Colleen Cournoyer: 'I instantly saw myself having a career working with children'

May 23, 2016

Colleen Cournoyer

Linguistics  Classics

Preston, CT

What accomplishments/activities are you most proud of while at Cornell?

This semester I was honored to be a recipient of the Fuerst Outstanding Library Student Employee Award. I have worked at the Cornell Music Library for three years, and it is one of my favorite places on campus. Not only is it a beautiful space to study in, but my coworkers, supervisors and our library patrons are all so kind and lead the most interesting, engaged lives.

I was also very grateful to receive a grant from the classics department last summer to study Latin in Rome at the Paideia Institute. The program, called Living Latin in Rome, placed an emphasis on reading Latin as well as using it as a spoken language. While I'd always enjoyed my Latin classes, it was when I was in Italy at this program that I truly fell in love with the Latin language and could approach it from a place of ease. Reading Latin became more comfortable and natural for me, and instead of focusing on the grammar, I could focus more on the wisdom and insights these ancient authors were offering to me and use it to improve the quality of my own life.

Who or what influenced your Cornell education the most? How or why?

I am so fortunate to have been given the chance to learn Scottish Gaelic here at Cornell with Professor Wayne Harbert in the linguistics department. There are only a handful of universities in the United States that teach Scottish Gaelic, and I was lucky to catch Professor Harbert at the end of his teaching career right before retiring. Being able to study Gaelic at Cornell has tied all the other parts of my life together: my ancestral background, my musical interests and my linguistic interests in language revitalization and Indo-European historical linguistics. When I can see how a word in Latin, Greek, English and Scottish Gaelic are all related through centuries of systematic sound changes, I just think that's the coolest thing!

How did any of your beliefs or interests change during your time at Cornell?

When I entered Cornell, I hadn't been planning on being an elementary school teacher, but as soon as I stepped into one of the local first-grade classrooms as a volunteer for a couple hours a week, I felt so comfortable there and instantly saw myself having a career working with children. My own experiences being an adult language learner of Ancient Greek, Scottish Gaelic and Latin are very humbling – I make lots of mistakes, and I like to think this experience gives me empathy for kids trying to master the intricacies of the English language! So even though some people seem surprised that I want to take my background of classics and linguistics into teaching, I'm finding it to be extremely relevant and helpful as I make my transition from the liberal arts into a more defined career path.

Colleen Cournoyor standing