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Bidding Farewell to Dr. Stern-Gottschalk

By Jaime Bue

 

For the past six years Dr. Ariann Stern-Gottschalk has been the Director of the Summer Language Workshop (SLW), formerly known as SWSEEL, as well as a faculty member of the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures. Unfortunately she is leaving Indiana University to pursue new opportunities in Washington, D.C. She sat down with the IAUNRC to reflect on her time at Indiana University and the Summer Language Workshop (SLW/SWSEEL). 

This year, for its 66th summer, the Summer Language Workshop will host over 200 participants for intensive study of critical and less commonly taught languages.  The 2016 languages include: Arabic, Azerbaijani, BCS (Bosnian-Croatian-Serbian), Chinese, Estonian, Kurdish, Lithuanian, Mongolian, Persian, Portuguese, Russian, Turkish, and Ukrainian. Since 1950, thousands of students have participated in language study through SLW/SWSEEL to “intensively study languages critical to academic research, economic development, human rights, diplomacy, national security, cultural exchange, scientific advancement, and other global issues.” SLW/SWSEEL is not only unique in its language offerings, but also one of the most affordable programs of its kind by offering in-state tuition to all students as well as funding opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students.

 

Known among IAUNRC and CEUS students as a phenomenal Russian language instructor, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk first became interested in Russian when browsing the course catalog the summer before she began her studies at Mount Holyoke College. What started as a decision to choose something different from French or Spanish soon snowballed into a fondness for the challenges of Russian grammar, Russian literature, and Soviet politics. She continued with a terminal M.A. in Russian at the University of Arizona despite being told by a professor that she was not cut out for academia because she would not be able to sit still in a library for extended periods of research. Undeterred, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk fared better as a graduate student, becoming fascinated by Slavic linguistics, and encouraged by faculty to continue into a PhD program. She later completed her dissertation, "The Verbs of Motion in Old Russian Texts: a Comparative Grammatical Analysis of a Nascent Verb Class", at the University of California, Los Angeles.

 

Prior to coming to IU, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk served as the Director of the Critical Languages Institute in Arizona. She explained her excitement about coming across the SWSEEL Director job posting on a Slavic listserv, “You have to understand that this was our aspirational program. Everybody I knew- we wanted to be like SWSEEL.” In 2009 she joined IU as the Director of SWSEEL and faculty in the Slavic Department. “It was the apex of my profession- like a dream come true.” Enthusiastic about the teaching component that came with her new position, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk emphasized that out of all of her courses the Russian Reading for Research course was “the best class ever” as she loved meeting and working with students. The class allowed for students to choose the reading topics which became a learning process in itself. “I learned so much about Mongolia as well as Chinese frontier history. It was amazing for me to be able to sit down with really smart students and read Russian texts related to their research interests. It was incredibly rewarding.” Other courses in Dr. Stern-Gottschalk’s repertoire include: Russian Jewish Writers, Intermediate Russian, Old Russian Literature, Old Church Slavic, Polish Jewish Culture, and Methods of Russian Language Instruction. 

 

Being the Director of the SLW/SWSEEL came with a unique set of challenges. Most memorable was the pressure of staffing constraints, which encumbered on what she could get done, what she could streamline, and how she could respond to students’ needs. IU Administration allowed Dr. Stern-Gottschalk to hire more staff which helped SWSEEL/SLW to regularize what they do.  “There was so much support across various institutions at Indiana University: the Bursar, Registrar, Residential Program Services, the Deans’ offices, and all of the departments that contribute. The IAUNRC and REEI are the backbone of support for the workshop in so many ways.”

 

Dr. Stern-Gottschalk noted that SLW/SWSEEL is unique, not only because of the highly specialized knowledge it offers graduate students, but also the training it provides for language instructors. The intensive language teaching experience that faculty gain from the Workshop is unusual. Many of the SLW/SWSEEL instructors are also faculty or advanced graduate students at IU. Dr. Stern-Gottschalk explained that teaching in the Workshop is critical to advanced student development. “I think it is our job to professionalize our graduate students as best we can, especially because they will be our next colleagues.” Including IU colleagues in the workshop also benefits IU students as it allows for a continuity between summer and academic year language learning opportunities.

 

Of the challenges that come with running a world-renown language training workshop, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk mentioned that funding has had the greatest impact on programming. Funding opportunities diminished following changes in the national funding structure over the last 6-7 years, which inadvertently caused the education focus to shift to prioritizing higher-enrolling classes. Congress’ 2013 decision to stop appropriating funds to Title VIII Grants, which provide funding for research and language training for the study of Eastern Europe and Eurasia, was particularly difficult for the Workshop. She emphasized that support from the IAUNRC and the consortium of Title VI National Resource Centers has been essential in providing instructional salaries, which in-turn allows the Workshop to continue providing a wide range of languages and enables more students to attend.

 

Luckily the Association for Slavic and East European Studies (ASEES) and American Councils for International Education advocated to get the Title VIII funding back, even going so far as to testify before House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations regarding the 2016 budget. Last spring the State Department put out a call for proposals for a Title VIII program offering half as much funding as it had in the past. Dr. Stern-Gottschalk submitted an application and SLW/SWSEEL became one of two university programs awarded Title VIII funding in this grant cycle.

 

When asked to reflect on the future of the Workshop, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk stated that she hopes in-state tuition remains an accepted fact about the workshop. This makes SLW/SWSEEL an affordable and accessible program to many deserving students. In addition, she would like to see partnerships with IU Flagships Centers continue to grow and expressed excitement about opportunities to work with the new IU Arabic Flagship. There is a wealth of opportunities for the Workshop and Centers on campus to expand collaborations and grow in ways that benefit the students. In addition, the SLW/SWSEEL Alumni Network continues to thrive and offers alumni chances to help each other in their careers and studies. Olga Bueva’s (SLW/SWSEEL Assistant Director) work to launch an alumni newsletter has been critical. The Polyglot is an SLW/SWSEEL Alumni Newsletter that features content generated by alumni.  If you want to be added to the newsletter listserv get in touch with Olga Bueva at obueva@iu.edu.

 

In her final remarks, Dr. Stern-Gottschalk urged students to think about maintaining their languages on a daily basis. One suggestion she offered students is to keep up with materials every day, “read or skim a BBC article daily.”  When asked for any last remarks Dr. Stern-Gottschalk said the following, “I’m really lucky – between the Russian Reading Class and SWSEEL I’ve been able to meet such a wonderful group of Central Eurasian Studies students. And there’s really not such a large group of people like this anywhere!”