USC Union Faculty Spotlight

Our seventh faculty spotlight highlights Dr. Steve Lownes. Dr. Lownes began teaching at USC Union in August 2019. Formerly, he was the Assistant Director of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Institute at the University of Georgia, where he administered $1.9 million for the Federal Department of Education’s Title VI National Resource Center and Foreign Language and Area Studies grants. He has lived, conducted research, and worked in Spain, Argentina, and Brazil. Dr. Lownes has taught Spanish and Portuguese at several universities and has worked with international universities to create proficiency-based curriculum. He is an American Translators Association (ATA) Certified Translator.

  • What is your role at UofSC Union, and how long have you worked here?

Assistant Professor of World Languages and Coordinator for the Graduation with Leadership Distinction (GLD). I’ve been at Union for almost two years now.

  • What brought you to UofSC Union?

After attending Ohio State, I worked at several institutions in various capacities: Instructor at USC Upstate, Assistant Director of Latin American Studies at the University of Georgia, and then a Spanish teacher at Dorman High School. When this job came open, I immediately applied for it because I’ve always wanted to be at a small school and wanted to return to teaching Portuguese as well as Spanish.

  • What is your favorite part of your job?

This is definitely my favorite job I’ve ever had, but if I had to narrow it down to one thing, it would be the people at USC Union. The faculty, staff, and students are so wonderful to work with and I feel very privileged to be part of this amazing group of people. I’m constantly impressed by our faculty’s offerings as well. I don’t know of any other small college like ours that has so many subjects that you can take.

  • What is the most challenging part of your job?

The most challenging is definitely the research that I do, primarily because the vast majority of my research requires me to be outside of the country. With the pandemic, that has obviously been difficult to do.

  • Which classes do you teach?

Spanish 109,110, and 122, Portuguese 121 and 122, PALM 401: Capstone, PALM 493: SC Studies, and PALM 495: Service Learning, and I’ll be teaching Latin American Studies 201 in the fall.

  • What do you want students to know about your classes and what should they generally expect?

My students should know that it is absolutely ok to make a mistake. Learning requires us to push our boundaries and get out of our comfort level, which implies making mistakes. Students should also feel comfortable asking questions and communicating with me outside of class time. I’m here to help, but I always need to know what struggles my students are having in order to try to help.

  • If students could only take one class that you offer, which would you recommend and why?

For those in the Associate’s degree program, I would say my favorite classes to teach are Portuguese 121 and 122. It’s a great language that is considered by the federal government to be a Less Commonly Taught Language (LCTL) despite it being the sixth most spoken language in the world. Offering a LCTL like Portuguese means that we’re in a unique club that few in the nation are in, which a student with a good level of Portuguese can leverage in their job offers later. According to multiple Business blogs, Portuguese is ranked in the top 10 languages to know and is often number one or two in demand due to the limited number of American students that have studied it. The classes focus on communication and the cultures of Brazil, Portugal, and the other eight countries and territories that speak the language.

For those in the Bachelor’s degree program, PALM 493: SC Studies is a great class in which we analyze South Carolina identity by looking at history, politics, economics, race, sexuality, gender, ethnicity, religion etc. During the course, we try to dive deep into what it means to be from South Carolina and how our history and identity play out in everyday life through policies and economic decisions. By looking at all of this, my students and I often make connections about our own identities as well as decisions made at the local, state, and at times the national levels.

  • In your opinion, what are the benefits of learning a second language?

There are so many benefits of learning another language from cognitive development to the amount of people you can speak to. I speak Spanish, Portuguese, and English, which means I can communicate with about 30% of the world’s population. Being able to communicate, understand, and make a true connection with others is absolutely priceless; and speaking other languages unites us as world citizens like nothing else I know. In thinking about these ideas, I normally start off my classes with two quotes about languages. The first is from a Chinese proverb and it’s, “To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.” The second, which is often attributed to Nelson Mandela, former president of South Africa, speaks to the connection made through language, “If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.”

  • What do you think are the most important attributes of a good instructor?

I think a good instructor is one that is understanding, but also has high expectations. I truly believe that students will rise to the occasion when asked to do so. I have high expectations for my students to do well and to learn however best they can. I also always try to be understanding and empathetic to personal issues that they may have. Knowing that life exists outside of the classroom is always a good thing to remember when I’m teaching. I should mention that that’s not to say that deadlines and classwork are unimportant, but I do try to be flexible at times if a student lets me know about something beforehand.

  • What is the most helpful advice you’ve received?

There are a lot of pieces of advice that I’ve received in my life, and it would be hard to narrow it down to one thing. However, I tend to return to Max Ehrmann’s poem “Desiderata” on a regular basis for the advice that it offers, especially in the final stanza.

“With all its sham, drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.”

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