Leveraging a Second Language in the Workforce

Multilingual alumni share diverse global experiences for I Heart Travel Week

With an interest in globalization expanding across the workforce, Kent State University recognizes the increasing value of being proficient in a second language.  

Career Exploration and Development and the Department of Modern and Classical Languages Studies hosted the “Leveraging Second Language Skills in the Professional World" panel discussion on Feb. 14 during I Heart Travel Week to reinforce how students can use a second language to propel themselves into and throughout the professional world.  

The panel discussion was moderated by Natasha Wolwacz Heinz, MED '23, MA '18, career advisor for Career Exploration and Development, and Jessica Russell, senior academic program coordinator in the Office of Modern and Classical Language Studies.

"Learning a second language not only enhances communication skills but also fosters problem-solving abilities and a robust work ethic," Wolwacz Heinz said.

Originally from Brazil, Wolwacz Heinz worked in media for 10 years, holding various reporting, marketing and public relations positions in both Brazil and the United States prior to joining Career Exploration & Development. She also is an alumna, having earned both a Master of Arts from the School of Media and Journalism and a master's in higher education administration and student affairs from Kent State. To start off the event, she opened with a presentation highlighting statistics linked to proficiency in a second language in the workplace.  

"Nine out of 10 employers rely on employees with language skills other than English,” Wolwacz Heinz said. “There is so much opportunity for those who have learned a second language.”  

Natasha Wolwacz Heinz and Jessica Russell led Second Language panel
Natasha Wolwacz Heinz (left) and Jessica Russell (right)

The event then transitioned into a panel discussion with four multilingual Kent State alumni, who have used their second languages in industries from government to health care to marketing.

Panelist Richard E. Schroeder, BA '64, retired CIA officer and Georgetown University adjunct professor in the School of Foreign Service, began by sharing his journey of learning German and French. Despite his father working as a German professor and the chairman of the Foreign Languages department here at Kent State, Schroeder didn’t learn German until he came to Kent State himself.  

“After two years in the army, it turned out that I wasn't going be a historian, at least initially,” Schroeder said. “I joined the Central Intelligence Agency as a clandestine service officer, which means that I spent my career overseas. The entire international affairs community, the United States government, and many governments for that matter, must speak languages. You need it if you're going to be in the State Department, you need it if you're going to be in an advisory role, it's helpful in the military, helpful in all sorts of government jobs. I spent 10 years abroad working and using languages.”  

Registered nurse Caroline Lukehart, BSN '20,  began her language journey in high school and continued her education through her time at Kent State. Alongside her nursing degree, Lukehart completed a minor in Spanish to provide better care for her future patients.  

“I will say every day of my life that it's one of the things I'm most grateful for is minoring in Spanish,” Lukehart said.  

Lukehart said speaking Spanish has opened many doors for her, including one for love. Lukehart’s fiancé is Dominican and exclusively speaks Spanish.  

“He is trying to learn English now, but I met Miguel soon after I graduated, so it's always been a built-in practice,” Lukehart said.  

Learning a language isn’t easy, and all panelists recalled hurdles they’ve overcome when learning a second language. Taylor Liff, MA '21, BA '16, project manager at TransPerfect, encourages everyone to embrace the challenge.  

Second Language alumni panel Schroeder, Liff, Lukehart and Dunne
From left to right: Schroeder, Liff, Lukehart and Dunne

“Dive back into it,” Liff said, "You have to be embarrassed at some points to get better.”

Elena Dunne, Ph.D. '12, MA '03, senior industry insights manager at Rockwell Automation, seconded this point and noted that these setbacks also create great opportunities.  

“Learning language develops a lot of other skills,” Dunne said. “I think resiliency and humility because you're going to get a lot of things wrong before you start getting things right.”

After much discussion, the panelists agreed that the best way to learn a language is to embrace the culture and surround yourself with the language. They recommended joining speaking groups and following influencers who speak the second language of your choice to understand the language in its cultural context.

“I think it was hard to have a desire to be culturally competent until I was immersed in it,” said Lukehart.

No matter where the panelists were in their second-language-speaking journey, they say native speakers were eager to support them.

“I personally have never met a person who spoke another language and regretted it,” Dunne said.  

As the event concluded, Schroeder had some last advice for students starting on their second language journeys.

“Being able to speak to other people,” Schroeder said. “That's the most valuable skill of all.”

Learn more about the Office of Global Education.

POSTED: Wednesday, February 21, 2024 01:04 PM
Updated: Monday, February 26, 2024 11:11 AM
Maddie Goerl, Flash Communications
Maddie Goerl