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SILC Café serves up coffee with a side of culture to ASU language students

You don't always have to travel abroad to be immersed in culture.
Play a game of international Scrabble at the SILC Café this fall.
August 21, 2017

Weekly social gathering allows students to practice speaking skills while learning about other people and places

It is said that one of the best ways to learn a language is to immerse yourself in the culture. At Arizona State University’s SILC Café, a group of students and faculty have found a way to do that without even leaving campus.

“Language and culture is a social experience,” said Michael Tueller, associate director for administration with the School of International Letters and Cultures. “So we provide that here.”

SILC Café is a weekly social gathering for anyone at ASU who wants to learn more about international language and culture. Attendees meet every Wednesday during the spring and fall semesters from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m. in the Language and Literature Building, room 165; the first meeting of the fall semester is Aug. 23.

Tueller, who also teaches Greek, attends as often as possible and encourages his students to do the same. The atmosphere is intentionally informal, with people coming and going as they like, stopping for a moment here to add a word to the ever-evolving multilingual game of Scrabble, or lingering there to sample from the assortment of international epicurean delights.

“I’m French, and food is a way we bring people together,” Frederic Canovas said. He has been teaching the language at ASU for 17 years and appreciates the opportunity SILC Café provides to interact with students outside the traditional classroom setting.

The cafe itself began as a weekly tutoring session for SILC students that also offered free coffee. After it gained popularity, the organizers decided to open it up to everyone, regardless of their major. In addition to coffee, people began bringing food from around the world, as well as games and activities such as origami.

Barbara Fleming serves as the head faculty adviser for the student group SILC Attachés, which sponsors SILC Café. She’s there every week, making sure things run smoothly, engaging with students and learning new things herself. Fleming has taught French classes at ASU on and off over the past few years and espouses the benefits of language studies.

“It can make you much more desirable as an employee, and of course it enriches your life,” she said. “And think how it can widen the dating pool.”

At any given meeting, the languages spoken at the cafe can range from Chinese to Portuguese, Spanish to French, Greek to Japanese, and even sign language.

When asked to spell her name aloud, English junior Tonissa Saul begins signing the letters, then catches herself and laughs.

“I always wanted to learn sign language, and I’ve had jobs in retail where I thought it could be useful” because customers had hearing impairments, she said.

Knowing how to sign with them allows her to forgo speaking “through a little box,” that is, a smartphone or other tech device, which she feels can take away from making a more personal connection —something that is true of all languages.

SILC Attachés president and vice president, Michael Napolitano and Alexandra Carrillo (pictured at top left), agree that one of their favorite things about the weekly meetings are the relationships they’ve built.

Carrillo, a sustainability undergradaute student, said she originally came to SILC Café for the extra credit but soon realized it had much more to offer her; after spending her first couple of years at ASU wondering where she fit in, she suddenly felt a sense of belonging and purpose.

“It was like, ‘Yay! I finally found my niche!’” Carrillo said. “I’ve made such great connections with students and faculty … that I wouldn’t have had without it.”

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Top photo: (From left) SILC Attachés vice president Alexandra Carrillo, civil engineering sophomore Morgan Alkahlout and business sophomore Amanda Garza play an improvised game of French/German Scrabble. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now. 

ASU Art Museum announces Miki Garcia as new director

August 21, 2017

Former Executive Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara (MCASB) Miki Garcia is joining Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts as the new director of the ASU Art Museum.

“Miki is a great choice for ASU,” said Arizona State University Herberger Institute Dean Steven J. Tepper. “She is a seasoned museum director with extensive experience growing her institution, building her board, securing investments and creating powerful programming.” woman's portrait in art gallery Download Full Image

Garcia, who will officially begin at the ASU Art Museum on Dec. 1, has been the leader of MCASB since 2005. Under her direction, MCASB grew from a grassroots alternative arts space to a financially sustainable, internationally recognized contemporary art museum.

As chief curator, she oversaw curatorial and public strategies that received significant accolades from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Getty Foundation and the James Irvine Foundation, among others. This September, MCASB will open the first in-depth exhibition of Guatemalan art from the late 20th and early 21st centuries as part of the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time initiative.

“One of my passions is reimagining the potential of art and museums to impact the lives of all people in the spirit of inclusivity, equity and diversity,” Garcia said. “I am fiercely committed to the future of the museum and the role of arts in society. I am so excited to join the Arizona State University Art Museum, a museum within one of the most innovative public research universities in the country dedicated to inclusion; advancing research and discovery of public value; and assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves.”

Earlier in her arts career, Garcia was project coordinator at the Public Art Fund in New York City and curatorial associate at Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego. She has served as a curatorial representative to the Mexican Cultural Institute in Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Getty Foundation and has been a juror for the National Endowment for the Arts, Creative Capital Visual Arts Awards, Art Matters Foundation and more. She has her MA in art history from University of Texas, Austin and specializes in Latin American and Latinx Art. 

Phoenix seemed like a natural fit to Garcia.

“It’s the fifth-largest city in the United States, and it’s going to experience so much demographic growth and change in the next decade. I am thrilled to be a part of that,” Garcia said. “I think people across the country will be looking to Arizona in the next couple of years as a case study in change.”

“ASU Art Museum has been recognized as among the most important contemporary art museums in the region, with exhibitions and programming that have attracted global attention,” Tepper added. “Miki will help us leverage this reputation and the talent of our team to have even greater impact on campus and beyond. Importantly, she believes deeply in ASU’s potential to transform our region and to advance a new model of a 21st-century university art museum that advances art at the intersections of every important issue of our day.”

Communications Program Coordinator, ASU Art Museum