Comparing two countries’ chart-topping songs isn't a run-of-the-mill research topic. In fact, most people couldn’t do it. But it was ideal for linguistics grad Maria Cupery.
Maria grew up in Istanbul, Turkey, and she moved to the United States when she was in high school. So when she came to Calvin, she thought to compare songs in the two languages.
"It was a great introduction to the field. I could use measurable data to gain insights into the culture," Maria explained. “My professors made sure I also learned the academic skills of citing literature, making claims, defending against counter arguments, and writing clearly.”
“From the first draft that she gave me, it was such a fascinating paper,” her advisor and English professor James Vanden Bosch* enthused. "She has all that knowledge of two languages and cultures to put into play."
Putting herself out there
Prof. Vanden Bosch saw how Maria’s lingual and cultural knowledge put her in a unique position. Maria’s passions, knowledge, and expertise all seemed to intersect perfectly for the project. After reading the first draft, Prof. Vanden Bosch suggested that she submit her paper as a proposal to a linguistics and literature conference at Gordon College.
“I told her, ‘Unless I’m badly mistaken, your proposal will be on that program within the hour of their getting it,'” Prof. Vanden Bosch recounted.
She submitted her proposal, and the committee immediately asked to see her present at the conference.
Maria presented to the scholars, professors, and students at the conference. With bar graphs, charts, and data, she conveyed the most important findings of her research.
“She did a beautiful job representing more than just herself, the major, and the department. She beautifully represented the whole college,” Prof. Vanden Bosch remarked.
Taking the next step
Maria’s project spurred her to pursue further study and research—that and her Calvin professors.
"One week into my senior year, when I was praying for direction for the future, I talked to Professor Vander Lei. Although she’s usually careful not to tell you what to do, she told me I should try grad school. My professors helped me with grad school choices, applications, and writing samples," she recalled.
Prof. Vanden Bosch was one of those professors.
“Prof. Vanden Bosch oversaw my honors projects and pushed me to present my research at student conferences. It made my grad school application stand out,” she added.
Maria is now working on her PhD at Purdue University, where she received a generous fellowship. There, she’s also working with Read With You, a company making materials for language education.
"Through them, I have great opportunities to teach, create curricula, and even represent them at an international conference," Maria shared.
"Calvin’s linguistics program prepared me for an intense academic environment and practical work. I was able to enjoy my first year of grad classes rather than feel overwhelmed," Maria expressed. "In all of this, I've been grateful for the foundation Calvin laid for me and how it has taught me to seek God in the big and the little."
*James Vanden Bosch is now an emeritus professor of English.