Roger Thayer Stone Center For Latin American Studies

Tulane University

Haitian Creole: One Stone Center grad's journey from Tulane to dream job

February 13th, 2013

When Kate Schuenke-Lucien applied to and then began studying for her Master’s degree at Tulane’s Stone Center for Latin American Studies in 2003 she had no idea a Haitian Creole FLAS grant was an option, nor did she know the central role that Haitian Creole studies would play in her life. Schuenke was already connected to Haiti-her family had a deep commitment to the country in the form of philanthropic and volunteer work. In fact, after her mother’s death, friends and family contributed funds to build a K-12 school in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, an appropriate memorial for a woman who was both a teacher and dedicated to work in Haiti.

Schuenke-Lucien began her academic life at Wheaton College, a private Christian liberal arts college outside of Chicago. There she double majored in Political Science and Spanish. While at the time she was more interested in countries like Argentina than in Haiti, after graduating with her BA Schuenke was invited to come and teach English and Spanish for a year at her mother’s school. After that year her commitment to the region had deepened and solidified. An advisor from her undergraduate institution suggested she apply to Tulane for a Master’s, citing the Stone Center’s strong program in the Caribbean.

When Schuenke-Lucien arrived at Tulane in 2003 she was surprised and delighted to learn of the Haitian Creole program. She already spoke Creole reasonably well after her time in Haiti, but the courses were essential for firmly establishing her knowledge of grammar and vocabulary. As she notes, the program also provided her with much needed "credentials" in the language. The university level courses in Haitian Creole, a highly unusual offering among academic institutions, gave her increased confidence, and the ability to demonstrate her Haitian Creole ability in the form of coursework, not just time spent in the country. Ultimately, Schuenke-Lucien took Haitian Creole all four semesters at Tulane and was a FLAS fellow for three of them. She also focused on Haiti for her Master’s thesis, working with Professor Martha Huggins to investigate the efficacy of the U.S. police training programs in Haiti.

From Tulane Schuenke went immediately to Notre Dame University where she began PhD work in Political Science, working with professors at the Kellogg Institute for International Studies. There, she carried out research for scholars involved with the Kellogg Institute and, thanks to her Tulane training in Haiti and Haitian Creole, soon became the "default" person for research on Haiti. Thanks to her work at the Kellogg Institute, after the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Schuenke-Lucien was recommended to assist the university in organizing and communicating about Notre Dame’s Haitian outreach programs. One of the professors she worked with in this capacity was Father Timothy Scully, csc, with the Alliance for Catholic Education (ACE). ACE works on a number of projects involving the Catholic Church and education in Haiti. In December 2012 Schuenke-Lucien was named Associate Director of ACE, responsible for coordinating and providing support for ACE Consulting's Haiti Catholic Education Initiatives.

Schuenke-Lucien is still working on completing her PhD, but describes her position at ACE as a "dream job," noting "I'm using all the skills I learned in graduate school in the most practical, effective, applied way possible to help dramatically improve the lives of Haitian children." While she acknowledges her PhD work certainly helped her achieve her Associate Director position, she writes that "I think the main reason I got this job is because of my training at Tulane, specifically all the Haitian Creole courses I was able to take and the research I did on Haiti."

To learn more about Schuenke-Lucien’s current work in Haiti, click here.

Haiti + People
Thomas A. Klingler
Associate Professor - French & Italian