‘Senora’ retires after 19 years of teaching Spanish

To Penn State New Kensington students, she is known simply as “Senora.” She makes learning a foreign language fun and informative as lively banter in Spanish reverberates through the classroom.

After 19 years of “hola” and “hasta luego,” it is time for Maria Franco de Gomez, instructor in Spanish, to say adios. Senora retired at the end of the spring semester. And a generation of campus students says gracias.

“Looking back on my teaching career, every class was unique and had its own character,” Franco de Gomez, said. “I enjoyed teaching Spanish to help students to communicate in a foreign language. I have had wonderful experiences with most of my classes, and every class has been equally important to me.”

And her students concur. In 2011, she was honored with the 2011 George W. Atherton Award for Excellence in Teaching. The University-wide award, named after Penn State’s seventh president, is presented each year to faculty members who have devoted substantial effort to and developed a record of excellence in undergraduate teaching. Nominations are accepted from the University community, including students and colleagues. A former student spoke for many when submitting a nomination.

"Learning a second language is always difficult and intimidating," the student wrote, "but Senora ensures that all of her students find her classes casual and fun, while also being challenging and informative. She strives to give her students the confidence to learn through practice and conversation."

A native of Mexico, Franco de Gomez joined the campus faculty in 1994, teaching upper- and lower-level courses. She has taught elementary and intermediate Spanish conversation, grammar and composition, as well as a course on Latin-American civilization.

Prior to arriving at the New Kensington campus, Franco de Gomez held teaching positions at the University of Arizona in Tucson and the University of Pittsburgh. She holds a master's degree in Latin American literature from the University of Pittsburgh and a bachelor's degree in mathematics from La Normal Superior Nueva Galicia in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“Having the privilege to teach at Penn State New Kensington has totally exceeded my expectations, and I have never taken this opportunity for granted,” Franco de Gomez said. “The campus gave me the chance to do so many things that I love -- teaching, learning, knowing wonderful life time friends, interacting and traveling with students and faculty."

Her interest in teaching was piqued while she was an undergraduate. She had a young math professor who simplified the course material by making it logical and interesting.

“This professor sparked my interest in understanding the material thoroughly and also learning how to teach the material effectively,” Franco de Gomez said. “Years later, this professor became my best friend, colleague and companion for life.”

Javier Gomez-Calderon, professor of mathematics at the campus, is the husband of Senora. After teaching a summer course in June, he will join his wife in retirement.

The establishment of the campus’ international travel program is a proud moment for Franco de Gomez. She and a colleague, Bill Hamilton, assistant professor of biology and a 2003 Atherton Teaching Award recipient, developed the travel abroad program in 2004. For eight years, they coordinated trips during spring break. The program provided students with the opportunity to directly experience other countries and other cultures.

“One of my favorite memories at the campus is my work with Dr Hamilton in organizing the first international campus trip to Spain,” Franco de Gomez said. “I enjoyed teaching classes to prepare students for our international trips. It is a nice memory that I will never forget.”

Franco de Gomez and Hamilton sandwiched student excursions to Spain (2004 and 2011) between journeys to France, Italy, Greece, China, Peru and Ecuador. The program has since been renamed Global Programs and is coordinated by Ahbinav Aima, instructor in communications; Gary Heberling, instructor in information sciences and technology; and Amy Rustic, reference librarian. During the past spring break, students visited Ireland.

In addition to the Atherton award, the Plum Borough, Pa., resident is a two-time recipient of the campus' Excellence in Teaching Award, 1998 and 2004. The award recognizes faculty performance in the classroom, as well as in other activities such as advising, supervision of learning outside the classroom, and course development.

“There have always been some students in my classes that have inspired me to continue doing my best and allowed me to love my job,” Franco de Gomez said. “I will always remember this period of my life with gratitude and respect.”

Excellence in teaching runs run in the family. Her husband was the 2007 recipient of the Eisenhower Award that recognizes excellence in teaching and student support among tenured faculty. Like his wife, Gomez-Calderon has been honored twice with the campus' Excellence in Teaching Award. 

Retirement for Franco de Gomez means maintaining her roots in Plum. Her increased leisure time will be devoted to her interest in reading, writing, gardening, walking and hiking, as well as “watching my little grandson.”

The couple has three grown children: a son, Javier Gomez-Franco, and two daughters: Angie Martelli, who is married to Steve Martelli, and Liliana Gomez-Franco, who is married to Wayne Kirley.

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Last Updated May 08, 2013