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By TYLER ELLYSON
KEARNEY – University of Nebraska at Kearney senior Kate Roberts has an internship worth talking about.
She’ll spend 10 weeks this summer as an undergraduate research assistant at Boston College’s Language Learning Lab, which is run by top researcher Joshua Hartshorne.
Roberts, a communication disorders major and psychology minor at UNK, is one of just four students from outside Boston College selected for the paid internship that begins June 11. The others are from Rutgers University, the University of Michigan and University of Pennsylvania.
Roberts, whose interests lie in the areas of language acquisition and processing and the impact of speech sound and language disorders on development, was looking for a new experience in the communication field when she stumbled across the internship during an online search.
She submitted her application in December, sent in a resume and references in February and was selected about two weeks later after completing an interview through Skype.
“It was kind of a whirlwind,” said Roberts, who is flying to Boston on June 10 and returning Aug. 15, just five days before the fall semester begins at UNK.
During the internship, she’ll gain hands-on experience while conducting studies focused on verb and noun acquisition in children.
“We are interested in understanding how children comprehend the direction of several verb classes and what that development looks like,” said Miguel Mejia, manager of the Language Learning Lab. “We are also interested in the patterns of undergeneralization and overgeneralization in word meaning and the factors involved in this behavior.”
The interns will recruit study participants and conduct research in parks, museums and other locations, then learn how this information is analyzed in the lab. Boston College is also hosting a series of professional development workshops and guest speakers from neighboring universities.
“The program is centered around teamwork and collaboration, so she can expect to interact with researchers ranging from undergrads and grad students to postdocs and professors at the university,” Mejia said.
The Language Learning Lab, which opened at Boston College in January 2016, conducts research that “sits at the intersection between linguistics, neuroscience, artificial intelligence and psychology,” according to its website.
“Our strategy is to leverage new and emerging technologies to address previously unanswerable scientific questions,” the website states. “This includes massive crowdsourcing efforts.”
Hartshorne, an assistant psychology professor at Boston College and postdoctoral researcher at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), was part of a recently published study that utilized an online grammar quiz taken by nearly 670,000 people to look at the ages when it’s easiest to learn a new language.
The study shows the “critical period” for learning a new language is longer than expected – up to ages 17 or 18 – but it’s difficult to achieve complete fluency unless the learning begins prior to age 10.
Hartshorne, who holds a master’s degree and doctorate from Harvard University, plans to run related studies in the Language Learning Lab.
Roberts said she’ll use her experience this summer to help decide whether her career path veers toward the research or clinical side of speech-language pathology after she pursues a master’s degree in the field.
It’s also an opportunity for the Hay Springs native to explore Boston for the first time.
“And I come from a really small town, so it will be an adjustment,” said Roberts, who hopes to take in a Red Sox game, Fourth of July festivities and other events during her stay.
The Omaha World-Herald/Kearney Hub Scholarship recipient has been involved with the Honors Student Advisory Board, Kearney Student Speech, Language and Hearing Association, Christian Student Fellowship and Special Olympics at UNK. She’s also a member of the Mortar Board, Phi Eta Sigma and Phi Kappa Phi honor societies.