Pi Delta Phi promotes language immersion

French honor society Pi Delta Phi promotes language learning and immersion around the world and on the University of Tennessee campus


Alex Brito fixes the EEG brain cap onto a research participant’s head. The cap resembles a swim cap, but the research focus is not based on immersion in water, but it is based on language immersion.

Brito, a University of Tennessee senior in the College Scholars Program, struggled to find a balance between her interests her freshman year.

“When I came to campus, I was interested in neuroscience and French, and I wanted to bridge the two,” Brito said.

According to a study by Natixis, French is on track to become the most widely spoken language by 2050. French is already an official language of the Olympic Games and of the United Nations.

Brito found a way to connect to French through Pi Delta Phi, the only collegiate French national honor society. She then met language learners who enabled her to begin neurology research on language immersion.

Brito primarily examines how study abroad impacts neuro-processing in language learners.

Alex In Lab
Alex Brito tries on an EEG cap before conducting language signatures in the brain. Brito’s research focuses on language immersion and processing. Photo: Alex Brito/Instagram

“Their wave forms that are elicited when they’re reading French sentences actually look like native speakers whereas the people who have learned in the classroom, even though they have sort of equal proficiency, equal abilities in French, they don’t elicit these same native-like features,” Brito said.

“I think the research I’m doing does have implications as far as how we teach foreign language learning and how we can incorporate more immersion-like experiences into students’ college curriculum” Brito said.

Brito believes immersion events, like those hosted by Pi Delta Phi, will help students’ studies and better prepare them for the future.

Pi Delta Phi operates nearly 400 chapters worldwide to encourage student contributions to the francophone world and the world at large through scholarships and immersion opportunities.

Map Screenshot
To view all Pi Delta Phi locations, click here. Data: Pi Delta Phi

The Alpha Gamma chapter, established in 1949, serves the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. French students enrolled in a French course numbered 300 or higher with at least a 3.0 GPA qualify as regular members.

However, Pi Delta Phi initiatives extend acrPDP Logo Updatedoss all majors offering various French immersion experiences.

Pi Delta Phi hosts several annual immersion events including French Connections Week which provides insight to France and French culture.

French Connections Week 2017 kicked off Monday, March 27 with a “Taste of France” on Pedestrian Walkway. Pi Delta Phi gave away cheeses, baguettes, grapes and drinks. A map of France explaining the origins of the various cheeses stood near the table.

PDP Cheese
Pi Delta Phi President Alex Brito and Historian Josh Deepan serve cheeses and juice to students on Pedestrian Walkway March 27, 2017. The cheese tasting kicked off French Connections Week. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250

Events continued Tuesday with “Monde du Travail” or “The World of Work” allowing students to connect with francophone professionals in the Knoxville and Oak Ridge communities. Students practiced their skills while making business contacts.

Vice President Sarah Kirk, an accounting major, intends to work in an international accounting firm in the future.

“My goal is to work for one of the ‘Big Four’ accounting firms,” Kirk said. “They have offices all over the world, and they have a lot of clients in France. I could travel and live there while serving clients.”

Most events allowed for non-francophones to participate in the fun, but a museum visit to the Knoxville Museum of Art encouraged language practice.

French-speaking docent Saralee Peccolo-Taylor led students around the museum to explore works inspired by or painted by individuals abroad.

Saralee Peccolo-Taylor gives a brief history of a French-inspired painting from East Tennessee April 1, 2017 during French Connections Week. The museum visit conducted in French allowed language learners to practice. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250

Pi Delta Phi hopes to continue immersion experiences to aid future students for years to come, especially as French continues to infiltrate daily life across the globe.

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Illinois Gov. Rauner signs Gold Star Family Day bill

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proclaimed Sept. 26 Gold Star Family Day following the passage of HB4389 at an event with members of Gold Star families, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Survivor Outreach.

Supporters of an initiative to make Sept. 26 Gold Star Family Day gathered at an event in the Illinois Capitol Rotunda to witness an official proclamation by Gov. Bruce Rauner.

According to a press release, Gov. Rauner signed bill HB4389 to create Gold Star Family Day at the Illinois State Fair in August. His proclamation reserved the day after Gold Star Mothers’ Day for family recognition.

Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner proclaims Monday, Sept. 26, 2016 the first Gold Star Family Day. Families of fallen military men and women attended the event in their honor in the Capitol Rotunda.

“Today, it was an honor to be gathered here in the Capitol Rotunda to celebrate our first Gold Star Family Day in Illinois, ” Rauner said. “Yesterday was Gold Star Mothers’ Day; today we celebrate all the family members who have experience unimaginable loss.”

Gold Star families are survivors of fallen military men and women killed in the line of duty.

Several Gold Star families, the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs and Survivor Outreach filled the rotunda to hear commemorative remarks.

Speaker James Frazier’s son, Illinois National Guard Staff Sgt. Jacob Frazier, died in combat Sept. 11, 2001.

“We don’t want to leave out all of the family members,” Frazier said. “We have grandparents, and aunts, and uncles, and cousins who suffer this loss. So to have a Gold Star Family Day, which is encompassing everyone, we truly appreciate that.”

Legislators hope the law will bring awareness to the sacrifices made by Gold Star families for years to come.



Pentatonix’s Avi Kaplan draws young musicians to UT

A colleague connection brings vocal bass Kaplan to the University of Tennessee for an a cappella workshop

Avi Kaplan, vocal bass for Grammy award-winning a cappella ensemble Pentatonix, headlined the second annual Contemporary A Cappella Clinic presented by the University of Tennessee School of Music Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017.

The UT choral department invited high school students from across the region to Cox Auditorium for a day filled with performances, Q&A sessions and singing Pentatonix arrangements.

Interim Associate Director of Choral Activities Jaclyn Johnson asked friend Kaplan to host. This marked Kaplan’s second workshop at UT.

UT Singers were aided by Kaplan on
Avi Kaplan (left) aids UT Singers on “Sorry” during the clinic on the Cox Auditorium stage Saturday, Jan. 28, 2017. The group worked with Kaplan the previous afternoon in private rehearsals. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250
Kaplan first worked with UT’s three a cappella ensembles. VOLume, ReVOLution and UT Singers rehearsed with Kaplan Friday ahead of their performances at the clinic.

UT Singer Nicole Doyal said, “it was a very efficient rehearsal but also laid back and fun. I’m so grateful he came to UT.”

Local ensembles form Bearden and Seymour High Schools were chosen from YouTube contest submissions to perform and learn from Kaplan.

Teaching was once an aspiration for Kaplan, and through workshops, he is able to educate young singers.

Avi Kaplan demonstrates the ease of arranging music. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250
Avi Kaplan demonstrates the ease of arranging music. His advice was to embrace individual style. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250
“My goal was to be a choir director,” Kaplan said of his college career. “Eventually, I would love to do that.”

Students were not the only ones excited to learn. Many choral directors also participated in the clinic.

Seymour High School Choral Director Jean Burkhart said, “it’s another genre I can cover within the choral department as a way to get young people interested in all kinds of music.”

Kaplan wanted the students to be inspired and believe in themselves noting even he “just sees [himself] as a big choir nerd.”

Students ended the day by singing Pentatonix original “Run to You” with Kaplan.

Sinceer Truss awaits her vocal entrance. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250
Sinceer Truss awaits her vocal entrance on “Run to You.” The song, a Pentatonix original, was a favorite of many in attendance. Photo: Lexie Little/JEM 250
Pentatonix gained fame on NBC’s “The Sing-Off” and has become a worldwide phenomenon.

The ensemble recently worked with East Tennessee country music legend Dolly Parton. Their collaboration on Parton’s hit “Jolene” was nominated for a Grammy award last month.

“She was there 30 minutes early,” Kaplan said. “She hugged us, and she was super sweet. To be able to keep that humble heart is something that speaks volumes and can really set an example for the world.”

Kaplan and Pentatonix will learn if they won their third Grammy award Feb. 12. at the 59th Annual Grammy Awards. The event will be televised at 8 p.m. on CBS.

And as for the future of the group, Kaplan said, “I think that we’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing.”

The UT School of Music hopes to host Kaplan again in the future.




Magnitude 7.9 earthquake hits Solomon Islands

No tsunami, casualties resulted from the quake that rumbled under the eastern province of Bougainville.

Aerial View of Marovo Lagoon, Solomon Islands
Aerial view of the Solomon Islands during United Nations observations of the effects of natural disasters on the area. UNPhoto/Flickr

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — A powerful magnitude 7.9 earthquake struck deep under Papua New Guinea on Sunday, causing damage and blackouts but no tsunami hours after the Pacific Tsunami Warning Center issued an alert for nearby islands.

The mid-afternoon quake struck at a depth of 167 kilometers (103 miles) beneath the eastern province of Bougainville, where Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands meet in a continuous South Pacific archipelago, said Chris McKee, assistant director of Papua New Guinea Geophysical Observatory in Port Moresby.

No casualties were reported. But there was damage in parts of central Bougainville and the major town of Arawa, Aloysius Laukai, manager of New Dawn FM Bougainville radio station, said in an email. The provincial capital of Buka was blacked out and residents of the southern town of Buin were moved to higher ground as a precaution against a potential tsunami, Laukai said.

All tsunami warnings were later lifted.The greatest tsunami threat had been to Bougainville and that threat had passed without any report of a tsunami, McKee said.

Island natives are all too familiar with tsunami damage following a magnitude 8.4 earthquake in 2007. AusAID/Wikimedia Commons

“I suspect that because of the great depth of the earthquake, there was probably no significant tsunami,” McKee said.

Jennifer El-Sibai, Save the Children’s Country director in Papua New Guinea, said that national and provincial disaster authorities were monitoring the tsunami situation and Save the Children staff were ready to respond if required.

Solomons government official George Herming said he was not aware of any major tremors being felt in his country or any tsunami.

The countries are located in the Pacific’s geologically active “Ring of Fire.”

He who knows speaks: Dr. Bennet Omalu

Dr. Bennet Omalu visits the University of Tennessee

Dr. Bennet Omalu’s exuberant voice bounces from wall to wall of Cox Auditorium on the University of Tennessee campus when he begins to speak to the Knoxville and campus communities Wednesday, August 31.

Posters set out by the University of Tennessee Campus Events Board advertise for the lecture by Dr. Bennet Omalu (Lexie Little/UTK JEM)

He introduces himself simply as Bennet, his name derived from the Old French word for “blessed.”  He walks about the stage a man tried by civil war, tried by inner turmoil who now tries to seek the truth and share his findings.

He discovers his truth through science and faith, two passions that allowed him to discover the link between repercussive blows to the head and potentially fatal chronic brain damage in athletes, especially football players. Despite his advances in medical science, Omalu maintains that he is merely human, and his message does not promote himself, but mankind.

“I am nobody,” Omalu says, “I am as ordinary as anyone here.”

But Omalu is not nobody. Born in a refugee hospital in Nigeria during the civil war of 1968, Omalu was the sixth of seven children. He battled malnutrition as an infant while his father recuperated in the same hospital after sustaining injuries from an explosion. The bleak circumstances of his early life transferred to his social abilities.

“I felt no good,” Omalu confesses when describing his low self-esteem. He claims severe introversion in his childhood made him a social outcast. He struggled with language and became lonely. When describing this time in his life, his vivacious presence dims in a somber air, but his face lights up as he proceeds to recount his life story.

“In my hopelessness as child, in my loneliness as a child, I discovered the power of knowledge,” he declares with a smile.

Omalu’s thirst for knowledge could not be quenched in his youth, and he began to dream and to read, eventually starting medical school at age 15 and becoming a physician at age 21. However, the knowledge he gained in medical school was not warranted.

“That wasn’t me,” he says in reflection. “There were days that were as dark as the darkest darkness. My grades went south.”

So, Omalu set his sights on America where he would be free to be himself, to be Bennet Omalu. Struggling with a different culture and racial bigotry, Omalu vowed to overcome all odds and become as educated as possible. He holds eight advanced degrees and board certifications including a Master of Business Administration degree from Carnegie Melon University and a Master of Public Health degree from the University of Pittsburgh.

Pittsburgh became a pivotal locale for Omalu as he studied and worked on his fellowship. In September 2002 after a night out, Omalu returned to his apartment around 3:00 a.m. He flipped on the television and watched as major news networks defiled the name of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster who had fallen victim to psychological disorder.

Omalu could not understand how an athletic giant could become an addict or alcoholic deserted by his wife and by his basic cognitive faculties. When he arrived at work that day, the room was unusually crowded. The deceased man on the table ready for autopsy was Mike Webster.

“As I approached that autopsy table, I did not see a 50-year-old American,” Omalu recalls, “I saw my brother.”

Omalu speaks to students, faculty and the Knoxville community in Cox Auditorium on the University of Tennessee campus. (Lexie Little/UTK JEM)

With no hesitation, Omalu began to explore Webster’s body. Omalu felt a connection to Webster as he, too, had been found socially unacceptable at one point in his life. He asked Webster’s spirit to aid him in getting to the root of his death.

“Yes, I talk to my patients,” Omalu admits, “the only thing missing in that dead body is the spirit. When I talk to the body, I am talking to the spirit.”

The spirit must have spoken back because Omalu was compelled to examine Webster’s seemingly normal brain closely. What he discovered would become the degenerative disease known as CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy. Omalu published his findings in the medical journal Neurosurgery. But his ground-breaking discovery in relation to blows to the head, concussions and football proposed challenge to the National Football League. The NFL disputed Omalu’s work calling for a retraction.

“This was an epidemic,” Omalu remembers, swinging his arms swiftly, hands clenching into fists. “Yet, the NFL, the consumers, you and I kept quiet.”

But Omalu fought for his work even when “the cream of the crop” chose to ridicule him. His medical findings revolutionized athletic medicine, and in 2015, his life was adapted to film in Concussion starring Will Smith.

When interviewed before his lecture at UT, Omalu expressed pleasure with the depiction accuracy. “Because of the NFL, we did our very best to make it as close to reality as possible. So every scene in the movie happened, every date that happens.”

Dr. Bennet Omalu signs notes, photographs and publications ahead of his lecture at the University of Tennessee. Omalu also took questions from student media. (Lexie Little/UTK JEM)


Omalu states Will Smith took the role to convey a message to parents about the dangers of football. Smith’s son Trey played football, and he was unaware of the consequences discovered by Omalu.

“There is no reason why children should continue to play football,” Omalu says. He paraphrases the book of Ephesians to expand on this message saying, “We must give up the old self, embrace the new self.”

Omalu believes children are the future, and their future should not be marred by injury from football or any other sport. He maintains society must move past its obsession with the game and to be obsessed with life.

As life continues for Omalu, he embraces his name which he claims to be a fundamental truth. Omalu is the shortened form of surname Onyemalukwube meaning “he who knows should speak.” He will have plenty opportunities to do so.

“We’re working on a TV show now. I’m working with journalism, storytelling to use the language,” he says with a grin.

And as he utters his final words for the evening in Cox Auditorium, he lives up to his name. He speaks because he knows.