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Undergraduate Researchers

Danielle Viens-Payne

Danielle Viens-Payne, '10 modern languages, linguistics, and intercultural communication

"Crossing Boundaries: Foreign Language Learning for Learning-disabled Students"

How did you find out that you could do research in your field as an undergraduate?

I was in department office for - Modern Languages, Linguistics, and Intercultural Communication (MLLI) when I noticed information about their honors program which involved research and writing a thesis paper.

How did you decide on your research project?

After seeing the information on the departmental honors program, I thought what I really wanted to research. I had taken an education course that required observation of a high school foreign-language class, and had noticed that any student below or above average was "left behind". This was not done on purpose by the teacher, but she was not given the resources, assistance, or training to help these students succeed. She especially expressed her concern about students in her classes who had learning disabilities. These students had difficulty in foreign language classes and the school did not provide them with additional resources needed to succeed. Student support staff at the university level agreed with the teacher’s assessment. They also reminded me that there were similar issues at the university level. I decided to do research to see if there was any way these students could be better helped. This passion and interest turned into my research project that I was lucky enough to be able to present to foreign language professors and student support staff at URCAD in 2010, and share with more teachers and support staff later on.

Who did you seek out as a faculty mentor?

I began with the faculty leader of the honors program, Dr. Thomas Field, who suggested that I get in contact with Dr. Ana Oskoz, who had a lot of experience with the type of research I wished to conduct. Dr. Field provided and introduction and I sent an email to Dr. Oskoz. She was very easy to approach, eager to help me, and was (and still is) one of the best mentors I have ever had! I learned a lot about research methodology from her. Dr. Field and Dr. Oskoz both served as my faculty mentors, and helped me with my research in different ways.

What courses or other experiences prepared you for this research project?

I feel that this project really reflected its title in the sense that I crossed the boundaries of a few academic fields to produce the final product. My foreign language coursework inspired this research theme, and my education courses solidified my desire to pursue it. My work also benefited from things I learned in sociology, psychology, MLLI, and literature and writing courses.

What has been the hardest part of your research so far? The most unexpected?

The hardest part of my research was accepting the fact that even though there were a multitude of ideas I could include, it really had to be microscopic in its focus due to the time constraints of my graduation date and completion of my department's honors program.

The most unexpected part of my research was the overwhelming support of my faculty mentors, other professors, my advisers, school support staff, teachers, friends, family members, bosses, co-workers, peers, and the number of people who were sitting on the edge of their seats awaiting the results of my work. I did not expect there to be so much interest in my research project, but I learned during the process that there is not much research that has been done on this particular topic.

Did your research connect back to the courses you are taking?

Yes. My classes connected to my research, and my research connected back to my classes. I found myself applying knowledge gained from my coursework to my research, and also applying knowledge gained from my research to my coursework.

What else were you involved in on campus during the time you worked on your research?

I was taking more than the average number of courses while conducting my research because I was trying to graduate on time. I held down quite a few campus jobs at this time as well. Also, I was an active member of honor societies, volunteer organizations, and participated in social and academic events on campus. I was a proud member of the UMBC Honors College, too!

What are your plans for after UMBC?

I finished my undergraduate studies in December of 2010, and am now a first-year graduate student in UMBC's Master of Public Policy (MPP) program. I have two part-time jobs. I work as an Administrative Assistant in the enrollment department of a virtual (and national) public school called Connections Academy. I also work as a Program Coordinator for U.S. Hispanic Youth Entrepreneur Education (USHYEE) Student Chapters where I work with and mentor Hispanic youth in Baltimore County Public Schools (BCPS). Both companies I work for are related to the education field, and they are both non-profit organizations. I plan to get my MPP and hopefully my Ph.D. in Education Policy so I can better help my organizations and my students that I love so dearly!

Do you plan to do anything that builds on your research?

Yes, I do. I hope that one day I can build upon my research and make a difference in the BCPS system now that I am building a positive rapport (through my current role in USHYEE) with and learning from the people I would need to work with on this topic in the future. I have already learned that even though many people are quick to blame the school system for an unequal playing field in the classrooms, the school system might not even be aware of the disparities that exist in their schools. Sometimes the school-level administration is not aware of these disparities either. I hope my research findings can bridge the gap that exists in this area.

What advice do you have for other undergraduate about the research opportunities at UMBC?

My best advice is: DO RESEARCH! Take full advantage of the resources that are currently at your fingertips here at UMBC and explore a topic you want to know more about. The purpose of research is to gain knowledge and understanding of a topic and to share your findings so others may learn as well or simply think about something in a new way. Even if you are part of an academic field where it seems that not much research is placed in the limelight, you should take the opportunity to deepen your knowledge of your specialty area and pursue your passions. If you are not sure what you would research, find a faculty mentor and discussing possibilities. What you may come up with will surprise you. I can honestly say that my research experience at UMBC has influenced and shaped my future goals and instilled a greater confidence in myself and my abilities. My research and writing skills have improved, and the presidents, vice-presidents, founders, and CEO's of my companies have expressed great interest in my capabilities and my potential because of it. Seriously, DO RESEARCH!