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ASU student shows STEM, language work together

January 18, 2018

Some people think that STEM and liberal arts don’t go together. Arizona State University student Jenna Robinson, however, is showing that the two fields support each other by studying both French and astrobiology.

“I’ve been taking French since I was in sixth grade, as part of the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme,” Robinson said. “I was also always interested in science as a kid, really interested in space science … My junior year of high school I read a book by a professor in the School of Earth and Space Exploration at ASU.”

Her freshman year, Robinson started as an astrobiology major and added French in the spring, wanting to advance her language skills while adding new interests.

Double majoring is challenging, but Robinson did find that during her STEM work, studying French provided a good balance.

“Communication skills are a big part of my French major that I’m learning how to use in science. As a science major, they don’t teach you to communicate but it is a big part of what we do. Also, I’d say having my French ability allows me to see things from a different perspective, and a big part of astrobiology is keeping an open mind,” Robinson said.

At the School of International Letters and Cultures, Robinson has appreciated the sophistication and nuance of French language, seeing it as a living thing. During a summer study abroad program in Quebec City, she enjoyed taking language classes, but also experiencing “canoeing while talking in French, hiking, (and) learning how to play volleyball with French vocabulary.”

For Robinson, French helps her with astrobiology more than astrobiology helps her with French, at least in the university setting. Currently in her third year at ASU, however, she plans to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate, at which point she’d like to work in astrobiology abroad.

She’d have no lack of regional options, given that French is one of the world’s most prominent languages. France especially has strong scientific options in Robinson’s field.

Robinson has enjoyed the interest School of International Letters and Cultures professors take in her science work. And the interest has gone beyond her coursework. She is currently working with faculty to develop a science communication class for French majors, in which students would develop lesson plans intersecting language learning and STEM.

“I absolutely love the faculty,” Robinson said. “They’re very interested in students as humans. For example, I took a French literature class with Professor Cruse, and he would always make it a point to bring in science or technology aspects that he thought I would enjoy … He really made an effort.”

Between course development, serving as president of the French Club last year and study abroad, Robinson continually demonstrates that dual majoring with a language isn’t just possible, but immensely rewarding.

“Don’t be afraid to make yourself known to the professors and the departments,” Robinson advised. “That’s how you’re really going to succeed, get these cool opportunities like I have.” 

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