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Utilize Your Strengths

You and your colleagues have a mix of talents that no other combination of people has. The flexibility of outreach means that you can put those talents to good use. Outreach works best when it involves utilizing your strengths; making use of the things that make your program unique rather than assuming that what other people emphasize will work everywhere.

Here at the University of Maryland, for example, we’re lucky to have a wide range of tools for doing laboratory-based linguistics, including eye-trackers, developmental labs, and brain-research tools like EEG, MEG, and fMRI. Those kinds of gadgets are great for getting students interested in the varieties of data-gathering that drive language science.

But those are just what we have here. In designing an outreach program, it is important to think about what makes your community special. For example, you might be strong in the documentation of rare or endangered languages, or in studies of dialect variation, both of which could be fertile areas for discussion and demonstrations. Or, you might have access to speakers from a wide range of language communities, which could contribute to activities surrounding linguistic diversity.

It may also help to think of your community as broadly as possible. Faculty members can provide gravitas in doing outreach, but enthusiastic undergraduates and graduate students can also play a key role in developing a unique and effective outreach program. Also consider including representatives from different departments or PhD programs. The critical idea is to think about your talents and interests and how to use them to creative activities that others will find as exciting as you do.