Parlez-vous francais? Jason Zinza does.
Now the 1997 alumnus is helping other students learn to speak French, too, by establishing a scholarship in honor of Marilyn Severson, the French professor who cultivated his love of languages as a student at SPU.
The Marilyn S. Severson Scholarship Endowment will be available to upperclassmen pursuing a major or minor in French, with a preference given to students who are part of University Scholars, SPU's honors program. Severson, who retired from SPU in 2000, is a professor emerita of European studies (French).
Yet Zinza is surprisingly young to be setting up a scholarship endowment fund. He's in his 30s, and many others who set up endowments are in their 50s.
So why give back right now?
As a consultant in foreign language education, Zinza travels across the nation and the world, including to Singapore, Japan, Germany, Canada, and Morocco.
Zinza is also the author of Master ASL!, a curriculum designed to teach American Sign Language to high school and college students.
"He created a niche for himself in the world of ASL," said Dean Carrell, SPU's director of development for major gifts, who worked with Zinza to help set up the scholarship endowment. "His success has made it possible for him to give back to SPU."
Some of Zinza's best memories of SPU come from the sense of community he felt as a student. His family lives in California, and he rarely went home during his four years of college. This made his ties to friends and professors even stronger.
"My professors, especially Dr. Severson, were literally like my adopted family," he said.
Zinza remembers attending holiday parties at Severson's house. He and other students would stand around her piano while they all sang Christmas carols together in French.
Though Zinza minored in French, studying the language did not always come easy to him. He recalls how Severson was always willing to take extra time to help him out.
Her academic standards were very high, but she also cared about asking questions and getting to know each of her students.
"From the very get go, I knew Dr. Severson cared about me both as a student and as a person," Zinza said.
As a professor, Severson's love of the French language was contagious, Zinza said. This new scholarship will allow students to study French with that same passion.
That is not the only reason Zinza wanted to create the endowment in Severson's honor.
"Dr. Severson was very, very humble and she never wanted to seek out attention," he said. "Those people often get overlooked. I want her to know how much of an impact she had on my life," he said.
Severson makes each person who interacts with her feel like they are the important person, Zinza said.
"She was one of the people at SPU who made the most direct impacts on my life," he said. "How could I miss a chance to honor her?"
Voulez-vous en apprendre plus au sujet des dotation?
(Want to learn more about scholarship endowments?)
Visit our Endowment page.