February 23, 2004
Grad student follows dual passions of linguistics
and field hockey
By Scott Rappaport
Academics and field hockey may seem like strange bedfellows, but for
Vera Lee-Schoenfeld, the combination is as natural as the redwoods growing
outside her Stevenson College office.
"When you graduate with a Ph.D in Linguistics from UCSC,
other universities that hire you know that youve been highly
trained as an excellent educator, notes Vera Lee-Schoenfeld.
Photo by Scott Rappaport
One of UCSCs top linguistics graduate students, Lee-Schoenfeld
was recently inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame for her field hockey
achievements at Boston University, where she received her B.A. in French
Language and Literature and Ed.M. in Teaching English to Speakers of
Other Languages (TESOL).
Prior to that, she was named 1997 Female Scholar Athlete of the
Year by the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference.
A native of Hannover, Germany, Lee-Schoenfeld first came to the United
States in 1991 to visit relatives in Menlo Park when she was still in
She decided to study journalism in the United States and found out
about the possibility of applying for an athletic scholarship. As an
international student, she wasnt eligible for other financial
Eventually, Lee-Schoenfeld ended up studying French at Boston University
on a full, four-year field hockey scholarship. During that time, she
took a few linguistics classes and became interested in the theoretical
side of language. Lee-Schoenfeld went on to study English as a Second
Language at Boston University, completing a masters thesis project
she titled Ride the Wave.
I like teaching English through songs and music, Lee-Schoenfeld
explained. Singing along with songs makes it easier to pronounce
foreign sounds. So I designed and created a workbook for non-English
speakers where each lesson was based on a different song that was commonly
heard on the radio. I used it a lot when I first started teaching ESL
as a temp, because they didnt provide us with any teaching materials.
After finishing her masters, Lee-Schoenfeld stayed in touch with
one of her Boston University linguistics professors who told her about
I visited both Stanford and UCSC, Lee-Schoenfeld recalled.
The campus here was so beautiful and the professors were warm,
welcoming, and informal in a comforting way. I had a great feeling leaving
here after that visit.
Now in her fourth year at UCSC and with her Ph.D. in clear sight, Lee-Schoenfeld
still has nothing but praise for the university: Where else can
you find this highly regarded faculty that has some of the best research
professionals in the field, combined with such an exceptional environment--plus
great athletic facilities with views of Monterey Bay?
As a graduate student in linguistics, Lee-Schoenfeld has taken advantage
of a variety of teaching opportunities over the past three years. In
addition to her work as a teaching fellow and teaching assistant for
various courses in syntax and phonology, Lee-Schoenfeld also had the
chance to teach English to foreign Fulbright Scholars through UCSC Extension.
My class was made up of German, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Brazilian,
Venezuelan, and various Eastern European students, Lee-Schoenfeld
said. It was teaching ESL at a very high level. They were all
pretty fluent, but they needed to learn certain patterns of speech--such
as how to talk officially and politely with professors, how to set up
a meeting, or how to participate in seminars.
Its also a cultural thing, she added. For example,
in some countries youre not supposed to disagree with professors.
But here, the professor mostly facilitates discussions. So we did a
lot of role playing.
Lee-Schoenfeld also taught for UCSC Extensions Humphrey Program,
leading a class designed for high-level workers from developing countries,
such as government leaders, lawyers, and health care professionals.
There were some famous people in that class, including Hauwa
Ibrahim from Nigeria, Lee-Schoenfeld said. She was the lawyer
for a woman who was going to be stoned to deathit was in the news.
The case just recently got solved and she saved that woman. And I was
teaching her English!
Lee-Schoenfeld noted that an important aspect of her teaching experience
has been instructing students how to give academic, oral presentations.
Over the past year, she has presented linguistic papers at conferences
in such varied venues as Durham, England; Buffalo, New York; and UC
Davis. At each conference, she noticed a marked difference in the quality
of presentations between students and faculty from UCSC, and those of
most other institutions.
Every time I go somewhere and present a paper, people are amazed
at how good the UCSC talks are--they frequently ask me whats different
about our program here, Lee-Schoenfeld said. I always tell
them about our departments research seminar in oral presentations
and theyre very impressed--they usually respond by saying they
wished they had seminars like that at their schools.
UCSC has a reputation, she added. When you graduate
with a Ph.D. in Linguistics from UCSC, other universities that hire
you know that youve been highly trained as an excellent educator.
Lee-Schoenfeld recently received an Institute for Humanities Research
fellowship for 2004. She is looking forward to her next teaching assignment,
which will be to organize and lead the Linguistics Teaching Assistant
Training Course that all first- and second-year graduate students
are required to attend.
But despite her busy schedule, there is still always room for field
hockey. Lee-Schoenfeld plays every weekend at Stanford in the Northern
California Field Hockey Association league. And true to form, her team
has been the league champion for three years in a row.
To read other student profiles, check the Profiles
in Excellence web page.
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