Student Receives $5,000 Fellowship from the National Collegiate Honors Council
May 7, 2020
Gabriela Masztalerz, a junior Honors student majoring in Speech-Language Pathology at the University of Northern Colorado, has received the National Collegiate Honors Council’s $5,000 2020 Portz Fellowship for her research project titled, “Accent Modification and Identity: A Phenomenological Study Exploring the Experiences of International Students and Immigrants/Refugees.” (PDF)
Her project focuses on individuals who seek services to help shape their accents in order for it to sound similar to the standard accent of a region after experiencing accent discrimination.
“While accent modification has been shown to positively affect the lives of its clients, many people believe that it is also a forceful attempt at western globalization that simultaneously diminishes cultural integrity,” Masztalerz said. “I wanted to explore this topic because I believe it is important for future speech-language pathologists and the general population to know how this therapy affects the personal, social and professional identities of different individuals, specifically international students, immigrants and refugees.”
Masztalerz also has a personal connection to the research topic. Both of her parents are first-generation immigrants from Poland, and, after hearing about their experiences, she began researching accent modification.
“My dad is a professionally trained piano player and wanted to find a job where he could use his talents,” Masztalerz said. “There were several churches that refused to let him audition on account of his accent, despite the fact that he wouldn’t sing or speak during his work hours. He considered seeking speech therapy for his accent, but a friend told him how absurd the idea was, noting that his accent is a part of what made him who he is.”
To begin her research, Masztalerz has been working with the Center for International Education (CIE) and the Immigrant and Refugee Center of Northern Colorado (IRCNOCO) to form connections with different individuals.
“Working on my research project has been one of the most rewarding and fulfilling experiences that I’ve had during my college career. First and foremost, it has given me a chance to learn more about an incredibly important and politically relevant topic. Although, my favorite part of my research project has been the connections I’ve made along the way. I’ve been working closely with CIE and the IRCNOCO, which has exposed me to a variety of individuals from different backgrounds. I absolutely love hearing their stories and can’t wait to begin collecting data pertaining to their experiences in America.”
This project has also allowed Masztalerz to form a close connection with her thesis advisor, Christina Farrell, a lecturer in the UNC Audiology and Speech-Language Sciences program. Farrell meets with Masztalerz on a regular basis to review project specific items, such as questions to ask participants, the research design and data collection process.
“Gabby is such an amazing student, but even more so – she is an amazing person,” Farrell said. “I am beyond proud of her accomplishments. Her dedication and work ethic are nothing short of amazing. Honestly, I feel truly honored and blessed that she asked me to be her thesis advisor.”
Masztalerz aspires to be a practicing speech-language pathologist and plans to use the fellowship money to further her academic career. She received a grant from the Natural and Health Sciences (NHS) Department that has fully covered the expenses of the research project.
“I was lucky enough to have already received a grant from the NHS Department; therefore, I am incredibly excited to put the fellowship money toward my tuition so I can put more time and energy into my coursework and research rather than worrying over costs for the upcoming school years,” she said.
In addition to the 2020 Portz Fellowship, Mastalerz was:
- One of three winners at the 2019 Fall Symposium.
- The first student employee in UNC’s Office of Research and Sponsored Programs.
- Selected to present at the 2020 Undergraduate Research Conference.
“The first thing I felt when I was notified about winning the Portz Fellowship award was overwhelmingly grateful: grateful for my mentors who helped me along the way, grateful for NCHC who provided me with the opportunity, and grateful for finding my passion within the honors program,” Masztalerz said. “This award was the best validation I could’ve hoped for. It showed me that people are actually interested in the topic and want to learn more about it; I am more excited than ever to get back to work and use my research to benefit others.”
—Written by Mackenzie Eldred