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Anita Herzfeld engages and inspires Honors students

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Anita Herzfeld

Anita Herzfeld, professor emerita of linguistics and Latin American Studies, requires students in her Honors class to play a part – but not the part of a student. Instead, she immerses students in roles as real-life figures for her “Language and Society” course about sociolinguistics, which challenges them and teaches them in a subject they are not familiar with.

“I don’t just love it – teaching is my life,” she says.

Dr. Herzfeld came to KU on a Fulbright Scholarship (which would be the first of her six Fulbrights) from Argentina, where she was teaching at an American school in Buenos Aires. Once she arrived and saw how small Lawrence was in comparison to Buenos Aires, she began plotting her exit. But that all changed when a friend convinced her she should study linguistics. She earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. at KU and went on to research and teach extensively, including launching the first Honors course in Latin American Studies and serving as the first female director for study abroad.

She has a passion for introducing Honors students to linguistics and its role in society.

“Linguistics is working with language in a mathematical way,” she explains. “This is a new subject for these students – even if they have some background in it, it’s challenging and different from everything else they’ve seen. I want to make it pleasurable and have them get something out of it for their life.”

That is where the role playing comes in. Students must come to class having researched and prepared to embody a role such as a world leader, journalist or even an indigenous person for the duration of the class. Dr. Herzfeld engages them in a discussion, and they must participate in their role.

“I have the students sitting around a table, because the classes are interactive. I insist that they should talk to each other and know each other. It’s not a competition thing, it’s a collaboration thing,” she says.

Throughout her career, Dr. Herzfeld has admired and appreciated her Honors students – “a bunch of flowers” – and she has watched them become increasingly internationally savvy.

She is impressed with the resources and opportunities that the Honors Program provides for students.

“If you enroll in Honors here, it’s like attending a private school. The kids in Honors are here for a purpose, here to learn,” she says.

Although her time in the classroom with Honors students is fruitful and engaging, Dr. Herzfeld makes a point to spend time with them outside of the classroom, as well.

“I’m thoroughly enamored of the possibility of teaching Honors students. I stay in touch with many of them and love to see how they have used what they had to make human beings of themselves when they are done with their education,” she says.

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9 to 1: Average ratio of KU honors students to faculty advisors
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60% of University Honors Program students study abroad
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