Dr. Gamble presents a review of his research career, beginning with his undergraduate study of the Native American Wikchamni language which became extinct in 1989 when the last native speaker died. That study grew into a master’s thesis and then a dissertation as he continued on to graduate school. As a professional linguist, he has continued to study that language for nearly 50 years! He makes the point that undergraduate research is fundamental to an undergraduate education, laying the foundation for students to be admitted to graduate and professional schools, and to continue into careers in scholarship and service. Dr. Gamble cites examples of four undergraduate researchers from UNT, two of whom have gone on to successful graduate careers at Penn State University and Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, and two of whom have remained at the University of North Texas. Dr. Gamble argues that undergraduate research exemplifies the Four Bold Goals of the University of North Texas by educating students well, creating and discovering knowledge well, and making research relevant and available to today’s world.
ʔopʰoʔto ʔinšis. wɨxnat ʔinšiš ʔə•kʼa namaʔan xew
What I just said was: “Good afternoon. It is wonderful to see you all here at University Scholars Day at the University of North Texas.” The language I spoke is called Wikchamni. The last fluent, native speaker of this language was Cecile Silva who died in 1989. It was in 1964 when I was a student at California State University, Fresno, that I began my research and scholarship with this language, the people who spoke it, and how they viewed their world. My research and interest in Wikchamni continue to this day.
I am going to talk with you about why I feel research and scholarship are important for every student, particularly at UNT, and how student research and scholarship fit within the University’s recently-announced Four Bold Goals. And, as you have already heard, the starting point for my discussion is my own research with Wikchamni.
I would never have imagined that what started as a research paper for a linguistics course I took to complete my bachelor’s degree in English would have kept me captivated and engaged for over forty-eight years. But that paper led to my getting into graduate school, getting scholarships, getting jobs, and establishing my career, and—to a large extent—establishing my sense of who I am as a person, a scholar, a teacher, and an administrator. Whew! Will that be true for you? Well, we will need to wait a few years to find out. But one thing that I can tell already is that you are on the path of scholarship and continuing down this road will only work to your advantage. I’ll come back to this notion in a moment, but first let me tell you a bit about my research experiences.
I am an anthropological linguist and have focused most of my research on working with native speakers of dying languages to learn as much as possible about their language and their view of the world. But, of course, I didn’t know I was going to end up a linguist when I wrote that paper in 1964. I wanted to do something different for my research paper and decided to write about one of the languages spoken around California State University, Fresno, in South Central California. Wikchamni is one of twenty or so languages of the Yokuts family of languages once spoken in the Southern San Joaquin Valley of California. I met Cecile Silva through a mutual friend who told me that she was looking for someone to “write down her history.” I offered to help and, to Cecile’s credit, she agreed to work with me—a twenty-two year old hippie with long hair and a beard. Don’t forget, this was 1964, and that look was in!
Well, that paper led to another and then to my decision to get a master’s degree in linguistics at CSUF. Before I completed my master’s work, I had decided to go on for a PhD at UC Berkeley. All during this time, Cecile continued to be my primary partner. She was a patient and effective teacher and through the years I not only learned her language, but I learned how to collect and prepare many food items, how to treat and cure many illnesses and injuries, how to make incredibly beautiful California coiled baskets (hers were beautiful—mine were not so pretty), and how to tell the wonderful stories that formed the basis for instructing young people how to live a good life.
Much of my research and the knowledge I gained came from formal interview sessions, but occasionally what I learned came in different ways. Several of the elderly women that I visited had more than one salt shaker on the table during meals. These additional salt shakers held salt that was grainier and had slightly different flavors—one tasted slightly sour and one tasted extra salty. When I asked about the extra salt, Cecile told me these were salts that she had collected and preferred using, and that it was the only salt used by the old timers. After a couple of years, she suggested that I learn how to collect salt. Before the sun was up one early summer morning, we went to the alkali flats near Hanford, California, and found large patches of the salt grass plants called ʔaditʰ (Distichlis picata). Cecile said collecting salt was very easy—you take a flat board or paddle about six to eight inches wide and two feet long and sweep it through the leaves of the plants which are about five or six inches high. The leaves of the plants have drops of dew and some crusty crystals of salt on them, so when you push the board through the plants, the salt and dew collect on the paddle. You then scrape the dew and crystals off onto a cloth and take the bundle home to put into salt shakers. She showed me specific places where she collected the sour salt and where she collected the salty salt. She went with me a couple more times as I collected the salt and then one evening, she suggested that the next morning I go alone to get some salt. Early the next morning I was out collecting. I really wanted to impress Cecile so I collected a lot of salt and proudly returned with the bundles. Cecile was effusive with her praise for how much salt I had collected, but then pointed out that instead of each bundle having a particular flavor salt, they were all mixed up. At our next outing she went along again to show me where to find each kind of salt. I then went out again—and again mixed up the flavors. Both she I and I were getting frustrated, but the scientist in me asked her to take me out again. During that trip, I collected samples of the plants. When I returned to the university, I asked a botanist to help me distinguish between the various plants so I could get the salt collecting right, but it turned out that all the plants were identical. It was suggested that the differences between the flavors had to do with the soil in which they were growing, so on my next trip to visit Cecile, we went to the various salt locations and, sure enough, the flavor difference matched the color of the soil in which the plants grew. I looked at Cecile and said: “Cecile, you didn’t tell me to look for red dirt to find sour salt and tan dirt to find salty salt.” Her response was simple: “Why would I tell you something that even a child knows?” Of course, children did know this, because they would accompany their mothers to collect salt and would play in the dirt and learn that the color was the distinguishing characteristic. So I not only learned how to collect salt the correct way, but also learned that I needed to keep an open and inquisitive mind—to try to learn as a child might learn. This important lesson made a huge difference in my career as a linguist and anthropologist.
With Cecile’s passing in 1989, I understood that, as a temporary culture bearer, I had obligations to the Wikchamni folks and the scientific communities to preserve and make available what I had learned. I have published a grammar book and a set of stories in Wikchamni as well as other Yokuts languages. I continue to work on a dictionary of Wikchamni that I hope to complete in the next three to five years. But the real point of my personal story is how a simple research paper for an English class gave me a clear advantage in my life and led me to a wonderful career and a lifetime sense of purpose. Will your current scholarship efforts at UNT change your life? Perhaps. There are several examples of UNT students that seem to point in that direction.
MARSHA SOWELL (Alumna)
When Honors College alumna Marsha Sowell was a political science undergraduate at UNT, she learned about the hundreds of thousands of people murdered in the Rwandan genocide. When she became a McNair Scholar and needed a research topic, she decided to study human rights. Marsha knew that political science professor James Meernik had conducted research into human rights violations, so she asked him to mentor her. She began investigating why international human rights organizations report heavily on some countries and not at all on others. When Dr. Meernik was asked to write a chapter about tribunals and truth commissions and their impact on post-conflict peace building for the book Peace and Conflict 2010, he asked Marsha and two other students to help him. Marsha’s research led to a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship of $120,000, which allowed her to continue her research and work on a graduate degree at Penn State. She thinks the fact that she was already a published researcher drew the NSF’s attention. She hopes that one day her research can be used to predict and prevent events like genocide.
ADRIAN CADAR (Alumnus)
As an undergraduate at UNT, biology major Adrian Cadar joined the UNT McNair program to conduct research, and the program provided him with a mentor also passionate about cardiovascular science — Edward Dzialowski, associate professor of biology. Adrian called it a life-changing experience. The two investigated the mechanisms involved with the closure of an important fetal blood vessel in the chicken embryo model, work that may lead to a better understanding of congenital heart defects in infants. After earning his bachelor’s degree in biology in May 2011, Adrian studied pathophysiology — to better help patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease — at a highly prestigious summer internship at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke in Bethesda, Maryland, part of the National Institutes of Health. Adrian, who was also a finalist for the Marshall Scholarship and the recipient of a Hispanic Scholarship Fund award, is pursuing a Ph.D. at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and hopes to one day specialize in cardiovascular surgery in a research-based teaching hospital.
JODY HUDDLESTON (Current)
Environmental science doctoral student Jody Huddleston also won a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. Jody, who as an undergraduate at UNT was a member of the Honors College and a McNair Scholar, earned her bachelor’s degree in geography with a minor in biology in 2010. Working with geography professor Joseph Oppong, she mapped the characteristics of individuals who developed AIDS within a year after they were diagnosed with HIV. Jody specifically wanted to find the locations with the highest numbers of these individuals, often referred to as “late testers” because they presumably did not get tested until after they had developed symptoms. She is continuing her medical geography/disease ecology research with Dr. Oppong and plans a career as a professor and researcher.
BRANDON GOZICK (Current)
Brandon Gozick, master’s student in computer engineering, is working with Ram Dantu, professor of computer science and engineering, on a Mobile Life Guard system that allows drivers to integrate their smartphones with their vehicle’s on-board computer system to receive information about motorists’ behavior and road conditions. A new Innovation Corps award from the National Science Foundation is providing seed money for the project and access to public- and private-sector experts. Dr. Dantu serves as the principal investigator of the I-Corps team and Brandon serves as the entrepreneurial lead. They work with Alan Kushner, former chief technology advisor for the National Transportation Safety Board. The researchers attend training sessions at Stanford University to learn how to turn their ideas into products. Brandon has been collecting data on driver behavior and road conditions as well as testing algorithms and sensor processing techniques, and will soon begin field trials. He says the team hopes to establish vehicle-to-vehicle communication that will help motorists become more aware of their own driving as well as the characteristics of roads and traffic.
Clearly these students and alumni have taken advantage of opportunities flowing from their undergraduate studies. You might be thinking that these are special or unusual cases, but I assure you that they are more the norm then you might imagine. Let me give you a bit of data from Montana State University. When undergraduate students engaged in research and scholarship activities, we found that they were admitted to professional and graduate schools in much higher percentages than the national averages. For example, admission rates to medical schools, dental schools, law schools, and graduate schools were all significantly higher, up to ten times higher than national averages, because of student involvement in research and scholarship.
We also discovered that graduates were getting hired at a higher rate and, in many cases, at higher salaries. For instance, in the 2010 survey, 50 percent of the 2010 graduating class completed a survey and 81.5 percent reported working fulltime or being in graduate school. Only 4.4 percent reported they were still unemployed and 2.9 percent reported that they were neither seeking employment nor admission to graduate school. In reporting the top factors in securing employment, 35 percent indicated that hands on work experience related to their education made the difference. And, very interestingly, 18 percent said they found their jobs through the internet and 7 percent found jobs by making “cold calls.”
The reasons were fairly straightforward—professional schools, graduate schools, and employers put a higher value on students that had “put into practice” what they were learning in the classroom, students who were actively involved with research and scholarship during their undergraduate work often performed better and at a higher level in graduate and professional studies, and students who had research experience reported higher satisfaction with their university experience than other students. Because of these and other similar data, we decided to make research or creative activities a mandatory part of the core curriculum for all undergraduate students at Montana State University. For me, the evidence is compelling: what you are doing at UNT and what we are celebrating here today makes a difference and that difference will open many doors if you choose to go through them.
Over the years as a University Provost and as a President, I have often had to defend having a strong research focus at my university. The argument often made by the public and sometimes even by those within the academy, is most often articulated as “spending money on research draws down the resources that should be better placed on teaching”—as if learning and research as totally separate things. I have a variety of responses to statements like that, but the educator in me most often replies that they aren’t separate things—that they are aspects of the same thing. They are simply different forms of learning and they are mutually dependent upon one another. We are fortunate here at UNT that this point seems to be understood by our leaders both within and outside the university. We are celebrating you today because we do understand that your research and scholarship are important components of your learning experiences here and we know that these experiences will give you an advantage when you seek admission to graduate or professional study or a job to begin your career.
From my perspective, universities become top rated by doing a few things very well. They educate well, they create and discover knowledge well, and they make their work relevant and available to today’s world. Do those attributes—EDUCATE WELL, CREATE and DISCOVER KNOWLEDGE, and MAKE IT RELEVANT and AVAILABLE sound familiar to you? I hope so because they are three of the Four Bold Goals of the University of North Texas. Take a look at our Four Bold Goals and you will see what I mean. But UNT takes the equation one step further by stating that we intend to do those things in the most effective and efficient way possible, thus declaring that we will also be good stewards of public resources including your tuition dollars. What a great time to be at a place like UNT—and you are part of the reason that it is such a great place. Congratulations to all of you.
ʔoho•ʔot naʔ ma•yʼin ʔə•kʰawši yow čʰan. I hope we will see each other again soon.