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Studying Through Real Experiences: Senior Travels to Switzerland to Learn About Education Reform

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Last year Brenda Maldonado studied abroad in Switzerland. She returned there earlier this year to research education reform.
Maldonado shares her Prairie Wolves pride in Switzerland.

Brenda Maldonado had never taken a French class before her arrival at Nebraska Wesleyan University four years ago.

Four French classes later she boarded a plane for Switzerland where she would spend her junior year abroad. Add to that a return trip to Switzerland this year for some additional research for her senior thesis.

“I think it is probably one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done,” Maldonado said of her year abroad. “The first time I ever heard someone go up and teach a class all in French was very intimidating.”

The senior from Sargent, Neb., embraced the cultural differences. She quickly became interested in Switzerland’s education reform, specifically each region’s regulations on language education.

When she arrived back on campus, Maldonado’s interest in Switzerland’s education reform and language regulations remained. She turned it into her senior thesis topic.

“I wanted to look into Article four which deals with languages,” said Maldonado. “The article says that it is mandatory to teach two foreign languages in each region; one being English and the other being a language not native to their region. I wanted to go interview politicians to see what they thought about this and what their thought process was behind this policy. I also wanted to interview teachers and see how it’s being implemented in the classrooms.”

She took her inquiries to Associate Professor of French, Sara Jane Miles, who suggested they apply for a Student Faculty Collaborative Research Grant. The grant provides students and their professors with funding for independent research.

Maldonado started with online research but came up empty-handed. She knew she needed to return to Switzerland.

“It really just came down to realizing that I wasn’t going to get the books and policies I needed as they were all in Switzerland,” said Maldonado.

With the help of her research grant, Maldonado returned to Switzerland where she was able to speak to politicians, teachers, and language experts about the policy.

“The grant helped me get a good grasp on what this project was going to be like,” she said. “I was studying through real life experiences.”

 “I’m really appreciative of this scholarship fund so students can do this type of research,” said Miles. “I’m also really proud of what Brenda accomplished. She conducted 11 interviews on her own in French and did really well.”

Working side-by-side with Miles provided Maldonado the kind of support she needed with this project.

“Professor Miles and I have different perspectives and when I brought in different parts of my research she always gave me insight,” said Maldonado. “It was also really helpful to have someone who had French knowledge guiding me.”

Maldonado will present her research at the annual NWU Student Symposium, a day-long celebration which gives students the opportunity to present their research and creative endeavors to their classmates and professors.

Maldonado’s presentation at the NWU Student Symposium is the icing on the cake to her NWU experiences. She’ll earn degrees in global studies and French during commencement exercises on May 16 and then move to Senegal where a prestigious Boren Scholarship will provide her the opportunity to further her study of French and education reform.

“They tested me in ways I’ve never been tested before,” she said of her experiences. “They gave me a lot of confidence and showed me that if I really set my mind to it, I could do it.”