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Enabling Literacy and Learning Everywhere

Two humanities students’ experiential learning success stories inspired the President’s Leadership Council.

You might not recognize the name immediately, but the President’s Leadership Council (PLC) has funded some of the most important educational and experiential initiatives at BYU over the years. The philanthropic group consists of hundreds of generous donors who provide funds that support many initiatives on campus—everything from building projects to scholarships. Twice a year, members of the PLC are invited to campus to discuss how their contributions support BYU aims. These meetings are also an opportunity to hear from the students who benefit directly from their donations.

Balkova in Morocco

At the March 2022 PLC meeting, two humanities students presented on their studies and research, and how generous donations had blessed their lives: Elena Balkova (Arabic and German, ‘22) and Abby Thatcher (English and Interdisciplinary Humanities, ‘22). Balkova and Thatcher’s presentation, “Education for the World: The Languages of Learning,” detailed how the Humanities College and the funding they received for experiential learning helped them progress in their lifelong ambitions in language learning and increasing literacy.

Balkova, who is from Vyborg, Russia, introduced herself as a voracious language learner. “In school, I wanted to grasp every foreign language that exists on the planet,” she said. “However, due to the vastness of the task, I had to calm my ambitions.” At BYU, her curiosity for language led her take an introductory Arabic class, and she found herself enamored with the language and diverse culture. Some encouragement from Dr. Spencer Scoville (associate professor, Asian and Near Eastern Languages) cemented her as an Arabic major. Not yet finding her appetite for language learning sated, she took on a second major of German.

As part of her studies, Balkova had the opportunity to participate in a study abroad program as a teaching assistant in Morocco in fall 2021 on a trip funded by scholarships. She said, “Moroccan culture deepened my love for our Muslim brothers and sisters and has helped me realize that we have to learn languages to build bridges between nations.” She concluded, “because of BYU’s marvelous language programs that not only teach grammar but also culture, students are exposed to different perspectives on what is happening in the world.”

Thatcher (left) discusses a paper with Professor Francesca Lawson (Comparative Arts and Letters)

Thatcher, who also double majored in the College of Humanities, developed a deep devotion to increasing literacy thanks to her studies and experiences on her mission, which took her to rural areas where many people struggled because they were illiterate. An internship funded by the college helped her attend the Scottish Parliament, where she worked to help Scottish people become more politically literate and uncover the voices of disabled writers stifled by editorial censorship. For Thatcher, the internship was eye-opening. She said, “I began to see how literacy has always been connected to power. I became curious about how literacies of power worked across time, from Shakespeare to now.”

Later, Thatcher received a Humanities Center fellowship that allowed her to continue her research. She ended up creating a packet to help English teachers teaching about literacy, which helps students “learn the power of literature and how they can use their literacy for good in the world.”

Thatcher expressed appreciation for the unique opportunities BYU has given her, both in funding and university environment. She said, “The opportunities provided by BYU create spaces where you can work through complexity and learn to find beauty. Always.”

Balkova and Thatcher demonstrated the value of humanistic study for both students and the world as a whole. For current and future students, their examples highlight the importance of following one’s curiosity and getting involved in extracurricular programs, activities, and research. Numerous funds and resources at BYU exist to help facilitate these experiences, often thanks to generous donors like the PLC.

To discover ways to get involved, look into Humanities+ or other department websites in the College of Humanities. If you are interested donating to the College of Humanities, you can find more information here.