The last German major


Caleb Geer

Kolby Phinney will be the final German major to graduate from Simpson College.

by Chloe Peck, Staff Reporter

Kolby Phinney, a fifth-year senior and Indianola native, will be the last student to graduate from Simpson College with a German major. 

Phinney began his journey with the German language through Duolingo – an app designed to help beginners navigate new languages – while still in high school. 

“What mainly drew me to the German language is because I knew it was the language of business in Europe,” Phinney said, who is set to graduate this winter as a double major in international commerce and German – along with a minor in marketing. 

“I also figured out about a year into college that my grandfather spoke fluent German from his time in the army, and when I found that connection there, it was like I was carrying on his memory,” he said. 

But that’s not all Phinney found out his freshman year. 

“Simpson announced they were cutting the program about three or so weeks into my first semester, right around the end of September [2018] if I remember right. And they just sent out an email saying something along the lines of ‘we’re cutting programs; French, German, and part of the art department are going due to budgeting issues,’” Phinney said. 

Although it looked like the end of his journey with the German language at Simpson, fortunately for students like Phinney, the college allowed anyone wanting to major in language to commit by the following February of 2019. 

“I really thought about transferring out somewhere else that had a more viable language arts department when I saw they were cutting the program,” he said. “But I was kind of thinking I might as well really focus on German here because I realized I had invested so much into Simpson and I wanted to finish strong.” 

With his sights set on graduating from Simpson, Phinney continued to look for ways to enrich his experience here. “I had what I jokingly tell people was my midlife college crisis, and realized I wanted to focus more on the humanities side than a business degree,” Phinney said. Thus leading him to the University Studies Abroad Consortium (USAC).  

Through this program, he was able to secure a spot along with 30 other students traveling to Luneburg, Germany. 

“It was a very eye-opening experience and one I recommend to any student learning a foreign language. Always find a native or fluent speaker, because you need someone to talk to,” Phinney said. “If you do what I tried to do in highschool, you won’t get the pronunciation right and you’ll be able to read the language, but not speak it. There is that social part of language that everyone needs to have if they want to master a new language.”

His journey through Simpson has been a long one, but will quickly be coming to an end. 

“Going into my junior year, it was just me in the program, then Dr. Caulkins retired at the end of that fall semester, and the only person they had who was qualified to teach German was the speech and debate coach. It was kind of a ramshackle program with all the budget cuts and surprises, but I somehow survived it,” Phinney said. 

So what’s next for a student like Phinney?

“It’s kind of a pipe dream right now, but I am looking at a master’s degree and eventually a doctorate in cultural anthropology and focusing on either Europe or the Baltic part of Europe which has some German influence and get more intercultural experience.”

As of now, Phinney is finished with his German studies and will soon walk the stage as the last German Major here at Simpson College.