Category Archives: FLL Teaching

Army Accords Dwight Stephens Commander’s Award for Public Service

Dr. Dwight Stephens

Dr. Dwight Stephens, Director of the Integrated Learning Research Initiative

Special Forces Colonel Donald D. Franklin awarded FLL Dwight Stephens the US Department of Army Commander’s Award for Public Service in a ceremony at Ft. Bragg last May 20. According to the Army’s Institute of Heraldry, the Commander’s Award for Public Service is the fourth highest honor the United States Department of the Army can bestow upon a civilian. The award consists of a bronze medal, lapel button and certificate.

Dr. Stephens currently serves as Director of the Integrated Learning Research Initiative at NC State University as well as Program Director of the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures’ Critical Language Institute.

Congratulations Dwight!!

Posted by Samuel F. Sotillo (Lecturer/Webmaster)

In the Spotlight: Spanish Lecturer Karen Tharrington Explains How a FLL Education Makes Our Schools a Better Place to Learn

Karen Tharrington image

Karen Tharrington during a recent Study Abroad trip to Costa Rica. (Photo courtesy of Karen Tharrington)

Karen Tharrington is a Lecturer of Spanish and current Program Coordinator for the French and Spanish Teacher Education program at the Department of Foreign Languages and LIteratures. She is a native Ohioan and longtime Wolfpacker who — after a long and distinguished career in K-12 education — joined the FLL department in 2007. Currently, Karen is pursuing a PhD in Education at NC State.

Karen’s program offers NC State students not only a pathway to a teaching career as a licensed K-12 educator but also a doorway to other careers in lifetime learning and leadership.

In the following interview, Karen shares her insights with Samuel Sotillo about what brought her to teaching, her experiences as a passionate educator, and why she thinks that a FLL Concentration in Teacher Education can help future FLL graduates to influence their pupils’ attitudes and beliefs about languages and cultures.

Samuel Sotillo: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go to undergrad and graduate school?

Karen Tharrington: I am originally from Cincinnati, Ohio. I am a Wolfpack alumna, having attended NCSU for both undergraduate and graduate school. I am currently pursuing a PhD here in Curriculum and Instruction.

SS: Can you tell us a little bit about the intellectual trajectory that brought you to teaching? What did you do before coming to NC State?

KTh: I never planned to be a teacher but after observing in a local middle school as part of my undergraduate requirements, I fell in love with teaching and it has driven my life since then. I am passionate about the Spanish language and culture and wanted to cultivate that desire in my students. I spent 11 years teaching in Wake County Public Schools at both the middle and high school levels. I love pedagogy and second language acquisition, so coming back to work with the Teacher Education program seemed like a natural fit for me.

SS: Now, let’s talk a little bit about your program, the Concentration in Teacher Education. What’s about? Who should consider joining this program? Is it only for teachers?

KTh: We are in dire need of good teachers in our schools. Although our state has not made languages as much of a priority as other states have, teachers can influence attitudes and beliefs about languages and cultures. The concentration in Teacher Education is ideal for any student who wants to explore curriculum and instructional methods as a future career. Students leave the program with a content degree (French or Spanish) along with the skills and knowledge about how to transfer that information to someone else, be it a kindergartener or an adult. Although graduates finish with a K-12 teaching certificate, their prospects for careers are broad.

SS: What career opportunities there are for graduates with a Concentration in Teacher Education?

KTh: Learning how to teach is as important as knowing your content area, and graduates of our program have numerous opportunities. The most obvious is teaching K-12, but other career areas could include designing and implementing training programs for adults in an industry, working with the educational department at a museum, or designing curriculum for a company like SAS. Many graduates choose to teach abroad for a while, teaching English in South Korea, Chile, or Spain. With a language degree and the pedagogy, the opportunities are endless!

SS: What makes this program special? What is unique about it?

KTh: Our program is unique in that students are getting 30 hours of language content classes in addition to classes that explore pedagogical, curricular, and educational theory. Our program also includes a teaching practicum during the final semester. For those who are interested in teaching abroad, we have international student teaching programs in China, Brazil, and Russia that complement their domestic internship. Another great aspect of our program is that students are able to complete the program within four years and leave CHASS with a BA in their language area and a teaching certificate k-12 in North Carolina. Since our state has reciprocity with many other states, their certification is good if students desire to move around the country.

SS: Let’s talk a little bit more about you, what do you enjoy and find most challenging about teaching?

KTh: I love interacting with students the most. My mantra has always been to teach the student first, then the subject. Students make the class interesting and bring different perspectives to the discussion. Those “a-ha” moments make me so happy and I truly love when my Spanish students use the language spontaneously and communicatively. The most challenging aspect of teaching in k-12 is dealing with the policy-makers, who often times have never taught. At all levels, having students who do not see their own potential can be very frustrating. Teachers, I believe, are altruistic by nature so it is difficult to watch students sabotage their success.

SS: Thinking about your students, in what major ways do you want most to influence their lives?

KTh: Since I have two very different types of classes, I’ll give you two examples. For my Spanish students, I want them to love the language and be able to actually use it in real-life situations. I also want to inspire them to travel! For my Teacher-Education students, I want them to go out and be amazing teachers who never accept the status quo for teaching. I want them to know that teaching is tough but rewarding, if it is done right.

SS: Anything you are reading right now?

KTh: I am currently reading El mañana by Mirta Ojito. It is about a woman who came to the States as part of the Mariel Boat lifts from Cuba. Professionally, I read lots of journals in the foreign language and educational fields.

SS: Anything else we should know about you?

KTh: I love photography and traveling. I always wanted to be a professional photographer for National Geographic. I also dance competitive ballroom with my husband, although we aren’t really that good; it’s mostly for fun.

SS: What do you look forward to most?

KTh: I look forward to beautiful days where I can sit on my porch and enjoy the nature that surrounds me.

SS: Do you have any advice for our students and alumni who are on the job market?

KTh: Travel first, work later 🙂

By Samuel Sotillo, Lecturer/Webmaster, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.

In the Spotlight: Spanish Sociolinguist Dr. Rebecca Ronquest

Dr. Rebecca Ronquest, New FLL Tenure-Track Faculty

Dr. Rebecca Ronquest, New FLL Tenure-Track Faculty.

Rebecca Ellen Ronquest joined the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures during the Fall 2013 semester as an Assistant Professor in Spanish Sociolinguistics and Acoustic Phonetics.

A native of the Midwest, Dr. Ronquest started working in the department last year as a Postdoctoral Teaching Scholar before making the transition to her new position as Assistant Professor. Her specialty is acoustic phonetics, particularly that of Hispanic bilingual speakers residing in the Carolinas.

The following is an email interview that FLL Webmaster Samuel Sotillo recently conducted with Dr. Ronquest.

Samuel Sotillo: First, could you tell us a little bit about your background? Where are you from? Where did you go to undergrad and graduate school?

Rebecca Ronquest: Although I was born in the Midwest and moved around a lot when I was very young, I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in Northern Virginia. After high school I attended the College of William & Mary, where I completed a B.A. in Spanish. I became really interested in linguistics during my last two years of college, so I decided to pursue that interest further in graduate school. I went on to earn my M.A. and Ph.D. in Hispanic Linguistics at Indiana University.

SS: Can you tell us a little bit about the intellectual trajectory that brought you to academia and to Spanish Sociolinguistics and Acoustic Phonetics?

RR: I’ve been interested in words and languages for about as long as I can remember (even though I was never really any good at spelling!). In middle school I took an “Overview of Foreign Language” class, and the following year starting taking Spanish, which I continued all the way through high school. In college I signed up for a class called “Spanish Phonetics and Phonology” (the equivalent of FLS 333) without really knowing what phonetics was at the time, and loved it. For me, learning the IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) was like learning another language, and I really enjoyed transcription and studying the sounds of the world’s languages. I then took a course called “The Study of Language” which introduced me to the other areas in linguistics, including sociolinguistics. In graduate school I took a number of specialized classes and seminars, and even spent some time working in a psycholinguistics laboratory. The course assignments never seemed like work to me, and I thoroughly enjoyed the creative process of conducting research. 

As a graduate student, I was also given the chance to teach introductory and intermediate Spanish at the college level. Although I had no prior training and had never really considered teaching as a career until that point, I found that I felt very much at home in front of a classroom. I learned quickly that teaching is really hard work, but it is also one of the most rewarding jobs I’ve ever had. After teaching Introduction to Hispanic Linguistics for the first time, I knew for certain that I wanted to be a professor, and to continue sharing my enthusiasm for Spanish and linguistics with the next crop of potential researchers and teachers.

SS: What does a Spanish Sociolinguist do? What is Acoustic Phonetics?

RR: Very generally speaking, Sociolinguists investigate the relationship between language use and social variables such as age, gender, and socioeconomic class (to name a few). A sociolinguistic study of Spanish, for example, might investigate if male and female speakers differ in terms of how frequently they pronounce or delete “s” in certain linguistic contexts. Sociolinguists also investigate topics such as bilingualism, language and society, new dialect formation, and the connection between language and identity. I’m particularly interested in bilingual pronunciation and how Spanish-English bilinguals might use language as a means to construct a dual or hybrid identity.

Acoustic phonetics is the study of the acoustic properties of speech. Acoustic phoneticians use a variety of tools to examine the fine-grained details of speech sounds that often can’t be perceived by listening alone. An acoustic investigation might allow us to see if second language learners of Spanish and native speakers pronounce the “p” in the word “pato” differently, or determine if the “d” in “hablado” is the same or weaker than the “d” in “lado.” Characterizing a sound or group of sounds in this way has a number of important implications, from accurately describing the sounds of a particular language or dialect, to understanding why a certain group of sounds might be difficult for some speakers to pronounce and/or perceive.

SS: What are you working on right now?

RR: Right now I am continuing to work with some of the data I collected for my dissertation, which deals with the pronunciation of the Spanish vowels by heritage speakers of Spanish. I have begun to extend this work to include vowel production by Spanish-English bilinguals in Raleigh and the surrounding areas, and am in the process of making comparisons between bilingual speakers from the Midwest and those here in the Southeast. Some of these projects are collaborations with Dr. Jim Michnowicz and one of our graduate students, Mary Raudez.

SS: In what ways do you think are your research and your teaching connected?

RR: Since I primarily teach courses in my specialty areas, there is a pretty strong connection between my research and my teaching. In FLS 333 (The Sounds of Spanish) and FLS 402/502 (Introduction to Hispanic Linguistics), I’m able to share my knowledge of phonetics and acoustics with the students, and make a point to discuss some of the findings of my vowel research with them as well. Last year I also taught a seminar on Spanish in the United States, which focused on analyzing the linguistic characteristics of bilingual and immigrant varieties of Spanish spoken in different communities across the US. We spent a good deal of time discussing heritage speakers of Spanish, who are my main population of interest.

Teaching has also allowed me to meet members of the local Spanish-speaking community. In fact, my interest in heritage speakers grew out of my experiences working with them in the classroom. Teaching and getting to know members of the Raleigh bilingual community has helped me identify some of the aspects of their speech that should be investigated further, and provided ideas for future research projects.

SS: What do you enjoy and find most challenging about teaching?

RR: I think what I enjoy most about teaching is witnessing someone’s “Aha! Moment” — when all of a sudden, all of the complex, abstract concepts suddenly make sense and a student notices something we’ve discussed in class in a real-world context. The challenge — but also something I truly enjoy — is coming up with creative and innovative ways to teach the information and present it to the students in a context that is relevant to their lives. This involves getting to know the students and learning about their interests, keeping up with what’s “trending,” and maybe even watching the MTV Video Music Awards.

SS: Anything you are reading right now?

RR: Although I’m always browsing the latest journals and keeping up with research in the field, I try to make time for some fun reading. I just finished Veronica Roth’s “Insurgent”, which is about a dystopian society in a future Chicago.  It is somewhat similar to “The Hunger Games” series, so if you liked those books, I highly recommend it.

SS: Anything else we should know about you?

RR: Let’s see. I love to run, and try to make time for it every day.  I enjoy competing in road races, and hope to complete my first marathon and triathlon this year. All that running makes my feet hurt, so I keep a pair of slippers in my office. You might catch me accidentally wearing them in the mail room. You might also hear me talking about my dog Max, an 11 year-old Pekingese. He is quite charming and adorable, so I hope you’ll all get a chance to meet him. And I can ride a unicycle and juggle, just not at the same time.

SS: What do you look forward to most about your new position?

RR: I’m really looking forward to becoming part of a team and contributing to the teaching and research communities here at State.  Last spring I was given the chance to offer a new senior seminar, and I hope to create new courses in my specialty areas down the line that will strengthen our linguistics track. I’m also really looking forward to the opportunity to grow as a researcher, to learn from my colleagues in FLL and in the Linguistics program, and to collaborate with so many talented researchers — both faculty and graduate students alike. A lot of innovative and important research is underway, so I’m enthusiastic to be able to work on some of the existing projects as well as design new ones of my own.

SS: Do you have any advice for our students and alumni who are on the job market?

RR: My best advice? I think it goes without saying that it is very important to research each position carefully. Before even applying, investigate the school and the position; know who works there, what they do, and how you can contribute. The job market is also a waiting game, so you have to be patient. Sometimes you submit an application and don’t hear anything for months, if at all. Once an application is submitted, move on to other things and don’t dwell; trust that the right job will come along at the right time. Finally, probably the biggest lesson I learned over the past few years is that so much of the search process deals with finding the right “fit.” Even if a particular job sounds great on paper, you might go on an interview and realize that it just isn’t the right place for you. Pay attention to your interactions with the people you meet, think about what it would be like to be one of their colleagues, and try to get a sense of the departmental dynamics. Intuition usually tells you pretty quickly if it will be a good place to start or continue your career.

By Samuel Sotillo, Webmaster/Lecturer, Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures.