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Speaking Her Language

Jessica Hatcher
Photo Credit: Casi Leisure Photography

Jessica Hatcher graduates from NC State University this week with a B.A. in English, secondary teacher education, just as she had planned coming out of high school. Also as expected, that degree’s structure has prepared her well for several possible careers.

But Hatcher couldn’t have imagined winning a Fulbright Summer Institute Scholarship to study at two universities in Scotland, or spending a spring break teaching students about dialects on Ocracoke Island.

She had no idea that at NC State she would discover a passion for linguistics.

For Hatcher, “high-impact educational experiences” is much more than just a phrase from the university’s strategic plan. Her participation in study abroad and undergraduate research – among these high-impact experiences beyond the classroom that can enhance student success – changed her life, along with private support.

Hatcher has received two Undergraduate Research Awards, funded by gifts to the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, as well as awards from the University Office of Undergraduate Research and her college’s William and Lesa Edwards Merit Scholarship.

“I’ve learned so much from hands-on research – so much more than I ever could have sitting in a classroom, taking a test or writing a paper,” she said. “I never would have been able to do that without donor funds. I never would have had time to do so many of the things I’ve done at NC State if I was having to work a minimum-wage job every week. The impact of private funding is far-reaching.”

A Goldsboro native who attended school in Duplin County, Hatcher chose NC State for its diversity and broad opportunities. She has participated in the University Scholars Program and the English Honors Program, and briefly wrote for Technician. For four years, she served as an officer of the English Club, working to increase the feeling of community within the department and to increase service involvement in the broader community.

At a club meeting during her freshman year, Hatcher heard linguistics professor Dr. Jeffrey Reaser, also her academic adviser, speak about the Language and Life Project at NC State and his work studying dialects.

“I thought it was really, really cool,” she said.

JessicaHatcherTwo So cool that she soon got involved, first helping transcribe videotaped sessions of classes designed to educate pre-service teachers about language variation. Her research work expanded, from coding data to helping author a scholarly article. She has been involved in many presentations and attended top professional conferences where people often seem surprised to see an undergraduate.

All of Hatcher’s research links back to the same goal: teaching teachers about language variations and ensuring that dialects – a complex mix of geographic, socioeconomic, cultural and other factors – never lead to assumptions in the classroom.

“People can use dialects to judge other people in a way that they don’t even realize, which is especially problematic in a classroom setting,” she said. “Our work aims to address that issue.”

Hatcher will earn a minor in linguistics this week. In addition to fueling her interest in the field, and enabling other opportunities like the Fulbright, her research boosted her skills in public speaking, time management and networking.

Hatcher completed student teaching this semester at Apex High School. She plans to work toward her M.A. in English linguistics at NC State. After that, she’s considering teaching at the community college level, or pursuing a Ph.D.

Her advice for perspective NC State students? Don’t be overwhelmed by the university’s size and don’t overlook its lesser-known, but outstanding, academic majors.

“If you’re looking for someplace you can build your critical thinking skills and be creative, and have a lot of opportunities while feeling like you belong, NC State is definitely the place for you,” Hatcher said. “There’s so much more to NC State than people realize.”