Undergraduate students conduct research abroad

By Jennifer Miller
August 02, 2016

Communication Sciences and Disorders students routinely have the opportunity to conduct research, giving them an advantage for their future careers in speech-language pathology or audiology. Being able to conduct this research abroad only elevates that experience.

International research opportunities for undergraduate students like Erika Exton and Margaret Featherstone were made possible through a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Partnerships in International Research and Education (PIRE) grant to the Penn State Center for Language Science (CLS) in the College of Liberal Arts.

For eight weeks, Exton, a linguistics and communication sciences and disorders double major, conducted research at Radboud University in Nijmegen, The Netherlands, where she focused on a subset of a project by her advisers, Chaleece Sandberg, assistant professor of communication sciences and disorders, and Janet van Hell, professor of psychology and linguistics and co-director of the CLS.

Erika Exton near windmills in The Netherlands

While taking a break from research, undergraduate student Erika Exton viewed Dutch windmills in Zaanse Schans, The Netherlands.

IMAGE: Courtesy of Erika Exton

Specifically, Exton looked at abstract and concrete word processing in four different language populations, including healthy young adult Dutch-English bilinguals and English monolinguals in Pennsylvania with aphasia, a speech disorder caused by brain damage. By comparing these results to those from English monolinguals, she is hoping to learn how bilinguals and people with aphasia understand words that are not visible in the environment and better help them in learning abstract words.

“In general, PIRE and the CLS have already given me so many experiences and ways to get to know the way the research world works, which has helped me to feel more knowledgeable in making my decisions about the future,” Exton said. “PIRE is also giving me so much independence as a junior researcher, and while that can be nerve-wracking and overwhelming at times, it also makes me feel more confident to be able to figure things out on my own and know that I am trusted enough to be given this experience.”

Featherstone, who is studying communication sciences and disorders, spent eight weeks at the University of Granada in Spain. Under the direction of Karen Miller, associate professor of Spanish and linguistics and co-director of the CLS, and Cynthia Lukyanenko, postdoctoral fellow with the Child Language Laboratory, Featherstone was able to carry out an experiment.

Margaret Featherstone in Spain

Undergraduate student Margaret Featherstone at the Alhambra in Granada, Spain. 

IMAGE: Courtesy of Margaret Featherstone

Featherstone’s research project focused on the dialect that is spoken in the Andalusian region of Spain as speakers often drop “s” at the end of syllables and words. She used an eye-tracker to record where people were looking while they listened to sentences with singular versus plural nouns. This allows researchers to evaluate comprehension, and see how listeners tailor their comprehension strategies to their native dialect.

“It truly has been an amazing experience and opportunity to go to Spain and do research about something I am passionate about,” Featherstone said. “I have met people from all over the world and learned lessons that can't be taught in the classroom. As a student in the College of Health and Human Development, a college that is dedicated to helping and serving others, I hope to use this experience to do just that as a bilingual speech therapist.”

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Last Updated August 04, 2016