The door in Ana Chichester’s Combs Hall office is always open.
In fact, her University of Mary Washington students know better than anyone that the professor of Modern Languages and Literatures is always willing and able to help with questions and concerns.
“Ana always pushed me to work hard and not settle,” said Chareese Ross, a 2006 graduate who works in the Office of Communications and Outreach at the U.S. Department of Education. “She did not have low expectations for any student and she wanted her students to succeed at the highest level possible. That was such an important lesson to learn.”
Whether it’s a question about a recent major declaration or advice on which classes to take, Chichester offers a listening ear and will help find a solution.
“The students, hands down, are what energize me the most,” said Chichester, who also is director of the Bachelor of Liberal Studies program.
The Cuban native, who moved to the U.S. at the age of 16, always knew she wanted to teach. But she found her calling as a UMW student while studying abroad in Spain.
She still remembers sitting on the balcony of her host families’ house with Ficciones,a book of short stories by famous Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges. The first story drew her into Borges’ fictional fantasy world. She knew she had found her calling in Latin American literature.
Her UMW professors, who fueled that passion, became models for how she wanted to teach.
“Two female professors in particular– Carmen Rivera and Rosemary Herman–dedicated their entire lives to teaching,” said Chichester, who has studied French and Portuguese. “Teaching was not just their profession; it was their entire lives. They were passionate about the subject that they taught and totally devoted to their students. I certainly hope I have followed them in their professional commitment to what they did.”
She also credits teaching Spanish with helping her to maintain her fluency in the language after living in the United States for more than 40 years.
“My main goal in my language classes is to get them to be more fluent, to feel as though when they walk away from the language requirement that they have enough confidence –it’s not just knowing the vocabulary, knowing phrases or being able to conjugate the verbs – you also have to leave here with the confidence that you can make yourself understood,” she said.
Chichester has also opened another door for the UMW community, the doors to her native country of Cuba. She has accompanied two separate groups to the country that was, up until recently, closed off to most Americans.
In 2014, she accompanied a UMW alumni travel group to Havana and Trinidad. They visited the school of dance for a rehearsal, toured a foundation that promotes young artists and viewed artwork, visited the Institute for the Study of the Arts, attended lectures by Cuban scholars and took a walking tour of the old Havana.
“The goal is to give Americans a glimpse of what it’s like to be Cuban and come back with a positive impression of how much Cuba has invested in the arts,” she said.
Chichester also gave two lectures about the Cuban educational system and offered her perspective throughout the trip.
Now that Cuba and America are in talks to open their borders, Chichester plans to visit the city of Santiago de Cuba in July during the 750th anniversary of their founding. But her passion for teaching will always come first.
“I still get excited about a new semester and the new classes that I’m teaching,” said Chichester. “I still love teaching.”