WCSU students present research at esteemed academic conference
One might think that Kayla Ryan, a math education major, and Brittany Bresha, a professional writing major, could conceivably never cross paths due to their disparate academic tracks at Western. But their common minor in Spanish brought them together in a Transatlantic Hispanic Cultures class taught by Associate Professor of World Languages and Literature Dr. Galina Bakhtiarova in spring 2013 — and led to the opportunity to present their original research at a prestigious academic conference this winter in Greece.
Bresha, of New Fairfield, enrolled at Western to pursue a journalism degree. “I really have enjoyed the Writing Department in many ways,” she said, “but when I found the World Languages Department I was blown away. I can’t even imagine the person I used to be without the knowledge of world cultures that I have gained since becoming a Spanish minor. I am very, very pleased.”
Brookfield resident Ryan came to Western because of the reputation of its education program and its proximity to her home. She plans to be a math teacher, but said it was important to her to gain a well-rounded education — which is one reason she decided to minor in Spanish. “The humanities are somewhat removed from math education,” Ryan said, “but it’s important to meet people engaged in other disciplines and from other places in the world.”
Bresha and Ryan had the opportunity to do just that when Bakhtiarova invited them to present the research they had conducted for her class at the Athens Institute for Education and Research (ATINER).
Bakhtiarova, who has dedicated her career to researching and teaching Spanish language and culture, has been examining Latin American identity in cinema for a paper she plans to have published by ATINER. Students in her Transatlantic Hispanic Cultures class are required to conduct research as well. For their projects, Ryan explored Rita Hayworth’s ethnic transformation and Bresha delved into universal perceptions of beauty. The overlap of topics was mere coincidence, but it paved the way for a collaboration that led to the students’ inclusion on a panel that Bakhtiarova designed for the annual International Conference on Humanities & Arts in a Global World, held in January in Athens.
“ATINER is a highly regarded institution that promotes research and education,” Bakhtiarova said. “It strives to bring back to life the spirit of the ancient Greek academies where discussions promoted knowledge and inquiry. This was a very well-organized conference with participants from all over the world and most of the participants held their Ph.D.s or were graduate students working on their dissertations. Brittany and Kayla were the only two undergraduates, and, of course, the youngest.”
Neither Bresha nor Ryan was intimidated by the circumstances.
“When Dr. Bakhtiarova announced to the class that we might be accepted to present our research, I saw a great opportunity to travel and represent the university,” Bresha said. “It was a lot of hard work, but I was excited at the possibility of being able to travel to Greece and meet presenters from all over the world.”
Ryan added that although each student had a separate project, “we bounced ideas off of each other and supported each other’s research.”
They worked all summer, expanding their papers and completing the application for the conference. Western’s Student Government Association provided the funding for the trip.
Ryan said the experience taught her that you can get whatever you want out of your time in school. “There is no need to limit yourself based on major or career aspirations,” she said. “Take courses that interest you and challenge you, and seek experiences outside the classroom that will do the same.”
Bresha said that while in Athens, she met doctoral students and university professors from all over the world. “Just through conversations with everyone there, I learned so much about their cultures and especially their education systems,” she said. “Putting together the presentation was time-consuming and hard work, but totally worth it. I would recommend to everyone to travel at whatever cost. Being there with Galina was a blessing, too, because she is a professor 24/7 and has such a passion for European History. She was always sharing her knowledge with us as we went along on the tours and through the museums.”
“It is a great pleasure for me to have such talented and dedicated students as Kayla and Brittany who minored in Spanish,” Bakhtiarova said. “The work of these students showed an excellent potential for further academic research and I am very excited to support and mentor their critical inquiry. In Western’s Department of World Languages and Literature, we firmly believe in supporting our students’ critical thinking and inquiry, and creating opportunities for successful careers in academia and beyond. This kind of academic research opens pathways for further inquiry. It also creates an awareness of world cultures, which we see as an ongoing mission of our department, of WCSU and higher education in general.”
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