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William O. Douglas Honors College

Stellar CWU Graduate to Pursue Love of Languages

“I’ve always been interested in languages,” says soon-to-be-graduate Olivia Hirschey. “My mother remembers that in preschool, I tried to help a Japanese girl learn English.”

Hirschey still likes to help people overcome language barriers. A tour guide for Central Washington University, she noticed that students with Spanish-speaking parents weren’t able to follow the English-language, self-guided tour brochure, so she took it upon herself to translate the brochure into Spanish. Later she gave the university’s first face-to-face tour in Spanish.

“Many of our applicants are first-generation college students, and need support through this new experience,” she commented. “When we [at CWU] engage the family, we can help students in the long run.”

Hirschey will be graduating this weekend summa cum laude with dual bachelors’ degrees in English and Spanish and a minor in linguistics. The Newcastle, Washington native is also an Arts and Humanities Honors Scholar in the Douglas Honors College. Her DHC senior thesis, “Language and Legislation: Bilingual Education in the United States, 18th Century-Present,” is a comprehensive analysis of the relationship between politics and bilingual education legislation in the US school system. In 2013, she was initiated into Phi Kappa Phi, the nation's oldest and most selective collegiate honor society, and she was recently awarded the society’s annual fellowship to support her first year of graduate study.

Her parents encouraged her love of language from the beginning. They enrolled her in a dual-language elementary school, and for six years she was immersed in Spanish language and culture.

Last summer she was finally able to study abroad at the Universidad de Salamanca in Spain—“I’ve always wanted to go, but between two jobs and two majors, it was difficult fitting it in.” After an “amazing” month of intensive language study, Hirschey did a whirlwind tour of Europe—“I saw 17 cities in six countries!”

This fall, she will enter the University of Colorado-Boulder to pursue a doctoral degree in linguistics, focusing on language acquisition and sociolinguistics.

Foreshadowing her career as an academic, Hirschey has pursued several research avenues. As lead writing tutor in the Learning Support Services, she noticed students adjusting to the new format of question-based collaborative learning adopted by the faculty and staff. She conducted a research project, “Assessing the Expectations for Learning Support Services Tutoring,” which she presented to students and faculty at the 2014 Symposium on Undergraduate Research and Creative Expression (SOURCE), where it won the Brooks Library Best Presentation Award. Hirschey later presented her research at the 2015 National Conference on Undergraduate Research.

Her research acumen and interest in linguistics caught the attention of mathematics professor Dominic Klyve, who had a languishing research project involving the linguistic research of 18th-century mathematician Leonhard Euler. Working with Klyve, Hirschey analyzed the previously unpublished documents—“I had to teach myself articulatory phonetics of the 18th century”— and wrote “The Missing Meditatio: Leonhard Euler’s (1707–1783) Contribution to Articulatory Phonetics,” which was published in Historiographia Linguistica 42/1 (2015). Hirschey was first author on the paper, a singular achievement for an undergraduate.

“The work wouldn’t have been done if not for Olivia,” noted Klyve, who has nothing but praise for his motivated co-author.

“Truly, I could not have asked for a better undergraduate experience,” said Hirschey, a Newport High School graduate (’11) who came to CWU because she had heard that it had a great community and really cared about its students—“which I have experienced since the first day I got here. I have received so much support and motivation from staff and faculty. They have all encouraged me to pursue projects and set high goals.

“I want to come back as an alumna and say ‘I was part of that.’ I’m proud to be part of the Wildcat family.”

Photo credit: Mphotography


Media Contact: Valerie Chapman-Stockwell, Public Affairs, 509-963-1518, valeriec@cwu.edu

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