Focus on Faculty: Thierry Boucquey, Professor of French

The first thing to know about Professor of French Thierry Boucquey is that he has a personal motto. The second and more important thing to know is that he actually lives by it.

Mens sana in corpore sanois, a Latin phrase meaning ‘a healthy mind in a healthy body,” says Boucquey as we sit down together on the occasion of his retirement from Scripps. “I do my best intellectual and academic work when my body is in shape, and I teach that approach to my students, too.” Indeed, one would not be remiss to mistake the professor for a world-class athlete upon encountering him walking—or rather, running—across campus (he can’t remember a day when he didn’t exercise). Boucquey has competed in master’s track and field events for over 40 years, most recently coming in sixth place in the world championships in Korea—all while maintaining a prolific research and teaching dossier. During his 33 years at Scripps, Boucquey has been an active force in his research field, in the classroom, and in the College’s administration.

As a scholar, he has taught and published widely in the areas of French medieval, Renaissance, and 17th-century literature, theater, translation, business French, foreign language pedagogy, Kyōgen (Japanese comic theater), and current events. He built up Scripps’ Fulbright Scholar Program as associate dean of faculty, catapulting the College’s grantees from an average of two students per year to nine in 2018; Scripps is now ranked among the top Fulbright-producing bachelor’s institutions in the nation, according to the U.S. Department of State. He revolutionized the College’s study abroad program by inviting faculty to help design curricula and by visiting schools around the world to ensure that their programs passed muster. As a way to foster cultural exchange, he staged exhibitions at the Clark Humanities Museum and brought Kyōgen performance to campus. During the 2008–09 academic year, Boucquey proposed and launched Capstone Day—now a well-established and much-loved Scripps tradition. Each May, just prior to graduation, seniors nominated by faculty share theses and projects from a variety of disciplines, representing the culmination of their work at Scripps. “I realized that we had these wonderful theses every year, but they just went to the library to collect dust,” explains Boucquey. “These students did fantastic work, but there was not public recognition of it. So, I thought, let’s try to do a day. And we did. And it was a huge success from the beginning.” Capstone Day ends with a friendly but competitive soccer match between Scripps faculty and staff and seniors. (As he put it with a chuckle, “students have traditionally been clobbered by the faculty” at the match.)

But Boucquey sees as his most profound contribution to Scripps his Core III course, Foreign Language and Culture Teaching Clinic, which will have its 20th—and final—edition this fall semester. He recalls fondly when he conceived of the course: “The dean asked professors to come up with Core courses. I figured, I’m a specialist in French medieval literature, which is pretty esoteric, and I teach French, so I thought, why not teach how to teach language?” Since he devised the course, over 400 students have passed through. Boucquey starts the semester with a teaching demonstration entirely in Flemish, aimed to highlight how to communicate effectively across language barriers (which he does with ease). This is followed by three weeks of pedagogy training and, finally, a clinic at a local elementary school, where Scripps students who are native or very advanced speakers of a foreign language teach it twice per week. Following the clinic, the class reviews videos taken during those teaching sessions to critique and improve upon their pedagogy. The teaching clinics have been so successful that Boucquey and six of his Core III students published a book, 100 Games and Activities for the Introductory Foreign Language Classroom, which has sold over 6,000 copies to date. “It’s one of the highlights of my career, seeing students blossom and do so well in the course,” says Boucquey.

Ever the educator, Boucquey will continue teaching his Core III this fall, and he wants to volunteer to teach refugees English. He also plans to continue his work teaching English to adults in the U.S. and abroad (he recently returned from a second stint as scholar-in-residence at Hunan Women’s University in China). “But I will miss my colleagues, especially my French colleagues,” he says wistfully. “And the students, of course — being able to interact and see them grow, and also learning so much from them over the years.”