Bringing Puerto Rican Culture to MSU Spanish Program

When Jonathan Montalvo moved to Indiana from Lares, Puerto Rico, at the age of 15, he knew very little English. After many years practicing, he became fluent and went on to earn his undergraduate degree in Spanish Studies at Purdue University. It was then he realized his calling to become a professor and educate students on Spanish language and Caribbean culture.

Now a fifth year Ph.D. student in the Hispanic Cultural Studies program at Michigan State University, Montalvo is a Teaching Assistant in MSU’s Department of Romance and Classical Studies and was awarded the 2015-2016 Outstanding Teaching Assistant in Spanish award.

man with blue button up holding award

“Teaching is one of my passions, so it feels nice when people value the way that I teach and what I have to offer,” said Montalvo, who has been a Teaching Assistant for 100-, 200- and 300-level Spanish courses. “I don’t take my role as a Teaching Assistant for granted, so I try to impact my students in as many ways as possible, whether that is teaching them about the Spanish language, encouraging them to study abroad, or helping them become aware of the diversity that surrounds them.”

Having been a teenage language-learner himself, Montalvo finds it easy to relate to his students as they begin to learn Spanish.

“All of my students are trying to learn a new language, and I can always connect with them in that respect,” Montalvo said. “I tell them that I went through the same thing that they are going through and that I know it is difficult to learn a new language, but it is possible; I did it myself.”

One of Montalvo’s main goals as a Teaching Assistant is to introduce his students to the diversity of culture that exists in the world.

To give students the opportunity to immerse themselves in Caribbean culture, Montalvo helped organize Language, Culture, and Service in Puerto Rico, Michigan State University’s first study away program in Puerto Rico. During the program, Montalvo helped students learn about Puerto Rican customs and history, and even took them to visit his childhood home.

Teaching is one of my passions, so it feels nice when people value the way that I teach and what I have to offer.

“I was very happy to share my culture with the students and to see their reactions firsthand,” Montalvo said. “Most of the study abroad programs tend to look at Mexico, Spain, or other big Latin American countries, so it was refreshing to see students being exposed to something a little different. It was an experience I will never forget.”

In addition to his role as a Teaching Assistant, Montalvo is involved with TROPOS, a Romance languages graduate journal and conference; the Graduate Student Association (GSA); and serves as a graduate representative in graduate/faculty meetings. He previously was the co-chair of both TROPOS and GSA.

man standing behind podium presenting on projector

“Working closely with faculty gives me a different perspective than just a student viewpoint,” Montalvo said. “I get to see how the department and administration works, which is something not a lot of students get to see. It is very interesting, and it helps me know what to expect in the future when I become a professor.”

Montalvo currently is finishing his dissertation. Through his research, which focuses on sexual, gender, and cultural identities in Puerto Rican and Dominican Republic cultural production, he explores how dialogue is established between contemporary production and the political discourses from the 20th century.

Montalvo will graduate in May and hopes to become a Latin American literature and culture professor.

Written by Alexandria Drzazgowski, Professional Writing Major