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Associate Professor Trina Spencer Receives Fulbright Award

Dr. Trina Spencer

Dr. Trina Spencer

Congratulations to Associate Professor Trina Spencer on being selected for a Fulbright award to conduct research and teach in South Africa. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, the Fulbright Program is devoted to increasing mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries.

The goals of Dr. Spencer’s Fulbright project, Storytelling in South Africa: Communication, Multilingualism, and Literacy, are to examine the structure of stories produced in multiple languages by South African children with and without disabilities, develop a culturally relevant storytelling intervention, and investigate its effect on children’s alternative communication. Her research partner is Dr. Kerstin Tönsing from the Centre for Augmentative and Alternative Communication at the University of Pretoria. Dr. Tönsing is a well-respected South African researcher with extensive scholarship related to alternative communication and multilingual interventions.

"Across the globe, stories are routinely used to transmit cultural knowledge and values," said Dr. Spencer. "Stories have the potential to facilitate the learning of new languages and serve as an authentic context for promoting communication of individuals who are unable to use speech as a primary communication modality."

Through her research, Dr. Spencer has studied multiple ways in which storytelling can be used to promote complex academic language among vulnerable populations in the U.S. Her specialized training has enabled her to create curriculum for children and the teachers who are responsible for their education.

"To expand my experience in multilingual contexts and with individuals who use alternative communication, I am excited to establish a long-term research collaboration with Dr. Tönsing," added Dr. Spencer.

Dr. Spencer will integrate research and teaching activities in a manner that addresses South Africa’s priorities of education and teacher education. Teaching activities will include teaching a research methods course at the University of Pretoria, mentoring student research projects at Sefako Makgatho University, and consulting with the University of Witwatersrand regarding their newly revised Foundation Phase teacher education curriculum framework. Joint research activities will involve community-engaged research methodology to examine the feasibility of using stories to advance multilingual skills and alternative communication, culminating in a small scale quantitative intervention study. Graduate students will also play pivotal roles in the planned research activities.

Due to COVID-19, Dr. Spencer's plans will be confirmed at a later date.