Impacting Childhood Research

After taking the Children’s Language Acquisition course taught by Cristina Schmitt, Honors College and linguistics and neuroscience major Mina Hirzel found something she was truly interested in pursuing. “Cristina invited me to come sit in on the acquisition lab, and that really opened up my world of research.”

Preschool Language Learning

The Language Acquisition Lab operates under the Department of Linguistics, Germanic, Slavic, Asian and African Languages, and focuses on the initial acquisition of language by children. The lab asks area preschoolers to come and participate in exercises with lab researchers like Mina, to gain insight into how they piece together sounds, words, and phrases. Associate Professor Alan Munn, a faculty member in the lab, says, “We’re interested in the connecting of words, how words get put into phrases, and what those phrases mean.”

Her sitting in on lab meetings, Mina says, turned into working at the lab and getting a comprehensive undergraduate research experience. She was able to attend and present “Taking Baths with Duck-Ducks: Exploring Children’s Understanding of Contrastive Reduplication,” at the Toronto Undergraduate Linguistics Conference with another undergraduate student working at the lab.

We’re interested in the connecting of words, how words get put into phrases, and what those phrases mean.

Alan Munn

The Language Acquisition Lab is a unique space where students can combine their humanitarian interests with their technical skills. “Mina is the quintessential scientist,” Munn says. “She deeply understands what it means to ask questions, and has the means to verify hypotheses and build hypotheses and test them. That made her an absolutely excellent researcher.”

As one of the top research universities in the world, Michigan State University offers vast undergraduate research opportunities that add a unique perspective to the college experience.  

Expanding Her World of Research

From this research experience, Mina applied for and was awarded the Bagget Fellowship, a full-time research position at the University of Maryland, home to one of the top linguistics departments in the nation. The program provides intensive research training for post-baccalaureate students wishing to pursue a research career in the scientific study of language.

The department has been very supportive and has given me many opportunities for research.

Mina Hirzel

Says Munn, “Only two Baggett Fellowships are awarded every year. So they’re highly competitive. Getting to do research in this kind of environment is just an amazing opportunity for Mina.”

Mina will be collaborating with faculty at Maryland, and exploring new research areas in the language sciences. The program acts as a time for young professionals to solely focus on research, before pursuing a career or continuing on to graduate school.

Mina stated that the support from her professors and mentors in the lab helped her immensely in receiving her fellowship. “Cristina and Alan at the acquisition lab have helped a lot; they encouraged me to apply in the first place. Without their encouragement, I don’t think I would have applied, so I really owe it to them.”

As for her move to Maryland and the opportunity to devote an entire year to language research, Mina concludes, “This is really a dream come true for me.”