“Being a Spanish major in college put salsa in my life,” Sharon Foerster ’66 says with a laugh. As the creator of a scholarship for students enrolled in Montclair State’s Bachelor of Arts in Language, Business and Culture, she is helping to cultivate a new generation of culturally competent leaders.
Although Foerster describes her childhood in Linden, New Jersey, as “plain vanilla,” meeting a relative’s new husband, who hailed from Cuba, piqued an interest in the world beyond her own backyard. “I fell in love with the Spanish language,” she recalls.
“When I got to Montclair State, I was one of only 25 Spanish majors and more than half of them were native speakers,” she recalls. “I was a first-generation college student and very shy. The three professors in charge of the program were strong and powerful women. They were intimidating, but I was inspired by them and I studied hard.”
When the opportunity arose for a trip to Puerto Rico, Foerster jumped at it. “I used $189 from funds my mother had saved for my education. I took my first plane ride, had my first exposure to being in a foreign environment and visited a rainforest – it was transformational.”
The experience set the tone for her career – and her life.
A Fulbright Scholarship sent Foerster to Madrid after graduation. When she returned a year later, she joined Volunteers in Service to America, now part of AmeriCorps, and taught English as a Second Language at the University of Texas at Austin. In the late 1970s, many of Foerster’s students were from the Middle East and studying petroleum engineering at UT. Learning about their cultures led Foerster to pursue a doctorate in Intercultural Communications at UT. Her research took her to Libya to study how an American educational experience affected Libyan students’ cultural values.
After joining the UT faculty as Coordinator of Lower Division Courses in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, Foerster wanted to do more to encourage study abroad. She collaborated with three female colleagues to form Academic Programs International, an independent study-abroad provider. Foerster is the organization’s academic advisor.
When she learned that Montclair State recently launched a Bachelor of Arts in Language, Business and Culture that emphasizes international experiences, it was the perfect fit. “I love language and culture, and I love being in business. I knew right away that this is something that I wanted to support.”
Foerster’s scholarship will help the program’s first-generation students participate in summer internships and study abroad after pandemic travel restrictions are lifted.
“This new BA program is relevant in today’s world,” she says. “I love that language is central to the curriculum, and that the University is encouraging these students to experience the world. It makes me so proud of my alma mater.”