That might be the case for Camille Lemieux ’17 and Samukelisiwe Ngwenya ’17, who are working with Assistant Professor Education Desmond Odugu on a 10-year study to understand how people’s choices of language interact with their understanding of the history of their societies.
Due to the longevity of the research, Odugu was looking for students who were interested in making a commitment beyond the summer. That piqued the interest of Lemieux and Ngwenya, who respected Odugu’s philosophy of completing purposeful research to achieve desirable results—even if it takes a long time.
Odugu’s research has two main parts. One involves studying multilingual education in African societies; last summer, he visited seven countries in Africa to do preliminary work and identify scholars at major universities to serve as collaborators for the research. The other part compares and contrasts the interracial dynamics of African Americans and African immigrants in the United States.
In both cases, the Richter Scholars’ work began with reading articles for theoretical background information. Then, they learned how to develop and implement surveys and other instruments for collecting and measuring quantitative and qualitative data.
The intention in both cases is to discover the role language and historical literacies play on identity and social relations.
An international relations and sociology and anthropology double major, Ngwenya also took note of Odugu’s project because she is interested in cultural issues and wants to help others learn the value of knowing their own mother tongue and appreciating their own cultural traditions.
“I have lived in five African countries and I have tried to learn some of the basics in the different indigenous languages. Moreover, I continue to learn my own mother language of Ndebele,” the Zimbabwe native said. “I’m learning that it’s important not only to appreciate the global sphere but also the local sphere.”
For Lemieux, an independent scholar in sociolinguistics and French from the Detroit, Michigan area, the project was appealing because she is working toward a career in research. Her interest is in educational linguistics with particular focus on language acquisition.
At this time, both Lemieux and Ngwenya intend to continue their work with Odugu beyond their Richter experience.