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Aspiring to greatness in giving

Jackson Kellogg / Courtesy photo

ASU student Jackson Kellogg is completing a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) this spring. He says an ASU professor inspired his career trajectory with a question that resonated: "What do you want to give to the world?"

April 23, 2019

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2019 commencement.

Not only is Jackson Kellogg graduating from Arizona State University in Barrett, The Honors College with a perfect GPA, he’s already garnered an endowed linguistics fellowship typically reserved for advanced graduate students.

Kellogg is completing a Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics) this spring. He was the first student admitted to the accelerated master’s in linguistics and applied linguistics degree at ASU and received the Carl C. Carlie Linguistics Fellowship. Funded by donors Joan Berry, a former ASU student, and her husband, Charles Berry, in honor of Joan’s grandfather Carl C. Carlie, the fellowship is awarded to graduate students who “take great pride in their efforts and exhibit intellectual curiosity.”

That description is Kellogg in a nutshell.

“Jackson is a standout,” said Department of English instructional professional Ruby Macksoud, in whose ENG 404: Materials Development in TESOL course Kellogg was enrolled this spring. “He’s curious about all things ‘language.’

“What has been most interesting,” Macksoud continued, “is watching Jackson develop and embrace his role as teacher-trainer. I can always depend on him to take a ‘bookish’ idea, wrestle with it, question it and then cast it back to me with an amazingly innovative twist for the language classroom. What an honor to watch that happen.”

To be sure, Kellogg is a wunderkind. But perhaps more importantly, he is compassionate. Thanks in part to a lesson by an ASU faculty member, he learned early the satisfaction of giving. He is as concerned with helping others — with preserving and conserving — as he is with furthering his own interests.

We spoke more with Kellogg about how he got started in the linguistics field, and how he hopes to put his gifts to work in the future.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? (Might be while you were at ASU or earlier.)

Answer: When I was 14 years old, I took an Arabic language class at Mesa Community College (MCC). This was my first exposure to a foreign language, and I found it to be absolutely intoxicating — since then I’ve really caught the “language bug,” taking 13 language classes between MCC and ASU (in Arabic, Spanish and American Sign Language). By the end of my first semester of Arabic at MCC, I had already decided that I wanted to major in linguistics. Although I’ve been quick to learn, as many are surprised to find upon a cursory perusal of the field, that a knack for languages is not necessarily the same thing as a knack for linguistics — though luckily I’ve shown a knack for both.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: Something that has really surprised me in learning about linguistics is the fact that there is still so much about the science that we don’t know for certain. In introductory linguistics courses, you learn about very clear concepts and discrete categories which seem relatively uncontroversial, but in the higher echelons of advanced linguistic theory you are presented a much more nuanced reality. As would be the case in any field of science, I imagine, there is still debate around even the most fundamental assumptions about language, and our understanding has by no means reached its full gestation. There remains ample work to be done in the field by the next generation of linguistic researchers, to continue answering the essential questions about that most defining feature of our species: the language faculty.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I have a very high opinion of ASU as an institution and I would highly recommend the school to anyone considering enrollment. I really feel like I’m at a world-class university whenever I’m on campus, a place of contemporary and dynamic relevance in the modern world. My personal reasons for selecting ASU were more primarily based on convenience — I live very close to the school — but I also chose to attend out of a genuine respect for the university’s high academic caliber, and its reputation as an emblematic pillar of central Arizona, the place where I have lived for most my life.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Until recently at ASU, I often wrestled with the fact that none of the careers I used to consider within my chosen field ever seemed “quite right,” although I was never able to articulate why. I expressed this concern to Tyler Peterson, one of my linguistics professors, and he responded with something along the lines of “Well, how do you want to help people? What do you want to give to the world?” This question sparked something of an epiphany for me and has really encapsulated my dissatisfaction with my various career ideas — I realized that they had all been purely selfish, only centered on my personal interests and ambition. Viewing my future instead through the lens of meaningful discovery and altruism — “What can I give to the world?” — has really impacted my entire perspective, and although I still don’t know exactly where I will specialize I know that I will approach my future with an underlying mindset of outward-thinking sincerity and humanitarianism, which will hopefully bring fulfillment to any career I choose.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: The best word of advice that I would give to those in school is to never underestimate the value of visiting professors during their office hours. Professors represent an invaluable and waiting resource that is too-seldom utilized, especially considering that there is no one better equipped than professors to provide guidance for those who are pursuing their same line of interest. Students need to view professors beyond their perfunctory role in the classroom and recognize them as veritable experts in their respective fields. Establishing a rapport with professors can not only help you learn the “tricks of the trade” of whatever major you’re pursuing, but can also be instrumental in helping you get into a graduate program at another institution.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: It may not be an oft-frequented spot on campus, but I have spent countless hours studying for classes and working on homework in the tutoring center and the tiered computer room in the basement of the (Durham Language and Literature) building. These two study areas are usually quiet and usually available, and are situated near many of the classrooms for the students in the English program.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation I will remain at ASU for another year, to complete the 4+1 program in which I am enrolled, which allows for undergraduate students to “double-up” credits with their master’s degree and then to complete their master’s at an accelerated rate. After I graduate with my master’s degree, I will likely transfer into a PhD program at one of the Universities of California — Santa Barbara, Los Angeles or Southern California, all of which boast highly renowned linguistics programs. Although I have not yet chosen my specialty within the field, as I mentioned earlier, I am currently leaning towards a study of phonology or linguistic typology.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Preservation is extremely important to me — I find the loss of biological and ethnographic diversity to be extremely heartbreaking. I would invest in the preservation of endangered cultures and peoples, the documentation of endangered languages, the conservation of endangered wildlife and the protection of the natural world. I still don’t accept that to stave the tide of homogenization is to deny the inevitable course of the future — I think that we can do better, and that when we fail to do better we lose something invaluably precious — we lose a part of our story. I believe that the preservation of what remains merits far more than the inconvenience of preserving it.

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