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Hansen-Thomas visits Spain as Fulbright Senior Specialist

Holly Hansen-Thomas

Holly Hansen-Thomas, associate professor of teacher education at TWU, made time for sightseeing at the Barcelona Cathedral while serving as a Fulbright Senior Specialist in Spain.

A Fulbright fellowship in Spain put Texas Woman’s University faculty Holly Hansen-Thomas in the place of students learning a foreign language and helped her gain new insights into teaching.

Hansen-Thomas, Ph.D., an associate professor of teacher education at TWU, recently returned from a Fulbright Senior Specialist fellowship in Spain. She taught for one month at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili (URV) in Tarragona, located in the Catalonia region of the country. While Hansen-Thomas is fluent in Spanish – and formerly lived in Barcelona – the people of Catalonia consider themselves a separate culture and thus speak Catalan, she said.

“I hadn’t formally studied the language, but I could understand enough to know the faculty members were talking about many of the same things we talk about in my department,” she said.

Hansen-Thomas served on the English and German Studies faculty at the URV, working with students who are pursuing master’s degrees in English as a Foreign Language. She also presented an intensive weeklong seminar on Content and Language-Integrated Learning, working with professors on ways to improve their English language teaching. Those professors held an international conference and named Hansen-Thomas as keynote speaker.

“I talked about functional language awareness – which is the subject of my next book – and how it can help in Content and Language-Integrated Learning,” she said.

This fellowship was not her first experience with the Fulbright, a highly competitive U.S. Department of State program that offers grants to study, teach and conduct research in an effort to increase mutual understanding between the people of the U.S. and the people of other countries. Hansen-Thomas spent the year 2000 in Hungary as a Fulbright Scholar and wanted to participate in the program again. Spending a full year in another country no longer was possible, she said, but the Fulbright Senior Specialist program allows for two- to six-week fellowships. She was on sabbatical for the spring semester at TWU, so she applied and was chosen for the program.

“It was so satisfying,” she said. “I made new colleagues, new connections, and had new experiences.”

One of those experiences was visiting the public schools in Catalonia and seeing the educational process there.

“It gave me new insight for teaching English language learners – insight into how kids think,” Hansen-Thomas said. “In order to understand what these students go through, we need to put ourselves in a place where we don’t understand the language. Also, knowing the challenges the teachers face in teaching these students helps us as teacher trainers.

“I feel that it makes me a better educator,” she said.

Hansen-Thomas has taught for more than 25 years in public schools, private language institutions, colleges and universities in Texas, New York and the international community. Her research deals with issues of second-language learners’ teaching and learning in school, and she has several national and international publications to her credit. She also is director on the TWU Department of Education/Office of English Education grant, SMARTTTEL, which serves to train mainstream secondary rural math and science teachers to better work with English language learners.


Texas Woman’s University prepares approximately 300 new teachers each year. TWU students typically achieve an overall pass rate of 96 percent on state teacher certification examinations.

Hansen-Thomas joins several TWU faculty who have received Fulbright awards, including Richard Shuster, Joan Edwards, Evelyn Curry, Judith McFarlane and more.

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Page last updated 3:24 PM, April 30, 2020