Investing in Cultural Knowledge: Wythe Finalist Dr. Jared White


Photo Courtesy of UMC

Aubrey Anderson, Social Media Manager

*This article is the fourth in a series of features of the 2019 Wythe Award finalists.

Within his small, intimate office on the second floor of Dixon-Eilers, crossing the threshold means traveling into a different languagea different culture. Students cross this threshold every day and very rarely stop to contemplate the world-traveling they did by taking a mere two steps into the space. They take a seat in the wooden chair that sits in the left corner, facing a bookcase overflowing with textbooks and novels with Spanish titles. With the simple utterance of a word, he challenges his students to step out of their comfort zone and open their eyes to a language and a culture he had fallen in love with long ago. 

Dr. Jared White, the assistant professor of Spanish at Buena Vista University, was named as one of the four finalists for the George Wythe Award, the university’s highest award for faculty. The Wythe Award is given to a single faculty member that has displayed excellence both inside and outside the classroom. The winner of this award receives a $30,000 stipend and a sabbatical to conduct research and/or to seek further professional development.  

2019 George Wythe Award Finalists from Left to Right: Dr. Calle Friesen, Dr. Shawn Stone, Dr. Nathan Backman, Dr. Jared White. Photo Courtesy of UMC

Upon hearing the news of his selection as a finalist, White experienced what he described as,A state of shock.”  

It’s a very humbling surprise,” White said. “President Merchant called me the day I heard the nomination and congratulated me. I was blown away with everything. I see all of my imperfections, you know, and I see all these things I can work on but I’m trying, and I’m working hard.  

Senior Spanish and business major Alan Maldonado has served as a substitute for White when he was unavailable for class, and Maldonado has clearly seen the effort and focus White puts into each lesson. 

Every single lesson is broken down into minutes and everything about what he wants to tackle with objectives for each minute,” explained Maldonado. “That’s great dedication that he puts forward, and not a lot of students see it.” 

For Maldonado, White’s nomination does not come as a surprise.  

“I think [he’s] very deserving,” said Maldonado. “To be nominated with just four years here . . . I think it’s a big achievement, and I think he still has many years to contribute to BV.” 

The journey that brought White to BVU is one of unexpected changes. From his childhood to the end of his sophomore year in college, White wanted to be a pediatrician. It wasn’t until he went to a hospital and saw what he would be doing as a career that he decided it simply didn’t feel right. So he decided to change his path. At that same time, he was taking Spanish classes and thoroughly enjoyed them. He sat down with one of his mentors, who explained to him that he could make a living being a Spanish professor. However, that wasn’t the only moment that set him on this career path.  

For two years of his life, White was a missionary in Mexico. During his time there, he developed a deep love for the Mexican people: their food, their culture, their dance, their traditions, and the way they talk. To this day, he still keeps in touch with the people he met during his two year stay. 

“If I weren’t there where I was, and when I was, I don’t think I would be doing what I am doing right now,” White said. “I owe a lot to the time I spent in Mexico. I wouldn’t have thought of taking Spanish classes if I didn’t do that.” 

When he’s not teaching on BVU’s campus, White is working with the puppetry troupe he developed last year along with three of his colleagues. The group is called Dragoncillo,” named after the title of a play written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. The puppetry troupe has traveled to El Paso, Texas, and has recently performed shows at the Storm Lake, St. Mary’s, and Alta/Aurelia elementary schools.  

Part of White’s enjoyment has come from changing perceptions. 

“I’ve had students that don’t speak a lick of Spanish cheer on their friends who do speak Spanish,” White said. “It’s really a beautifully transformative experience for them. I think the earlier we can get that invested into their cultural knowledge, then I think that later on in life, they’ll remember those things. And then instead of having negative stereotypes associated with Spanish speakers today, we’ll have more positive and beautiful ones.” 

But for White, the primary focus has remained on opening up opportunities for his students.  

“That’s one of my biggest accomplishments – being able to graduate these Spanish majors and finding them jobs that are personally meaningful to them, the same way I was able to discover jobs through the help of my mentors.”