From Biology to Spanish and Spanish to Biology: Katriona Felkel
Honors student Katriona Felkel shares how the Honors Faculty-Student Agreement impacted her education by merging her two passions in an unexpected way.
By navigating cautiously page by page and button by button, Virginia Tech Honors College senior Katriona Felkel, 22, single-handedly translated the Blacksburg Pharmacy website into Spanish. The translation is over 30 pages long.
“She really went above and beyond with this work,” said Patrick Ridge, assistant professor of Spanish at Tech. “She first approached me with the idea for the translation project when we were covering medical translation in my Spanish for the Medical Professions course. I initially thought that she would just translate the Blacksburg Pharmacy’s main page from English into Spanish, [which is] a tedious task in itself.”
But Felkel, despite the meticulous work-load, was too determined to stop after the main page. “She worked diligently throughout the semester and ended up translating almost the entire website,” Ridge continued. “I urge my students to think about how they can apply their language skills and cultural competency in the community. It is this type of community engagement … that make medical care more accessible for Spanish-speaking communities living in the New River Valley.”
With the use of the Honors Faculty-Student Agreement, one of the most popular ways that students earn honors credit, Felkel was able to envision her translation project. “I wouldn’t have done that on my own,” she said. “Trying to make a class to be an Honors class and figuring out how to engage with the material in a different way, as well as work with professors more closely, is the part [of Honors that] I really enjoy.”
To complete an Honors Faculty-Student Agreement, the student must work beyond the established requirements of that course’s syllabus – just like Felkel did. Faculty-Student Agreements may be applied to any non-honors course. Since Felkel is a busy student with multiple majors and a minor, these agreements help her earn most of her honors credits. Still, her favorite part about the Faculty-Student Agreement is the ability to work one-on-one with professors.
“I made a lot more connections with professors because I had to work with them closely for projects,” explained Felkel. “So, if I hadn’t been in Honors, I probably would have still connected with them, but not as much so.”
The process of translating the Blacksburg Pharmacy sparked Felkel’s interest in pursuing medical interpretation as a career because it would nicely blend together her background in biology and her knowledge in Spanish. “For medical interpretation, you really need to know four languages,” Felkel explained. “You need to know both Spanish and English fluently, but then also the medical Spanish and medical English fluently. It makes you realize how much more there is [to learn] and how much you really need to work to get certifications.”
While Felkel may be enthusiastic about the prospect of merging her two favorite worlds together, her biggest motivator to work toward medical interpretation is her passion to help.
“The main thing I want to do is help people who feel like they have been overlooked by a system – and I want to use Spanish to do that,” said Felkel.
Before adding Spanish as a second major, Felkel was studying pre-veterinary medicine. “I decided I really didn’t want to follow that route, but one of the main reasons why I really wanted to do that was because I wanted to help people,” she said. Particularly, Felkel wanted to help people in areas where veterinary care isn’t affordable and where animal treatment would do more than save animals, but could save people’s livelihood.
“I really wanted to use veterinary medicine to kind of help people by helping their animals in that sense, especially in other countries where if your herd fails, then you’re just out of luck,” Felkel added. “When I finally realized, well, maybe I don’t want to do veterinary school anymore, I still really just wanted to follow the helping aspect of that – and one of my favorite things [to do] is just talking in Spanish to other people.”
When Felkel was admitted into Tech, she already had a lot of dual-enrollment credits. Her Biology major and her music minor combined would have easily been completed in the Fall or Spring semester of her junior year. Felkel asked herself, “So, what can I add?”
Felkel always enjoyed Spanish and accomplished up to Spanish three in high-school, and so on a whim – and with the advisement of her Living Learning community – she initially added Spanish as a minor. “It was just something I was interested in and something I wanted to do to talk to people,” she explained. “I wasn’t expecting to do it [a Spanish minor] at all… And then I thought, well, I could add it to be a major. It just kind of kept going from there – and I was too stubborn to quit.”
In the same way Felkel was too stubborn to quit her Spanish education, she was too stubborn to quit translating the full Blacksburg Pharmacy website. She began with the home-page and continued the process by carefully documenting each tab, button, and page. “I had a side-by-side for everything and broke it up into sections,” said Felkel. “And then I would paste that into the section to be translated to keep it in as similar of a format as possible. I went through each tab, and if there were buttons, I’d click on all the buttons to find out where they went.”
Felkel wanted to contribute as much as she could to increase the accessibility for groups of people who tend to be over-looked or who may not necessarily understand the American system.
“I want to be someone who can kind of be, either a liaison or someone who can look for the people that are lost and help them make a better life,” said Felkel.
Whether Felkel decides to work toward a career in medical interpretation or not, her love for Spanish won’t be going anywhere. In the past, she studied abroad with the VT in Spain program and plans on visiting again to develop a stronger fluency. “I’d really like to keep working on my fluency. I love talking to people in Spanish,” she expressed. “I love talking to and engaging with people. Learning another language is just another way to engage with more people. It just vastly opens the number or amount of people that you can talk with and engage with – and I love that.”
Written by Michelle Fleury
More about Katriona Felkel
- She's double-majoring in biology and Spanish with a music minor.
- Felkel is from the area. She’s from Floyd, Virginia, and thinks it’s interesting to go to the college she grew up seeing as a kid. She even went to the Child Development Lab School and has memories playing on the playground at Wallace Hall.
- She has a little hedgehog named Rya and fosters dogs.
- Currently, Felkel is in her third-year researching at Dr. Alan Ealy’s lab in the Animal and Life. Sciences Department to help PhD student Lydia Woolridge doing bovine (cow) in vitro fertilization (IVF). She’s also working on creating a bovine embryo sexing protocol for the lab.
- Felkel is also a working leader at Orion Living Learning Community.