(Nov. 24, 2009)--In 2006, the UTSA College of Liberal and Fine Arts invited Sonja Lanehart to join the faculty as the Brackenridge Endowed Chair in Literature and the Humanities. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Lanehart holds master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan. She came to UTSA from the University of Georgia.
The endowment for the chair was established in 2003 with funds from the San Antonio-based George W. Brackenridge Foundation and the National Endowment for the Humanities. A key area supported by the endowment is UTSA's innovative English doctoral program, which offers students opportunities for advanced study and research in cross-cultural, transnational approaches to English language and literary studies.
Lanehart is a sociolinguist who specializes in the study of English literature and linguistics, humanities, education and African-American studies. She is the author of "Sista, Speak! Black Women Kinfolk Talk about Language and Literacy" (2002, University of Texas Press).
In her three years at UTSA, Lanehart has distributed endowment funds to support student professional development; organize scholarly conferences, symposia and institutes; and support student enrichment programs.
"I really enjoy having the endowment because it allows me to do things that most professors would only dream of being able to do, without competing for funding and writing grants all the time," Lanehart said.
Much of Lanehart's endowment use focuses on helping students -- from the undergraduate to the doctoral level -- develop professionally. In academia, the first step on the professional ladder is conducting research that is shared at conferences or published in journals or books.
"Any student who takes my class and either publishes a paper or writes a proposal and submits it to a conference -- and it gets accepted -- receives $500 -- something I am able to offer because of the endowment," Lanehart noted. She also supports research assistant positions with her funding.
In 2008, her students experienced a memorable opportunity for professional engagement -- they helped to plan and host the first-ever conference on African-American women's language. The conference tied into a class by the same name that Lanehart taught that spring.
"Those students got to work closely with me in preparing for that conference? They got to talk with these people they had been reading about up close and personal," she said. "It was a great experience."
"Professor Lanehart's commitment of time and funding to encourage her students to reach beyond classroom experiences and into the real-life applications of their academic accomplishments gives students a bright future as they move forward in their professional careers," said Emily Denman Thuss, trustee for The Brackenridge Foundation. "This is an innovative and exciting use of the George W. Brackenridge Foundation bequest."
Lanehart currently is at work on several other conferences, symposia and institutes -- sharing knowledge and raising UTSA's profile in English literacy and language studies nationally.
The Brackenridge endowment also makes it possible for Lanehart to attend national and international conferences in her field, she said, noting that the summer of 2009 was "a busy conference summer." Bringing conferences and scholars to UTSA, a fostering the academic exchange of ideas, is one of Lanehart's key goals.
In addition to teaching, research and conference work, Lanehart's scholarly projects in progress include serving as editor or co-editor of several publications. One example: Oxford University Press has asked her to edit a new volume tentatively called the "Oxford Handbook in African-American Language."
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