When Allison Martz was a young girl, her mother used to speak French to her.
Her mom passed away when Martz was 11 years old, so when she got the chance to study French at Colorado State University and visit Paris in an education abroad program, it was especially meaningful.
And when her beloved city was the target of terrorism last November, it was especially painful.
“I turned on National Public Radio that day and heard the news,” Martz recalls. “I just sat in my car and cried, because I’d had this love of France since I was little.”
It was shortly after the attacks that she read an article by Chelsea Fagan on jezebel.com in which Fagan recalls moving to Paris and being surprised at the multiculturalism there. Instead of the romanticized stereotype of cheese, bistros and wine, Fagan wrote, it was a revelation to live near a Jewish Orthodox school, a mosque and a community of Maghrebins and West African immigrants.
The article inspired Martz to email one of her former French instructors at CSU, Frederique Grim, to tell her how well the university prepared her for living in Paris.
“These classes didn’t just teach the language or phonetics, they taught the culture of Paris and France from so many different angles, and I’m so incredibly grateful,” Martz wrote to Grim. “It never took me by surprise when I walked by a woman in a hijab or a man who was dressed in the traditional Jewish style. I understood that Paris was so wonderful because of all of these cultures. My study abroad experience was even more enriched because my perception of what Paris was going to be when I got there was not based on movies and photos of the Arc de Triomphe, it was formed from many years of studying language, culture, cuisine and history.”
An unconventional journey
From the start, Martz didn’t exactly follow a traditional path at CSU. In high school, she went to her advisor’s office to pick up an application for the University of Colorado but they were out, so she grabbed a CSU brochure instead and fell in love with the university. She didn’t set foot on campus until she attended orientation in summer 2006.
“The CSU website was that cool,” Martz says.
The Minnesota native minored in French, but much of her other coursework was in engineering. She spent the summer of 2010 in Paris.
“That was the best time I’ve ever had, studying abroad,” Martz said. “I felt so well-prepared by CSU for that experience. I knew the culture of Paris and wasn’t shocked by anything I saw.”
By the time she finished at CSU in 2011, she was named an outstanding graduate and had three undergraduate degrees: a bachelor’s degree in international studies from the College of Liberal Arts, a B.S. in mechanical engineering, and a B.S. in engineering science with a concentration in international engineering.
“My diploma was long,” Martz recalls with a laugh. “I loved my time at CSU. I still talk to my professors, they still ask how I’m doing. I’m so thankful I went to college there.”
Despite her love for Paris, she ended up in a career decidedly more Fort Collins than France — today she is brewery engineer and project manager at the Left Hand Brewing Company in Longmont.
“Going to school at CSU, we’d spend Tuesday afternoons in tap rooms,” Martz says. “I worked in architectural engineering for a while, and I wasn’t that into it. Then my friends suggested getting into the brewing industry.”
In her current position, she is not only in charge of engineering, but also expansion projects, such as the brewery’s new seven-barrel system that allows for small-batch experimentation.
“We can tweak the beers more easily now and see what people’s reactions are,” Martz says.
And thanks to her education at CSU, which included hands-on projects like monitoring the energy efficiency of various buildings’ HVAC systems, she understands the blueprints prepared by contractors for Left Hand’s expansion projects, whether they involve civil, mechanical, electrical or structural engineering.
“In approving drawings, I have to understand those plans,” Martz says. “It’s a manufacturing facility — there is so much engineering. I feel like I use my degree a lot more than in my last job. Engineering degrees are so diverse, and they help you problem-solve. I have the experience and knowledge to make our space better; I understand my projects because I understand the implementation.”
She has also found new admiration for CSU’s fledgling fermentation science and technology program.
“If the fermentation science program had existed while I was at CSU, I would have considered taking those classes,” Martz says. “There will be more and more need for people who’ve gone through those programs. They learn the reasoning behind what they’re doing. It’s a big part of the culture of Colorado — people take pride in it and want to hire people who are knowledgeable about the beer. If I could go back and get a brewing engineering degree, I would.”
Unfortunately, the only time she uses her French skills now is the occasional interaction with a German brewer who speaks the language. But she says studying abroad and learning a foreign language has been invaluable.
“It’s helped set me apart while job hunting,” Martz says. “You learn how to interact with different people, and you learn about yourself. It’s a very easy way to get out of your comfort zone. I’ve never met anyone who has regretted studying abroad.”
Despite pursuing a career in the brewing industry, her love of France is alive and well: She plans to return to the country and run the Paris Marathon on April 3. It’s a kind of birthday present to herself — her parents always made a big deal of their only child’s big day.
“This is me continuing the tradition of doing something special,” Martz says. “The Paris attacks make me want to get back there. It means even more to me now, to see my friends and those places again.”