involved and I am just passionate about every aspect of it. I love working with students. That’s my favorite part.” After having spent five weeks studying abroad at Aix-Marseille University, Aix-En-Provence in the south of France and minoring in European history, she said a course taught by Mann that discussed the history and culture of Quebec helped fuel her interest. Koester said her decision to enter the teaching program came when she decided to become a French major. She hopes to continue teaching at the middle school level after graduation this spring.  Koester also spent a year teaching French to first and second graders at the Edwardsville YMCA and also taught gifted students the language at Concord Elementary School in St. Louis.

Koester makes a 40-minute commute each day from Edwardsville to the St. Louis suburb of Sappington. Koester has implemented her own teaching philosophy that she calls “broadening perspectives,” where she said foreign language can expand students’ knowledge and understanding of people of different cultures.

“One of the things I’m really excited about teaching-wise, is teaching about culture,” Koester said. “I feel like when you learn about foreign culture you see the world from these perspectives – from other people’s perspectives, and that makes you more passionate towards other people. You can understand where they’re coming from and why they feel the way that they do.”

Koester was also selected as one of the Dean’s Dozen, where she served as a student ambassador for new college students.  She has posted a 4.0 GPA and made the Dean’s List each semester at SIUE. As a sophomore, Koester earned the 2014 Martin Luther King Scholarship, and has said she plans to be an advocate for children with brain disorders. She also served as a mentor to first-generation college students.

“She’s really engaged in social issues to try and make the world better,” Mann said. “And she juggles work and school and does it all with a good humor serenity and grace that is completely admirable.”

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