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Student Faculty Research: Rachel McDonald and Dan Paul

Rachel McDonald started learning Italian in an ITAL 101 class here at BYU. She continued her studies while serving in the Italy Rome Mission and declared herself an Italian major upon returning to BYU. She has pursued studying the Italian language and culture ever since.

When discussing her goals and dreams for Italian academia with Professor Marie Orton, it was suggested Rachel look into the HUM grant. To help support experiential learning, the College of Humanities offers Humanities Undergraduate Mentoring Grants (HUM Grants) for student-initiated, faculty-mentored research projects outside the classroom. To Rachel, the HUM grant was “an excellent opportunity to do more specific research, build connections, and discover what field I wanted to devote myself to.”

The title of Rachel’s project is “Goalkeeping or Gatekeeping? A Lexical Analysis of Sexism in Italy’s Women National Football Team.” She is “aiming to explore how the evolution of the Italian lexicon regarding soccer has historically limited female accessibility and how it continues to reinforce gender-based discrimination in sports today.” She is working with Dr. Dan Paul to study social media posts about the women’s soccer team in Italy through the lens of sexism.

Researching with the Italian department has helped Rachel come to know the Italian faculty better. As Rachel says, “[Faculty] have been extremely willing to share their knowledge and experiences which has led to strengthening our professional relationship as well as my understanding of the career path I’d like to follow.”

In an interview, Rachel shared the following about her experience:

Q: What have you learned from this experience?

Rachel: I’ve learned that there are so many people who are happy to help you pursue your academic and professional goals, and that there are countless opportunities and resources available to students who are willing to do the research and reach out to people to help them accomplish their objectives.

Q: What impact do you hope to have through your research?

Rachel: In terms of my research, I hope to expand our current understanding of the relationship between language and sexism in women’s sports, and help others understand the impact of their words in shaping culture, and vice versa.

Q: What advice would you give students who are hoping to work with faculty on research projects?

Rachel: I think it would be very beneficial to develop a working relationship with the faculty member with whom you’d like to consult, and not underestimate the experiences or professional contacts that they may provide.

Rachel McDonald is a great example of pursuing what she is passionate about with the help of professors and resources provided by the Humanities College for faculty-mentored research.