When taking on the task of coordinating the All Together One award, I had no idea that I was going to have the privilege to honor not only a dynamic and dedicated professor at JMU, but also one of my former teachers. Karina Kline-Gabel was my professor for Spanish 492, which placed JMU students in Harrisonburg’s community to not only make a difference but fully embrace and comprehend the Latino population’s influence in our town. It could be said that Professor Kline-Gabel has created an essential link between the JMU community and Harrisonburg.

Professor Kline-Gabel was born in 1970 in Harrisonburg, Virginia into a bilingual family with a mother from Colombia, South America and a father from Virginia. Growing up in the Valley, she was one of only three families in the area that spoke Spanish. Karina attended the James Madison University Anthony Seeger Elementary School and was playfully called the “walking dictionary” by her peers. As a child, she was proud of being a second generation Latino in the US and considered her heritage an asset. After graduating Magna Cum Laude from JMU in 1992 with a double Major in International Affairs and Spanish and a concentration in Latin American Studies, she attended graduate school at the University of Virginia and completed her MA in Spanish Literature. Professor Kline-Gabel’s intention was to travel to the Southwest of the US for the opportunity to work with a larger Latino community, but she soon realized that it would not be necessary to leave in order to pursue this goal. As the Latino population quickly grew in Harrisonburg, she decided to stay in an effort to give back to the community and help in the transition from a small town to a diverse society. However, it became clear that the recently arrived Latino immigrant children were experiencing great challenges assimilating. For the next 17 years, while Karina taught at the university level at Bridgewater College and later at James Madison University, she created and directed programs aimed at connecting college students to the world of the local Latino community.  Some of these programs include: Trailer Park Gift Drives, The Summer Leadership Institute, Latino Film Festival of the Shenandoah Valley, The Pen-Pal Project, AMISTAD, and CHICAS Project.

Two of the most influential, successful, and important programs that Karina has created and nurtured are AMISTAD and the CHICAS Project. AMISTAD is a program for middle school Latino youth. Professor Kline-Gabel established this program after wanting to help JMU students connect with the Latino youth community to promote friendship and a positive focus on this culture. However, when Karina created AMISTAD, her hope was always to add on to the program with a high school addition. Last fall she collaborated with Harrisonburg High School Hispanic Liaison, Yolanda Blake and RMH Latino Liaison Tonya Osinkosky and they formed the CHICAS PROJECT. This organization helps to unify Latina young women since there have been several prominent challenges facing this generation. Currently, the project meets weekly with the young women to visualize and comprehend the challenges they face. They struggle with feelings of isolation and identity, while feeling they have limited options for their future. Professor Kline-Gabel feels that once youth feel they know who they are, they can successfully assimilate and hopefully seek higher education options in the future.

At JMU, Karina teaches a variety of classes in the Spanish department. Some of these include a Latino Cinema course, lower level introductory Spanish classes, and service oriented courses placing students in the local community. Her philosophy of teaching is focused on incorporating diversity in the classroom in an effort to teach college students to embrace a world view towards different communities as well as maintaining consistent high standards of learning in the Spanish language, literature, and cultural courses. Although Professor Kline- Gabel is proud of the work that she has accomplished as a liaison between the JMU community and the local Latino population in Harrisonburg, she will not reach her goal until she can look at a JMU class and see a diverse group of faces including local Latino young adults who are now looking to go forth and help the next generation.

I feel that German playwright Johann Wolfgang van Goethe said it best when stating, “Treat people as if they were what they ought to be, and help them become what they are capable of being.” Professor Kline-Gabel exemplifies the very essence of this quote as she has helped others in discovering their true capabilities.

I am honored to have had the opportunity to share with you Professor Karina Kline-Gabel’s accomplishments and impact. It is with great pleasure and admiration that I present her with the All Together One award.

Written by: Jennifer Lloyd

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