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ASU graduate tells story of how she discovered that linguistics was always her destiny

In the fall, Stewart will pursue an MA at the University of Kansas

Picture of ASU Graduate Madeleine Stewart

Madeleine Stewart will graduate this May with a Spanish linguistics degree.

April 29, 2021

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2021 graduates.

Madeleine Stewart, a native of Minneapolis, Kansas, will graduate this May with a degree in Spanish linguistics with an impressive 4.24 GPA, and she has also successfully completed a certificate in teaching English as a second or foreign language (TESOL).

Stewart, who initially started a major in theater, had a revelation when she was watching the movie "The Arrival" and saw how complex and enriching linguistics can be. At that moment, she knew she wanted to switch majors and study Spanish linguistics in the School of International Letters and Cultures at ASU. 

Stewart enthusiastically jumped into her new journey of linguistic adventure, no matter how challenging it was.

“I remember how Maddie approached me before I have even had her in one of my classes. She said she had heard about my approach to teaching German, and she was intrigued to be in one of my classes," said Sara Lee, senior lecturer of German in the School of International Letters and Cultures. "We got into a conversation right there about language learning and her enthusiasm for languages was simply magnificent. She took five classes with me, and her linguistic, inquisitive mind is constantly working and making connections that are astonishing.

“As a linguist, I tend to get very excited about complex and challenging grammar structures and their cross-linguistic connections. She is the prime example of an intrinsically motivated learner, whose mind just longs for challenges and for broadening and deepening her knowledge at every given time. Maddie never once missed any assignments in any of the classes, but she often asked for additional material to ensure that she would fully comprehend everything. Without any question, Maddie will change this world for the better, and I could not be prouder of her.”

And Stewart's passion for linguistics does not stop. In the fall, she will be moving back to Kansas to pursue a linguistics MA at the University of Kansas.

We caught up virtually with Stewart to ask a few more questions about her journey at ASU:

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: My beautiful “aha” moment in which I realized I had to study linguistics was when I watched "The Arrival" with Amy Adams. There’s this one scene when she explains to mathematicians why it’s so complex to communicate with aliens that stole my heart and switched me from a theater major to a Spanish linguistics major! I’m so dedicated to my craft that I’m moving on to a linguistics MA at the University of Kansas this fall!

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

A: I learned not to take as many classes as humanly possible! Graduation will happen — one way or another — and suffering miserably in 21 credit hours is just not worth it.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: Honestly, I chose ASU because I was ready to move out of state, but I wanted a good and affordable education. With the high school GPA scholarship I was gratefully awarded, ASU seemed to be the right fit! 

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

A: German department lecturer Sara Lee was and still is one of the most inspiring individuals I’ve met at ASU. With my disability frequently interfering with my education — not to mention the disabilities of my immediate family members — she remained steadfast in her mission to support me and my fellow classmates in our language learning endeavors. Moreover, she studies dyslexia as a hobby, which inspired me to do the same with my future linguistics research. 

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

A: The most important piece of advice I could give to a current student is put yourself and your health — physical and mental, alike — first. Grades are only important if you thrive enough to see them. Homework can wait, but your health and well-being can’t. Prioritize you. 

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

A: My favorite spot on campus that I miss SO much is the big tree near the W. P. Carey School of Business. I loved to sit in the grass under that tree and just hang out. So beautiful! 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to move to Lawrence, Kansas, and continue my education at the university there! Rock chalk Jayhawk!

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

A: If I suddenly came upon $40 million dollars, I would try to tackle issues that prevent individuals from getting an education, whether that be debt, child care, transportation, etc. Education is no longer a luxury — it’s a necessity in our rough economic climate; therefore, it is my belief that each and every individual be able to attain a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Q: Any advice for future SILC students?

A: Reach out to people! Talk to your professors! Talk to other people in your classes! Build relationships so that when you get to graduate school applications or references for jobs, you have someone to fall back on. Likewise, if you plan to do research with your language, read every academic paper you can get your hands on! Start an annotated bibliography NOW so that you can refer back to these papers for future assignments!

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