Chelsea Pennington, News editor
Samford’s faculty has received many prestigious honors, but Samford’s associate professor of French and director of the critical languages program Heather A. West may have one of the most interesting awards. In May the French government named her Chevalier de l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques (Knight of the Order of Academic Palms).
The honorary title was first created by Napoléon I in 1808, making it the oldest non-military French decoration. According to the organization’s website, “It recognizes those who have rendered eminent service to French education and have contributed actively to the prestige of French culture.”
Since coming to Samford in 1993, West has been actively involved in bringing the French culture to Samford. She founded the Samford in France program in 1996 and continues to accompany students abroad most summers.
“It was a complete surprise to me. I had no idea. I didn’t apply for it or anything,” West said.
“I had worked with the French consulate closely in Atlanta for several years, bringing teachers from around the Southeast to Samford for teacher training workshops that the French embassy puts on free of charge,” she said.
This work, along with West’s many other efforts to engage American students in French culture, prompted the Attaché of Cultural Affairs to nominate her for this award.
“It’s pretty cool that my name has gone through approval by the French government,” West said. “I’m very pleased.”
Senior history major Franklin Lowe took a semester of French with West and got to know her as a professor, supervisor and scholarship adviser.
“She was a tough but efficient teacher. You could tell that she cared more about us learning the language than anything else,” Lowe said.
“She required a lot of maturity from students,” he said. “I think that really helped me get ready for college, because she expected us to be fellow scholars, and to commit to learning the language and learning about the culture, and I greatly appreciate that process.”
West also serves as the executive director of the Alabama World Languages Association and as the state administrator of the National French Contest (Le Grand Concours) for K-12 students. This summer she was named Contest Administrator of the Year by the American Association of Teachers of French.
Lowe, who also worked as a lab assistant for lower level French classes for two years, said he believes West is fully deserving of the award.
“I was—I hate to say it—absolutely shocked when I read that on Facebook, because I didn’t even know that someone like Dr. West would be up for being knighted by the French government,” Lowe said, “but as I read about the process, it’s something that she deserves, for sure, because she spent so much time…working to make sure that French students are welcomed into America and American students are welcomed into France.”