Since it was started a little more than two years ago, the Drexel French Club has gone from a pipe dream to a fledgling student organization at Drexel University to being recognized by the United States French Embassy. Having won a grant awarding funding and guidance from a U.S. French Ambassador, the student organization now has enough money and resources to start a mentorship group and hold events on- and off-campus (complete with delicious French food, bien sûr).
For Sarah Malik, the president and founder of the student organization, it’s a dream come true.
She started the club in the fall term of her freshman year in 2015, back when she realized that the University didn’t actually have a French club. Having studied the language for five years, she wanted to continue learning and practicing French, but she had no room in her schedule for language electives as a business and engineering major in the LeBow College of Business and a member of the Pennoni Honors College with minors in technology innovation management and mechanical engineering.
“When I started this club, it was just me, and it was very hard finding my way,” she said.
After registering the club, Malik gained support from the French Department (professors offered extra credit to those who joined the organization or attended meetings) and found students who took leadership positions in the club. She also gained a faculty adviser, Brenda Dyer, associate teaching professor of French in the Department of Global Studies and Modern Languages in the College of Arts and Sciences. But she still had her share of setbacks — organizational changes, a lack of resources, no set space to hold meetings, no funding to buy food for meetings (which is, of course, the most effective way of getting college students to show up).
Things changed, however, in 2016 when she happened to explain all of this to Paula Marantz Cohen, PhD, dean of the Pennoni Honors College and Distinguished Professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences (who, coincidentally, received a BA in English and French from Yale University). After that, the Honors College stepped in to help, offering a room for meetings, supplying food for events and promoting the club in newsletters. Executive Assistant to the Dean Administrative Coordinator Karen Sams also helped with logistics and event planning, serving as a mentor to Malik throughout the process.
“Once we had that partnership and infrastructure with Pennoni, we were able to roll out more programming,” said Malik.
Membership increased as the club held more and more varied events, including conversation hours and cultural events like French movie nights and holiday parties. Malik also had a strong executive board team starting in the spring term: Margaux Cornell, an undergraduate student in the LeBow College of Business serving as vice president; Elizaveta Kosareva, an undergraduate student in the LeBow College of Business serving as treasurer; and Yigit Can Alparslan, an undergraduate student in the College of Engineering. Over the summer, the organization even received its first grant from the Student Activity Fee Allocation Committee. Things were looking up.
“I am very proud of my team!” said Malik. “They have really been the driving force of the club's success over the past year. I’m looking forward to working with them as the year continues.”
Then, in the summer of 2017, the organization applied for and ultimately received the French Embassy's France on Campus award, which provides funding, guidance and outreach opportunities for student organizations introducing French culture to their college campuses. Kosareva was the one who officially reviewed, submitted and ultimately secured the award from the French Embassy. The Drexel French Club’s now award-winning idea was to start the “Frenchy Friends” mentorship group in which fluent or advanced French speakers are paired with students who are new to learning the language.
Now, the organization has over 100 members on its roster, though events can have anywhere from 20 to 65 students show up (the latter being the case for a trip to the Rodin Museum during Welcome Week). The “Frenchy Friends” program was launched during week three of the fall term, with each of the six advanced mentors working with five beginner speakers to advance and practice their knowledge of all things French.
“It’s very rewarding when people like me want to stay engaged with the French culture and language and they have opportunities to dive into their interests at Drexel,” said Malik. “With every event, our goal is to have everyone learn at least one new word in French, whether they’re a fluent French speaker or a beginner. Thank you to all the members who come and support our club. We look forward to meeting more students and sharing our passion for the French language and culture!”
Interested in joining The Drexel French Club? You could send the members an email and follow them on: