Mariah Nelson was a freshman in college when she realized her language skills were valuable and worth pursuing. She had studied Spanish throughout elementary, middle and high school, which gave her a rudimentary understanding of the language. Her basic Spanish comprehension gave her the ability to help someone who needed it.
During the second semester of her first year here at UW-Madison, Nelson volunteered weekly at The River Food Pantry with Badger Volunteers. At the pantry, she escorted visitors through the process, helping them pick out food. One day, towards the end of her shift, a gentleman came through who only spoke Spanish, and didn’t understand a lot of English. While other staffers were unintentionally overwhelming the visitor with English conversation, Nelson offered her help using her Spanish skills.
“Even though I didn’t really have a ton of Spanish ability at that point, you could just tell he was really grateful and he got a better gist of what was going on,” Nelson said. “That was really the first time I used my Spanish skills in a non-classroom experience.”