When a university president is moved to recognize an individual with an award never before bestowed, it must be historic. On Feb. 23, François Rabelais University honored Bucknell University Professor Angèle Kingué, French & Francophone studies, for her work to promote the exceptional partnership between the French university and Bucknell by awarding her a University Medal. Kingué received the award from François Rabelais President Loïc Vaillant at a ceremony held on the campus in Tours, France.
"I am particularly proud to award this medal of honor for the first time today," said Vaillant. "It is a new distinction that the university has created to recognize and express our thanks to non-French nationals who have made a lasting and exceptional contribution to our institution. It seemed obvious to us that Angèle Kingué should be the very first recipient of this medal, as no one is more worthy of the award."
When Kingué learned of the award, she was honored that François Rabelais wanted to recognize her work, but it wasn't until the evening of the ceremony that the impact of the partnership became clear. "As I looked around the room, I realized that the greatest gift of the night was seeing the faces of the wonderful people I have interacted with and come to love and cherish over the years," she said.
Kingué became director of the Bucknell en France program 15 years ago, and she has worked to deepen the partnership that began in 1987 between Bucknell and François Rabelais ever since. Kingué approached the role as an ambassador would — with the vision to forge lasting connections that would integrate Bucknell students into life in Tours, and François Rabelais students into life in Lewisburg. Over the years, she has built relationships with university administrators and faculty, city government and local host families in Tours, and created new opportunities for both Bucknell and François Rabelais students.
To date, more than 900 Bucknell students have studied in Tours, and every year, two teaching assistants and four exchange students teach and study at Bucknell. During Kingué's tenure as director, she has developed opportunities for students that include internships with the mayor's office in Tours, lab courses at the François Rabelais engineering school, distinctive gastronomical experiences with its professional hotel and restaurant school, and service-learning activities focused on teaching English to French students.
"The relationship between François Rabelais, the city of Tours and Bucknell is mutually beneficial," she said. "I learned early on that you can't dance alone. I have always tried to represent their interests, and we have taken the time to come to know each other culturally and personally. That's what is most important."
Kingué says that the key to partnership is connection. She has hosted two presidents from François Rabelais on Bucknell's campus and three presidents and four provosts from Bucknell in Tours, along with many administrators and faculty. Recently, she began sharing the history of the partnership by holding a Bucknell en France Expo, which highlights the program's founders, the development of the student experience and the success of former Bucknell en France students.
Her determination to build a meaningful, reciprocal exchange has woven the program into the fabric of both the University and Tours communities. The current professor-in-residence for Bucknell en France, Logan Connors, French & Francophone studies, said that he's never seen this level of integration by an American institution in France.
"Prof. Kingué has created innumerable opportunities for Bucknell students and faculty in Tours, and at the same time, she has opened the door to North America for many French students and faculty," he said. "For folks here, she not only represents Bucknell, but also an important spirit of transatlantic academic cooperation."
Bucknell's provost, Barbara Altmann, joined President Vaillant, the mayor of Tours, faculty, students and friends for the ceremony, where she likened Kingué's work to the model of pedagogy promoted by the university's namesake. Rabelais was a Renaissance physician and writer whose hero, a giant called Gargantua, is unable to learn when he is chained to his desk, but thrives as soon as his tutor releases him to discover the world.
"Our students who come to Tours benefit from this same sort of exploration," Altmann said. "A generation of students have benefited from this program, and so has the Bucknell community. The honor you have afforded Prof. Kingué with this medal makes it clear that you, too, value how this program enriches Tours and your university, and the great gift Prof. Kingué has given us all through her vision to make it a model program of its kind."