Alumna and Former Professor Serendipitously Share Conference Stage

Mercy University alumna and professor reunite at conference

Argentine native and Mercy University alumna Paola Monteros-Freeman ’15 has always been highly motivated. After earning a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish from Mercy, she went on to complete a master’s degree in Spanish in her newly adopted home state of Virginia where she is now finishing her Ph.D. in Spanish. Last fall, by an extraordinary coincidence, Monteros-Freeman was slated to give a presentation at the 73rd Annual Mountain Interstate Foreign Language Conference at Shenandoah University in Virginia. It so happened that Alan Hartman, associate professor and director of modern foreign languages, was scheduled to present at the same conference. Hartman played a key role in Monteros-Freeman’s academic, professional and personal success. And so it was that the two met in person for the first time after years of virtual classes and meetings — now as colleagues in the same field.

Monteros-Freeman’s Mercy journey began when she decided to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Spanish. Although she speaks fluent Spanish, she struggled with English. The journalism degree she earned in Argentina was not recognized in the U.S., and she spent several years teaching high school Spanish and English as a Second Language. Setting her sights on improving her career options, she enrolled in Mercy’s online program in Spanish. “I felt it would force me to master the English language — and I was right,” she said. 

What’s more, she flourished under the support she received from her Mercy professors, among them Hartman. “Paola was an excellent student who worked hard to master the online experience to complete her coursework,” said Hartman. Her hard work paid off when she received her Bachelor of Arts summa cum laude.

When deciding on a graduate program, Monteros-Freeman turned to Hartman for guidance. “I was still very new to academia, and Professor Hartman was a great support. He helped me find opportunities in my area, recommended schools and even advised me on next steps for my career.” Three years after graduating from Mercy, Monteros-Freeman was awarded a Master of Arts in Spanish from Virginia Tech. Today she is completing her Ph.D. at the University of Virginia, where she expects to graduate this May.

When Monteros-Freeman heard about the conference at Shenandoah, she saw an opportunity to present material from her doctoral thesis. “I knew the value to my resume and my career, but I also wanted to practice public speaking,” she said. “I hoped to overcome my fear of facing a knowledgeable audience.” Her talk, “The Representation of Peripheral Spaces and Invisible Protagonists in La Libertad (2001),” explored her deep love for regional Latin American cinema.

“When I look at how far I've come, I will never forget the support I received from all my Mercy professors,” said Monteros-Freeman. “Professor Hartman encouraged me and gave me support when I needed it. A Ph.D. is a long and lonely process, but as he once told me, it’s like a ladder. Climbing begins with the first rung.”