KU News Release

May 18, 2011
Contact: Mike Krings, University Relations, 785-864-8860

Graduation stories: Ignacio Carvajal finds passion for language, literature

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LAWRENCE — What seemed like the end of the world turned out to be an opportunity.

Ignacio Carvajal moved with his family to Lawrence from Costa Rica when he was 13. He spoke no English at the time, and everyone he knew remained in Costa Rica while he began a whole new life.

“I thought the world was going to collapse,” Carvajal said.

Ignacio Carvajal (photo by Chuck France/University Relations)

Carvajal’s father, Jorge, moved his family to Lawrence in 2002 so he could further his education at the University of Kansas. Now the younger Carvajal has found his niche as a student in the United States, and both father and son will earn degrees from KU this month. Ignacio Carvajal will earn a bachelor’s in Spanish and Latin American studies, and Jorge Carvajal is getting his doctorate in mathematics.

When the family came to Lawrence, Ignacio Carvajal enrolled at Southwest Junior High, largely because of its English as a second language program. Carvajal credits both immersion and youth as the keys to helping him learn English quickly.

“Once I got to high school I felt like another Lawrence kid,” he said.

Upon his graduation from Lawrence High School, he enrolled at Johnson County Community College. He received a Jack Kent Cooke Foundation Undergraduate Transfer Scholarship, which helps students graduating from two-year colleges who have shown academic promise and have financial need attend four-year institutions. After his time at JCCC, Carvajal enrolled at KU and began work on his Spanish and Latin American studies degree.

He has focused his work on Spanish and Central American literature. His studies have fed his interest in history and creative writing as well.

“I really like literature,” Carvajal said. “I’ve written poetry for a very long time. It’s that one thing that’s been a constant for me. I also feel like literature is a window through which you can view history.”

With his bachelor’s completed, Carvajal will enroll in the Spanish graduate program at the University of Texas-Austin. He plans to continue his study of Central American literature and hopes to one day teach Spanish at the university level. He’ll get that experience at Texas, teaching basic level Spanish courses as a graduate teaching assistant.

The experience won’t be entirely new. Carvajal has worked throughout his time at KU to improve Spanish-language education. As a student technology assistant at the Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center, he has helped humanities departments address technical problems. He also played a key role in developing Acceso, a joint project of the center and KU’s Department of Spanish and Portuguese.

Acceso is a Web-based digital curriculum that has taken the place of textbooks in beginning-level Spanish courses. The tool provides lessons, tutorials, reading selections, videos, history and cultural lessons. Carvajal’s Spanish expertise came in handy — he helped proofread selections, making sure grammar was correct and translations were made properly. The tool has been adopted for use at Marquette University and is under consideration at several other institutions.

Jonathan Perkins, director of the Ermal Garinger Academic Resource Center, said Carvajal has been an ideal employee and his bilingual language skills have been invaluable.

“He’s exactly the kind of student we look for,” Perkins said. “His English is so good I don’t think some people realize Spanish is his first language. We’ll be sorry to see him go.”

Between his studies and work, Carvajal has still found time to devote to poetry, both his own and that of other authors. A member of a Latino writers collective based in Kansas City, he writes poetry both in English and Spanish and has organized readings on campus and around the Kansas City area. For the past two years he has hosted “Word,” a program devoted to hip-hop and poetry on KU student radio station KJHK 90.7 FM. With two friends, he has dedicated programming to poetry of local and student authors, brought professional writers to campus and conducted on-air interviews.

Although his efforts to promote poetry at KU will be ending, he says he has no plans to give up writing — in any language.

“It’s really a subconscious decision,” Carvajal said of how he determines whether to write in Spanish or English. “The way poetry comes, to me at least, is a nugget at a time. That first charge comes in either English or Spanish and I go with that.”

The University of Kansas is a major comprehensive research and teaching university. University Relations is the central public relations office for KU's Lawrence campus.

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