Spanish professor credits study abroad for eminent career
An internationally renowned expert on Mexican theatre, Jacqueline Bixler was recently reappointed to her second 10-year term as an Alumni Distinguished Professor by Virginia Tech’s Board of Visitors.
This rank is reserved for select faculty members who have made long-term, outstanding contributions to the instructional program of the university, thus influencing the lives of generations of alumni.
Professor of Spanish and Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, Bixler points to one event in 1973 that determined her career path: a study abroad trip to Mexico while an undergraduate at Ohio University.
“I would not be here today if I had not gone to Mexico,” said Bixler, whose passion for all things Mexican was ignited on that trip.
In 2001, Bixler initiated an intensive summer language program at the Universidad Veracruzana for Virginia Tech students. Those summers with students in Mexico have, in her mind, been the most rewarding teaching experience of her career.
“I wanted to give my students what had been given to me in 1973: the chance to visit Mexico and to fall in love with the language, the culture, and the people,” said Bixler.
The program flourished until 2010, when she was forced to suspend it due to the escalation of drug-related violence. Although Bixler still visits Mexico regularly, she says she looks forward to the day when her students can join her once again.
During her 33 years at Virginia Tech, Bixler has also parlayed her fascination with Latin American theatre into a position of authority. Recognized as a leading expert on major Latin American dramatists, one of her greatest honors was to speak to a crowd of thousands at a memorial service held in 2008 at the National Palace of Fine Arts in Mexico City in honor of dramatist Emilio Carballido.
Bixler recently became editor of the journal Latin American Theatre Review. “This is the fulfillment of a dream that started when I was a grad student at the University of Kansas and served as editorial assistant to the journal,” said Bixler.
In 2008, Bixler organized a successful Latin American theatre festival that brought over 200 scholars and theatre artists from around the world to Virginia Tech. Over the past 10 years, her scholarly contributions include five edited books, 12 book chapters, and six journal articles. She has published in the United States, Mexico, Cuba, Argentina, Spain, Germany, and Brazil.
As chair of her department, Bixler has expanded the curriculum to include more courses in Chinese, Arabic, and Japanese, as well as a new major in Russian.
Last year she hired the university’s first tenure-track professor of Arabic, traveled to China to establish a study abroad program, and helped to coordinate a Project GO grant that brought $350,000 to the university and provided a summer international experience for 18 cadets. Virginia Tech’s department also collaborates with other universities in the state through the 4-VA program, whereby students can take classes in advanced Italian, Chinese, Arabic, and Portuguese.
Overall, the university has seen a meteoric rise in students with a secondary major in a foreign language, while the number of students declaring minors has nearly doubled in the last seven years.
For any student considering an education abroad opportunity, Bixler offers the following advice. “Make the absolute most of it. If you want to dream in another language, stay for as long as possible, travel as much as possible, and stay away from fellow English-speakers.”
This past summer, Bixler tested her own endurance, hiking 300 kilometers of the ancient pilgrimage, the Camino de Santiago, in northern Spain, along with her colleague Annie Hesp and 14 students.
As an Alumni Distinguished Professor, Bixler has visited with alumni groups in Virginia and Texas and continues to make significant contributions to the university community through service and leadership in key domestic and international initiatives. Bixler has participated on a number of search committees for upper administrative positions and currently serves on the university’s presidential search committee.
Bixler earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. from the University of Kansas and her bachelor’s degree from Ohio University.