Kathleen Cunniffe Peña

MA in Latin American Studies | 2003

Photo: Kathleen  Cunniffe Peña

Job : Lecturer in Spanish, Wilson College
Location : Chambersburg, PA

What were you involved in while at UNM?

Teaching assistantship (Department of Spanish and Portuguese), SOLAS, UNM Fair Trade Initiative

What’s a favorite memory or class from your time in the program?

19th Century Romance Literature in Latin America, with Prof. Kimberly Lopez. For a lot of students, 19th century romance novels are pretty boring--but Dr. Lopez was a really dynamic professor. At the end of the semester, she had us act out a Dr. Phil episode where each student played a different character from the novels we had read. I still crack up when I think about it. And I never forgot those characters!

What are you doing now and what have been some of your professional highlights?

I recently completed a PhD in Spanish at Temple University, and found a full-time lecturer position at Wilson College, a small, progressive liberal arts school in central Pennsylvania. I am also serving currently as the President of the Middle Atlantic Council of Latin American Studies.

How has your Latin American Studies degree informed your work?

Having an MA in Latin American Studies has allowed me to offer a more diverse range of courses; I've taught for Spanish language programs and also for Latin American Studies and Global Studies programs. And although I ultimately focused in literature for my PhD, I am really grateful for the coursework I did in the History Department at UNM. Having that historical context is a major advantage for my literary scholarship and teaching.

What advice do you have for current or prospective students?

Before I began my Master's program at the LAII, my undergraduate advisor (another LAII alumna, Betsy Kiddy) said to me, "Don't get so engrossed in your studies that you forget about the beautiful places surrounding you. Get out. Leave town. Drive to Santa Fe. Go to hot springs and state parks. Enjoy the food." That advice kept me balanced, and also led to some really memorable experiences in New Mexico. It really is a beautiful place to study. Work hard, but don't forget to enjoy the landscape. I still miss those New Mexican skies!

Any additional comments you'd like to add? 

Having worked for several colleges and universities since I graduated from UNM in 2004, I still hold up the LAII as a gold standard in Latin American Studies programs. I am very proud to have completed my graduate studies in your program.