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Alumna Earns Fulbright

Riley Lathrop, ’20,  uses movement to teach language

As an undergraduate, Riley Lathrop, ’20, studied how dance and movement aid in the teaching of English to non-native speakers. Now her innovative research has landed her a spot in a prestigious international academic exchange program.

The Bridgewater State University graduate will spend the 2022-2023 academic year in Taiwan through the Fulbright Program’s English Teaching Assistant initiative.

“I wouldn’t have wanted to apply for this without the dance major (at BSU),” said Lathrop, who is from Northampton and minored in management. “My professors really helped me in guiding me in this very niche research I was doing.”

She is the sixth BSU student or alumnus since 2017 to receive one of the U.S. State Department’s highly competitive Fulbright Awards for research or teaching. While they come from different disciplines, these Fulbright recipients all took advantage of BSU’s undergraduate research.

“The ethos on campus is one of really high-quality research and scholarship, including by undergraduate students doing work much closer to that of graduate students,” said Dr. Jenny Shanahan, assistant provost for high-impact practices. “That’s only possible with excellent faculty mentorship.”

What made Lathrop such a strong candidate was, in part, her aptitude for research as an undergraduate, which led her to spending five weeks in Indonesia volunteering to teach English to second graders.

“She had that distinctive idea that we are beings who learn by moving,” Shanahan said. “By incorporating dance and movement pedagogy into language learning, she’s creating a more accessible way to learn the language.”

Lathrop praised the extensive support she received from Shanahan and Student Scholars Coordinator Sean Maguire in guiding her through the application process. Dance faculty Donna Dragon, Jody Weber and Kristy Kuhn Donnelly wrote letters of recommendation.

“I’m very grateful, but I’m not surprised because Bridgewater is so supportive of students,” she said. “I’ll always have a connection with Bridgewater.”

In Taiwan, Lathrop will assist an English teacher, though she doesn’t know yet what grade level. No matter the age range, incorporating creative movement improves students’ emotional well-being, she said.

“I definitely want to integrate movement because learning English as a foreign language can be very emotionally draining and come with a lot of pressures,” she said.

She might use rhythm to teach youngsters syllables or dance moves to help middle schoolers understand a poem.

Fulbright recipients act as cultural ambassadors for the U.S. Lathrop looks forward to learning the Mandarin language and Taiwanese dances and maybe even teaching dance while abroad.

“It’s definitely a challenge and different, but I feel like this is the perfect time,” she said. “I’m ready for all this newness and all of the unknown.”

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