ORSP retreat helps jumpstart new language research

David Olsher and Leah Wingard knew they weren't the only faculty members at SF State interested in researching how language affects human interaction, but they didn't have an avenue to discuss this shared interest with their like-minded colleagues.

A photo of Associate Professor of Communication Studies Leah Wingard giving a presentation.

Associate Professor of Communication Studies Leah Wingard gives a presentation during a SOLDASI symposium in November.

To create such a place, Olsher and Wingard formed the Study of Language, Discourse and Social Interaction (SOLDASI) during the Office of Research and Sponsored Program (ORSP)'s 2009 Faculty Research and Creative Activities retreat. The interdisciplinary group subsequently received ORSP funding and has, in addition to providing a venue for collaboration, spent the past two years using most of that money to facilitate faculty research.

"We wanted to foster collaboration and mutual support to build a community, because we find this kind of research is best done in communities," said Olsher, a professor of English.

The group received $12,500 from ORSP, some of which was used to develop a pair of video archives. The group decided to split the remaining funds into "microgrants" for its members.

"There were a lot of different interests and it didn't make sense to focus all our money on just one person and one project," said Wingard, an associate professor of communication studies.

One microgrant recipient was Assistant Professor of Special Education Betty Yu, who wanted to study children with autism living in non-English speaking homes. Speech therapists and other health care providers often advise parents in dual-language families to speak to their child with autism only in English. By recording and analyzing the dinnertime conversations of a Chinese-speaking family with a child with autism, however Yu found it only served to isolate the child further.

A photo of Professor of English David Olsher giving a presentation.

Professor of English David Olsher gives a presentation during a SOLDASI symposium in November.

Funding from SOLDASI allowed Yu to hire a student assistant to help transcribe nearly seven hours of video. The extra help allowed her to analyze data more quickly and eventually submit her findings to the American Journal of Speech Language Pathology.

"This research was something I am definitely very motivated to get out there, and the support from SOLDASI was definitely very helpful," Yu said. "It got done much faster than it would have without this group."

That support also included getting input from her colleagues, including those in other departments who were able to offer insights she might not have found within her own field.

"It was great to have a community that kept me focused and provided a place to present my work and get feedback," Yu said.

Other projects receiving SOLDASI funding included one that used medical data to examine doctor-patient interactions and another that explored using English as a Second Language classes as a venue for health education. Wingard, who worked on the doctor-patient interaction project, said without SOLDASI, she would have never been able to pursue her interest in that subject, which will now form the core of her research going forward.

This is the third in a series of articles highlighting institutes, centers and faculty affinity groups formed during the Office of Research and Sponsored Program's spring 2009 Faculty Research and Creative Activities Retreat. The next Research and Creative Activities Retreat will be held in the J. Paul Leonard Library on Jan. 23 and 24. To learn more or to reserve space for an affinity group, visit http://retreat2.sfsu.edu.