URI professor honored by French government for academic service

This summer, University of Rhode Island French professor and head of the honors department Karen de Bruin was named a Chevalier in the Ordre des Palmes académiques (Order of the Academic Palms). 

The award is the highest honor given to an educator in France or abroad. It was presented to de Bruin by the Prime Minister of France and the French consulate in recognition of the work de Bruin has done in promoting French education and culture at URI. 

De Bruin arrived at URI in 2007, and later became the French department chair. 

According to de Bruin, this role allowed her to make international connections with people at the French consulate and embassy, as well as other universities. 

In her time as department chair, de Bruin created three partnerships with other universities that allow URI students to study abroad. She created the URI-Universite-de-Rennes consortium exchanges, as well as the URI-Mod’Spé fashion marketing and merchandising exchange.

In collaboration with colleagues in economics and political science, de Bruin also founded the International Studies and Diplomacy program. 

“I think it’s in part thanks to that that I was given this award, because we actively participated with the French consulate,” de Bruin said. 

De Bruin is also actively involved with the French embassy, and sits on a console that focuses on French education and French language promotion. 

“French has very much become a part of who I am,” de Bruin said. 

De Bruin’s dedication to students in URI’s French department, as well as her involvement with the French government earned her this prestigious title. 

“I feel recognized for the work that I’ve done to promote French culture and French language,” de Bruin said. “I really feel honored.” 

In addition to being a professor of French, de Bruin is currently the head of the honors department. 

Associate Professor of French and Film and Associate Chair of the Department of Modern Classical Language and Literatures, Dr. Leslie Kealhofer-Kemp, has been a colleague of de Bruin for ten years. 

“We’re really fortunate to have professor de Bruin as a faculty member in French,” Kealhofer-Kemp said. “She has really helped transform our program and has been such a leader in the department.” 

In addition to all of the work she has done with other universities, de Bruin also works to improve the student experience at URI. 

“When professor de Bruin was department chair, she was really integral in helping us create a new vision for the language center,” Kealhofer-Kemp said. “We’re really using that space as a community center for languages.” 

The language center is located on the third floor of Swan Hall, and is a space open to all students to study and connect with other students in their language classes. 

“Human connection and human interaction is so important,” de Bruin said. “That’s how we learn about doing things differently, and it allows us to reconsider why we do the things that we do and the way that we do them.” 

The department is also looking for new ways to engage students with the French language. 

“We’ve been really trying to offer our students fun, meaningful activities, and ways to get together outside of class to practice their French,” Kealhofer-Kemp said. 

The department is currently planning activities such as movie nights, French food events and other cultural events for students to participate in. 

“I think the way we teach languages here at URI is very communicative,” Kealhofer-Kemp said. “A big cornerstone for our program is using languages in a meaningful way.” 

If students are interested in taking a French class with no prior experience, Kealhofer-Kemp suggests they take FRN 101. Students with French experience can contact any of the French professors to find a class that is the right level for them.