Meet Alicia Friedrichs, UMSL’s 50,000th graduate, from the class of ’97
As she climbed higher into the Andes mountains of South America, Alicia Friedrichs put her translating skills to the test.
“The doctor spoke to me in English, I spoke to the minister in Spanish, who then spoke to the indigenous people in Quechua,” she said. “We did that so that people could receive the dental and medical treatment they needed.”
Friedrichs never imagined her dual University of Missouri–St. Louis degrees in education and Spanish would eventually lead her to work as an interpreter and translator on mission trips with varied organizations and individuals.
But since becoming the university’s 50,000th graduate in 1997, Friedrichs’ passion for language, learning and helping people has brought her to Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Mexico.
She once traveled down the Amazon River in an old boat to reach the remote people in the river basin and help explain the medical treatment the team offered.
“You only ate what the captain could catch out of the river” Friedrichs said. “Sometimes that was alligator. Other times it was fresh piranha.”
Friedrichs has a goal of visiting every Spanish-speaking country in the world and is set to travel to Belize this summer. But her travels are inspired by more than her personal goal.
“As a teacher, I’m learning so much about the culture and language, and I pull that into my teaching of Spanish, which includes traditions, history and politics,” said Friedrichs, who is a local Spanish educator in St. Louis.
After graduating from UMSL, she began teaching within the Francis Howell School District, starting with after-school K-5 programming. She quickly transitioned to a full-time position and spent the next 10 years teaching high school Spanish levels 1-4, including Advanced Placement and honors classes.
During that time, Friedrichs also worked as an adjunct professor at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Missouri. She later earned a master’s degree in Spanish from Saint Louis University’s program based in Spain and spent a short stint teaching in New York City public schools.
Most recently Friedrichs taught middle school Spanish at St. Patrick Catholic School in Wentzville, Missouri, and elementary Spanish at St. Charles Borromeo School. She’s currently teaching for the Parish School of Religion at St. Joseph Parish in Cottleville.
Friedrichs, who was born in Mexico but raised in Texas, aims to surround herself with the Spanish language any chance she gets. After moving to Missouri in 1992 with her husband and children, she began to lose her Spanish.
“I would visit my family and struggle to find the words again,” she said.
That’s what inspired her to pick up Spanish courses during her undergraduate studies at UMSL. But what prompted her and her husband, David Friedrichs, to seek higher education in the first place (especially after being out of school for a while), was the increased job security their degrees would offer.
“Going back to school in your mid-30s with a bunch of young people made me nervous and excited all at once,” said Friedrichs, who previously worked as a secretary before focusing on raising her children. “So many things went through my head, especially my children. I wanted to set an example, be punctual and take it seriously.”
Friedrichs threw herself into her studies and into campus life, as did her husband. They held countless leadership positions in student groups, but Friedrichs became especially involved in the Hispanic Latino Student Association.
“I wanted all Latinos to come together on campus – Argentineans, Venezuelans, Puerto Ricans, Mexicans,” she said. “I wanted to involve every Spanish-speaking nation represented on campus.”
Before she and her husband graduated, they were jointly awarded the inaugural Sternwheeler Award for active and visible student leadership.
So when Friedrichs was stopped on stage to celebrate being UMSL’s 50,000th graduate, she at first thought it might be another student award. Then she realized the meaning of the big moment.
“I remember tears and surprise and the balloons dropping,” she said. “It was a wonderful experience. Even to this day, people that I run into still remember it.”
Friedrichs and her husband, who earned a BSBA and now leads business applications at Covenant Technology Partners in St. Louis, will return campus to help UMSL mark the next milestone – its 100,000th graduate – at a commencement ceremony on May 12.
Friedrichs hopes the special graduate finds equal fruitfulness and purpose in their degree.
“When you get an education, I think you have a responsibility to help others,” said Friedrichs, who waits with anticipation to find out who the lucky 100,000th will be. “Whether they’re a future doctor, psychiatrist, teacher or business person, I hope they help others and follow through on their dreams.”
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