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Academics

Richters you should know: Elizabeth Schenk and Lesley Tenorio

Elizabeth Schenk ’20 and Lesley Tenorio ’20 helped Associate Professor of Education Desmond Odugu track societal development to incorporate indigenous languages into education in countries around the world. 

By analyzing language use in various mediums from seven different countries—Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania—Schenk and Tenorio discovered potential social change that could help reevaluate education in those countries, where indigenous languages typically are not used in the classroom.

Schenk, a communications major and cinema studies and Spanish double-minor, and Tenorio, a politics and religion double-major with a minor in environmental studies, are two Richter Scholars you should know.

What was your role in this project?

Schenk: “We edited the survey last summer’s Richter Scholars prepared for Professor Odugu on this project and took it a step further. I researched radio and recorded talk-radio programs in the seven countries we studied. Because of the time difference, I was up in the middle of the night to find the most programs. I recorded the different languages spoken and tracked how often the different languages were used or how often English was used.”

Tenorio: “I looked at the social network aspect from Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and the like to see how language was manipulated. Speaking is usually different from the manner in which you type or write. We compared written language from screenshots I took from sites like Twitter to spoken language by listening to the recorded bits from the radio.”

Schenk: “It seemed like people would switch between languages more when speaking on the radio than when typing. But we found evidence of people switching between languages on both. It’s one thing to talk about what language should be used in education systems, but it’s another thing to prove that people use a bunch of different languages in these multi-lingual societies.”

Tenorio: “If you’re using so many different languages in your day-to-day life for every little thing, why would you just use one language in education? That’s the big-picture question we had in mind when looking at media.” 

What were your daily tasks?

Schenk: “I would stay up all night and record.”

Tenorio: “After looking through social media, I took things from our survey and added a few questions and created a format for an interview. I interviewed two students—one from Swaziland and one from Botswana. Things we were concluding on our own from the research were answered for certain from answers to our interview questions.”

What was most interesting? 

Schenk: “How much, especially in radio, I saw popular culture from America and a lot of Western culture in these African countries. I listened to a commercial where someone was joking about the American government. If they had made a joke about their president, I wouldn’t have gotten it, yet they know what’s going on in a government across the world. That was really surprising.”

Tenario: “I began the project by saying, ‘how are we going to make sure that the education system in different places is just as great as ours?’ But in reality, there are flaws within our own system. Just because it’s working here doesn’t mean that it’s going to work in a completely different area. We have to stop having the ideology that one way is the only and best way, but realize that in other parts of the world it has to be different.”

How do you like working with a professor?

Schenk: “It was really cool. I would rather do the research myself with the professor and try to come up with my own conclusions than just learn about it in class. “

Tenario: “I enjoyed working with Professor Odugu, because he’s one of those professors where you can actually joke around. It’s not all serious 24/7 or being deadly afraid of coming into a meeting.”

Schenk: “Or saying the wrong thing. He leads us to a conclusion instead of telling us.”

How will the Richter experience help shape your future?

Tenorio: “Research is always something great to have when you want to go into graduate studies and that’s something I hope to do after my time at Lake Forest College. Because of Richter, research is something I’ve been able to do every day. It’s exciting to know I had this experience at such an early stage in college.”

Schenk: “This project made me think about where I come from and how it’s so different from where I am now. I can relate to some of these things and apply it to a lot more, which I think will give me more perspective than I had before.”

–By Tracy Koenn