One of Colby’s smallest programs has received one of the most prestigious awards in its field.

The German Program has been named a 2018 Center of Excellence by the American Association of Teachers of German (AATG), an honor that speaks to the strength of the program’s scholarship, teaching, and engagement on campus and in the community.

Arne Koch and Briana Killian ’21 receive the Center of Excellence award at the American Association of Teachers of German‘s annual conference in New Orleans. They also co-presented a paper on environmental humanities and German studies at the annual conference for the American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages, held concurrently with the AATG conference.

The AATG identifies and honors excellence in instruction, and the award is presented to well-established, growing programs that flourish with support from their faculty, alumni, students, and administration.

It’s a tremendous honor and recognition for a small program like ours … to be recognized by our peers, by experts, by colleagues, by fellow teachers, by fellow scholars,” said Arne Koch, associate professor of German and department chair.

Colby began teaching German in 1834 and today possesses what the AATG named a “spirit of continuous learning.” The AATG was impressed with the program’s curriculum, a “clear, articulated sequence of instructional programming” with clearly defined outcomes and respect for learning differences.

Such a strong curriculum is all the more remarkable given the program’s size: only two full-time professors with an occasional visiting professor. It’s “just right,” said Koch, “to be able to offer students the breadth and depth that you need for them to major and also to be exposed to all things German.”

Cross-listing courses across departments—cinema studies, literature, and economics, for example—also increases students’ options for study and demonstrates the program’s commitment to being interdisciplinary, something Joe Yauch ’19, a history and German double major, calls “phenomenal.”

Departments also benefit from having German-speaking students on campus. Faculty from mathematics to government to history to philosophy have conducted research with German majors whose language skills are strong enough to work with original material.

Jennifer Yoder, the Robert E. Diamond Professor of Government and Global Studies, who studies the appeal of Germany’s far-right party, said, “it was a tremendous benefit to my work to have [German major] Chris Hale ’18 monitoring the German news, tracking down polling data, and analyzing the political party’s campaign materials and public statements.”

Colby’s German majors, who possess a “really high level of proficiency,” according to Koch, find success when they graduate—landing jobs, earning admission to graduate school, and winning prestigious fellowships such as Fulbrights. In the last 10 years, 31 students have won Fulbrights or other comparable fellowships.

“The German department at Colby demands a lot of you,” said Yauch, who hails from York, Maine. “They prepare you to be able to step into the native-speaking setting and to be able to perform well at the same academic level that you would perform in English,” he said, referring to his study abroad experience in Germany.

The AATG praised the department’s “exemplary faculty with credentials appropriate to the teaching assignments” who also contribute scholarly research to the field of German studies. Koch’s research interests include concepts of loyalty in medieval literature and the evolution of the representation of cats in German culture. Alicia Ellis, assistant professor of German, focuses on German literature from 1789 to 1918 as well as African-American and Caribbean literatures.

Outside the classroom, the department sponsors film series, kaffeeklatsches, and an annual World Vision Song Contest—events that attract students from all disciplines. German majors work with local students on projects, and the online Colby-Bates German Virtual Library, begun by Koch in 2011, gives students and teachers access to authentic texts for learning and instruction.

Having language skills really makes a difference, Koch said. At a time when employers are seeking employees with intercultural awareness and linguistic abilities, “having a language, whether it’s German or any other language, really opens up ways of going deeper in relationships and opening doors.”


Read the 2015 Colby Magazine story “All Things German” about Koch and the German program.