On Dec. 9, 2020, high school students from across North Carolina gathered virtually for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Duke University’s sixth annual Learning through Languages High School Research Symposium awards ceremony.
The Learning Through Languages High School Research Symposium is a way for world language students in North Carolina to deepen their language studies and promote learning in the areas of research methodology, technology literacy and critical thinking. Teams of students wrote research briefings in their language of study and developed either a PowerPoint, webpage or PDF infographic to exhibit their findings. The projects were then judged by UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke faculty, instructional staff and graduate students.
This year, the symposium had a different structure as it moved to a virtual format. The awards ceremony was held live online, students submitted their work in advance and did not give oral presentations as they normally would. There were several videos included throughout the ceremony, including a welcome from Barbara Stephenson, vice provost for global affairs at UNC-Chapel Hill and former U.S. ambassador.
“For those who have mastered a second language and for the educators who have helped you get to this point, congratulations; participating in this competition itself is quite an achievement,” Stephenson said. “The commitment you have already demonstrated in mastering a second language indicates that you are well on your way to being a part of the next generation of global leaders. Foreign language skills enhance employability and help unite people by strengthening intercultural understanding.”
Twenty-five student teams participated from 12 high schools across North Carolina, all earning “Superior” or “Excellent” grades. Teams prepared their projects in Chinese, French, Japanese and Spanish on topics including social justice, the environment and sustainability as well as COVID-19.
The awards ceremony was hosted by Corin Zaragoza Estrera, outreach coordinator for the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies, and Allison Haskins, outreach coordinator for the UNC Center for European Studies.
In addition to Stephenson’s welcome, Patrick Duddy, director of Duke University’s Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies and former U.S. ambassador, shared how even when living in foreign countries where English is widely spoken, it is essential to learn other languages to be able to better understand local policies.
Current Carolina students and an alumnus spoke about opportunities for language learning and its impact on academic careers and professional trajectories. Jalyn McNeal ’17, a graduate student within the TransAtlantic Masters (TAM) program, shared that his strong language background in Arabic as an undergraduate at Carolina prepared him to engage fully in his experiences abroad, especially during his Peace Corps service in Morocco.
Griffin McGuire ’21 highlighted his experience in UNC-Chapel Hill’s new Russian Flagship Program, which is a federally-funded initiative that supports motivated undergraduate students of all majors to attain a professional level of proficiency in the Russian language.
Finally, David “Chet” Chetwynd ’93 MBA, CEO and founder of JMNC Solutions and board member of the Nippon Club of the Triangle and the Japan-American Society of North Carolina, shared how learning Japanese allowed him to engage with Japanese software companies and has propelled his career. Chetwynd told students that he was “excited to see what doors open” with their study of world languages.
In addition to the awards ceremony, there was also a virtual expert panel speaking on “The Future of Language Learning in North Carolina.”
The event was organized by area studies centers at UNC-Chapel Hill and Duke University, including the African Studies Center; Carolina Asia Center; Center for European Studies; Center for Slavic, Eurasian, and East European Studies; Duke-UNC Consortium for Middle East Studies; and the UNC-Duke Consortium in Latin American and Caribbean Studies.
By Sasha Schroeder ’22, UNC Global