Posted: April 3, 2007
Donna Van Handle, senior lecturer in German studies and dean of international students, will be awarded the Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse, the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany, on April 26. The German government is recognizing Van Handle for her achievements in promoting German language and culture in the United States. Van Handle will receive the award at approximately 4:30 pm in Chapin Auditorium after the last performance in the German Theatre Festival.
"I was completely shocked but very pleasantly surprised when I got word that I had received the Bundesverdienstkreuz 1. Klasse. I felt truly humbled to receive news that such a great honor had been bestowed on me by the German government," Van Handle said.
Van Handle's contribution to German language has been extensive. From 2000 to 2003 she was president of the American Association of Teachers of German. Since 1988 she has organized and run the German Theatre Festival and Competition at Mount Holyoke, in which German students from the elementary, middle school, high school, and college levels perform dramatic presentations in German, judged by a panel of German instructors and theatre professionals.
Van Handle also organized several videoconferences in connection with her course Creation and Production of a German Play, which brought together Van Handle's students with students in classes in Germany. The German students critiqued and offered feedback in German on an original play that the Mount Holyoke students had written as part of their course work.
"Learning a foreign language is not about memorizing a series of charts and tables," said Van Handle. "My mission as an instructor of German is to help students come to understand that knowing German will not only allow them to communicate with speakers of that language but also help them better understand and appreciate German culture."
The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany was instituted in 1951 by Federal President Theodor Heuss and is the only general state decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany.