Romance Studies Doctoral Student Sandie Blaise Chosen for Duke I&E’s First Graduate Assistantship

Sandie Blaise When Sandie Blaise, a doctoral student in the Department of Romance Studies saw a graduate assistantship position through Duke’s Innovation & Entrepreneurship Initiative (Duke I&E), she wondered whether she would be a good candidate to apply. 

“To be honest, when I saw the job announcement, I wasn’t sure that I&E would consider my project,” said Blaise. “I thought, I’m not a business student, I’m not in that field. But I really saw the innovative part of my project, and I thought, why not?”

Blaise’s project, “Language Matters: Innovating Programming through Community Engagement,” is the first chosen for the I&E graduate assistantship. The purpose of the assistantship is to provide the awardee with financial and technical assistance to complete an independent research project that relates to innovation and entrepreneurship. Deb Reisinger will serve as Sandie’s faculty adviser, providing oversight and guidance on the project. Members of the Duke I&E staff will share ideas and experience with Sandie and Reisinger. In addition, journalist and writer Géraldine Smith will collaborate on the project. 

The project will explore alternative and innovative ways to develop English language skills among French-speaking refugees in the United States, particularly those from African countries. The project will use mobile-friendly online video tutorials to help the refugees learn the language and navigate American culture and institutions. Sandie will work with students in Reisinger’s “Global Displacement” course to generate and disseminate the video tutorials. 

In the videos, students will tackle issues such as healthcare, education, and housing to facilitate newcomers’ successful navigation of their host country’s contexts. 

“This is another way to engage students with communities outside of academia and show them that language learning can still be crucial,” said Blaise. “It’s a much more practical use of language, it’s more active.” 

Connecting Duke students with the refugee community in Durham through the Church World Service and other organizations, the video project offers an innovative tool for students who might not have those opportunities built within their traditional study programs.

This assistantship will support Duke doctoral students in their fifth or sixth year of study. Students may be in any program, but must make a clear connection to innovation and entrepreneurship in their proposal. In addition to access to the resources at the Duke I&E Initiative, the assistantship offers up to 100 percent stipend coverage. 

To learn more about the assistantship, e-mail the research team at the Duke I&E Initiative or call 919-613-9517.