De Castries, a 'beacon amidst the chaos,' awarded Streit Award

Photo: L.A. Cicero. Streit_deCastries.jpg

Patricia de Castries

During the first few weeks of every Autumn Quarter, hundreds of incoming students descend upon the Language Center in Building 30 on the Main Quad looking for guidance in meeting the university's language requirement for undergraduate students.

And every year, Patricia de Castries, assistant director and data manager at the center, is "a beacon amidst the chaos," said a colleague, one of many faculty, staff and students who wrote to nominate de Castries for the 2004 Arnice Streit Award for Distinguished Service. The award, presented in April to de Castries, recognizes outstanding administrative contributions made by a School of Humanities and Sciences staff member.

In her position, de Castries functions like a miniature Registrar's Office for the more than 2,000 students enrolled in language instruction each quarter, said de Castries' boss, Elizabeth Bernhardt, professor of German studies and Language Center director. De Castries maintains all student databases, including placement, oral proficiency and exit test results and certifies completion of the language requirement.

But that's just the beginning, said Bernhardt. De Castries spends hours every summer talking about language selection to anxious parents and incoming students and many hours with students who drop by her office ­ where she keeps a bowl of chocolates on her desk. They talk about majors, career choices, their families and everything else in between. Few expect the "motherly kindness and encouragement that Patricia provides," said a co-worker. "Students come to Patricia swimming in uncertainty and leave with a smile."

"I love the kids, you see," said de Castries, who has worked on campus since 1986, when she arrived from Paris with two suitcases and $80. She previously had administered the Stanford-in-Paris program and was an accountant for the program in the 1970s. Here, she was an assistant in the French and Italian Department and worked as a technology specialist for the Division of Literatures, Cultures, and Languages before becoming assistant director of the Language Center in 1997.

De Castries also serves as faculty affiliate at the French House, where she gets along with students like "a house on fire," she said. "These kids need people and we're here to help them. I have lots of friends on campus, and if I can't help them, I can find someone who can," de Castries said. Students "have got to know that Stanford has millions of ways of helping them and it doesn't have to be a very high dean."

De Castries is viewed campuswide as a resource, Bernhardt said. Last summer, de Castries acted as translator and coach for Richard Zare, the Marguerite Blake Wilbur Professor in Natural Science, as he polished a 10-minute speech in French to deliver when he accepted an honorary doctorate from the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse, France. And she recently responded to an oncologist at the School of Medicine who needed help translating a research paper written in French.

De Castries has many positive personal characteristics, but none is more significant than her outlook, said Bernhardt. "Patricia's optimism about life about what it has in store for us; about what the Language Center could and should be; what students can and should do; and about the fact that we would all survive CAMS and Delphi and PeopleSoft and Oracle ­ has inspired all who work with her."

The annual award, first presented in 1987, is named for Arnice Streit, a former associate dean of finance, and carries a $3,000 prize.

In 1997, de Castries received an Amy Blue Award, which is given annually to staff members who are exceptionally dedicated, supportive of colleagues and passionate about their work.