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Brandon Baird, assistant professor of Luso-Hispanic studies, is the winner of the 2019 Gladstone Award Honoring Excellence in Teaching.

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Gladstone Winner Brandon Baird Plans Travel Course to Guatemala for Mayan Languages Revitalization

July 31, 2019

MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Brandon Baird, assistant professor of Luso-Hispanic studies, will take students to Guatemala next January to work on a project titled “Using the sciences with the humanities: Language revitalization in Guatemala,” with a particular focus on Mayan languages. Baird is the winner of Middlebury’s Gladstone Award Honoring Excellence in Teaching, a prize designed to support faculty projects that enhance their teaching within the classroom or collaborative student/faculty work outside the classroom.

Baird and his students will spend 7–10 days in the Maya municipality of Nahualá, Guatemala, where they will collaborate with locals in a Mayan language revitalization campaign that Baird launched with local colleagues last summer. As part of the campaign, called #chutzijonpaqachab’al (#letsspeakourlanguage in K’ichee’, the Mayan language spoken in Nahualá), students will produce programs for the national radio station Nawal Estéreo (93.1 FM), visit local schools, and produce and disseminate materials promoting the use of Mayan languages.

Many language revitalization programs focus on promoting native languages as a way of cultural preservation, says Baird, an approach that, while important, sometimes fails to connect with younger generations of speakers.

“The main push of our campaign is to promote the use of Mayan languages through the cognitive and social benefits of bilingualism,” said Baird. “For example, there is a growing body of literature in linguistics, psychology, and neuroscience on the benefits of speaking more than one language: bilinguals have greater cognitive flexibility than monolinguals; bilinguals are less likely to develop dementia than monolinguals, etc. Thus, as the title of the program indicates, we hope to combine multiple disciplines in this course and campaign.”

Baird says the Gladstone award presented him with an opportunity to move beyond the limits of a traditional classroom and give his students a firsthand experience with the Mayan culture.

“The Maya have continually opened their arms and welcomed me,” said Baird. “Although this project may have benefits in terms of my research, the main goal is to give a little back to these people that have given me so much. I must recognize that even though I’ve been working among them for more than a decade, I’m still a white American male, and will never truly understand what it is to be Maya and, even though I’m a minority in this particular area of the world, I still have my privileges. Thus, it is vital that we collaborate with them in every step of the campaign.”

The Gladstone Award was established in 2012 by Christopher D. Gladstone P’13 and Elise J. Rabekoff P’13 to recognize faculty who have exhibited exceptional teaching and mentoring. In recent years, faculty who have won Gladstone Awards have engaged students in Vermont healthcare policy, archaeology in Belize, and ecology fieldwork in the Dominican Republic.