Grace Cavanaugh ~ Editor in Chief
Ashani Parker has been named as University of Lynchburg’s 55th Sommerville Scholar.
The five other finalists were Amanda Linehan, Ellen Drubbisch, Jaquelyn Wilson, Niko Louvros, and Natalie Hanno.
According to the email sharing the Sommerville Scholar Livestream, “The Sommerville Scholarship is named after Richard Clarke Sommerville, a distinguished professor at then Lynchburg College, serving students for more than 20 years during a remarkably rich career and life. Professor Sommerville was a visible multi-disciplinarian, and Lynchburg allowed him the freedom to teach in the three fields he knew and loved the most—psychology, education, and philosophy. He had an even wider influence as he performed as an artist and actor within the local fine arts community. Following his retirement, he continued to participate in the life of the College and community. Upon his death in 1963, friends and colleagues established a scholarship in his honor, given for the first time in 1965 and awarded annually to a rising senior student with a QPA of 3.5 or higher scholarship and character without regard to activities or need. Their character should include the student’s attitude toward University of Lynchburg and the scholarly life in general…[as shown by] the scholarly habit and appetite which lead to ever-increasing knowledge.”
Parker is a senior Westover student majoring in Psychology and Liberal Arts with minors in museum studies, history, and archaeology. While being a full-time student, Parker also works at the Daura Museum and at the Historic Sandusky. She is on the executive board for the Westover Honors College, the Student Archaeology society, Psi Chi, and the Native American Student Association.
Parker said, “I have interned at local museums since I was 15 as a docent and curatorial assistant and I interned at the Smithsonian last year with Recovering Voices. I got accepted into the Penn Museum’s Sumerian Dictionary Project and the Where are your keys program where the focus is aiding in revitalizing the Sḵwxwú7mesh and hən̓q̓əmin̓əm̓ languages through a partnership with Tsleil Waututh Nation, but I was not able to go because of COVID. I am still going later.”
Parker was apprehensive about applying to Sommerville. She said, “So I was not going to apply at first. I talked to some of my professors about it, I joked about it, and then a lot of my professors told me that I should apply. And so I was like, you know, I am in my senior year. I might as well give it a shot. It is something that I looked at when I was an underclassman and considered doing so I went for it and it ended up really well. So I’m happy that I did apply.”
She continued, “We had to write an essay. We had to give our resumé. We had to get a letter of recommendation from a faculty member. They wanted us to emphasize our desire to learn, what we were like as an academic, what brought us here, what we were driven by. And, you know, I just spoke of coming to the university as a first generation student and how motivated I was to learn and grow and put myself in all of these different situations where I am learning and I am able to have an interdisciplinary major. So it was really important to me because I do love academics. It is 98 percent of what I do.”
She also said, “I did not [think I was going to win]. I knew some of the other finalists personally and I know what they did. And they are really impressive people. Their schedules are crazy. I had to make meetings with some of them and it is almost impossible because they are always busy. And I knew what they were doing. I know their theses. So I am really happy because I know I was going against some really competent people.”
For her first thesis, Parker is focusing on linguistics. “I’m interested in endangered languages and language revitalization. So both of my thesis projects have related to language in some way, usually linguistic discrimination. My first thesis that I started was in indigenous languages and that was focused on those in Virginia and North Carolina. Those languages are largely understudied when it comes to indigenous language and I wanted to emphasize those and highlight them.”
As for her second thesis, Parker said, “My second major thesis is involving language processing, language ideology and linguistic discrimination with students of color who go in situations where they are faced with barriers in school or in counseling because of the way that they speak or the way that their speech is perceived. And I thought that was something that should be highlighted because it’s something that has not been studied a lot in recent years. I wanted to emphasize that there are many different dialects and types of speech that encounter certain biases and discrimination, and those might be related to identity or culture factors or different environmental factors that students deal with that might not be observed by counselors or understood properly by their professors.”
Parker was surprised when she was announced as the Sommerville Scholar. She said, “I keep making this joke. No one gets it. But like, I just remember when Steve Harvey announced Miss America or whatever competition it was and he announced the wrong person. And so I thought it was a moment where they Steve Harvey-ed me and they just like they called the wrong name and they were just going to flub it and call the right person. So I kind of paused there for a second. But like, she just looked at me and she was motioning me over.”
The holiday break is going to be pivotal for Parker. She said, “I am going to spend most of the break working on a thesis, adding to it, probably adding too much to it and giving myself a little bit too much work. But I am working on grad school applications and just trying to finish up the year with a bang.”
To watch the streamed announcement of the Sommerville Scholar, please visit https://youtu.be/Wb6XmLqONUg.