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Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson

College: CUNY Baccalaureate Degree
Awards: Accepted to University of Arizona Joint Ph.D. Program in Anthropology and Linguistics, 2012

Outstanding Student

Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson was recommended to the CUNY BA by Hunter English Professor Maryam Bakht, who was impressed with her ability to distinguish herself in upper-division linguistics classes and her early interest in conducting sociolinguistic research.

Seeking more than a traditional linguistics major, Mary-Caitlyn Valentinsson (CUNY BA, with Hunter as her home school, 2012) designed an individualized curriculum in Language, Culture and Society to understand the relationship between language and social constructs. She drew from linguistically relevant courses from departments at the undergraduate and graduate level, including English, Spanish, anthropology and linguistics (at Hunter, City College and The Graduate Center).

In addition to her coursework, she was active in linguistic activities and research, from founding and serving as president of the Hunter Linguistics Club and co-coordinating HULLS, the Hunter Undergrad Linguistics and Language Studies Conference, to collaborating on research with Hunter College anthropology Professor Ignasi Clemente on his conversation analysis of children-doctor interaction in pediatric clinics, and with Bakht on a sociolinguistic investigation of the reality TV show Jersey Shore. The research with Bakht led to conference presentations, including one on the use of terms of reference in the performance of gendered/ethnic styles, and a presentation with Bakht and Hunter College anthropology Professor Marcos Rohena-Madrazoon on metalinguistics and stereotype in Jersey Shore at the 39th New Ways of Analyzing Variation Conference (Texas, 2010).

Valentinsson's research agenda has been influenced by her work with Bakht and has focused on the linguistic negotiation of celebrity identity through mass communication. She has presented papers on this topic at the Georgetown University Round Table on Languages and Linguistics and CUNY BMCC's Language, Culture and Society conference, focusing on the discursive strategies used by Lady Gaga to construct a relationship with her fans in mass-media interviews and through Twitter.

"My recent coursework on Spanish linguistics, as well as my past experiences in a Spanish-immersion elementary school and studying abroad for a year in Argentina, have expanded my research interest in this area in new ways," she says. "My future research goal is to explore how linguistic variation in Spanish is used in the mass media to construct identity."

She cites being chosen for a fellowship to attend the Linguistic Society of America's Summer Institute as among her most important activities. This program, held every other summer, is where the top scholars across linguistic sub-fields gather to teach classes in state-of-the-art subjects as well as foundational courses.

"Being a CUNY BA student was very important in helping me get that fellowship: Since few CUNY colleges offer a rigorous linguistics major, I was able to show the committee through my area that I was serious about becoming a well-rounded linguist and that I had interests across the various sub-disciplines.

Valentinsson, a member of the American Anthropological Association, American Dialect Society and Linguistic Society of America, was accepted with significant funding to the M.A./Ph.D. program in linguistics at the University of Pittsburgh and the joint PhD program in anthropology and linguistics at the University of Arizona. She will attend Arizona in the fall.

"I've benefited so much from such amazing experiences, both academically and personally, in CUNY BA that my ultimate professional goal after completing my PhD is to return to New York to continue my research and to teach at CUNY."