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CSD Grad to Use Fulbright Fellowship to Research Bilingualism

April 07, 2021
Maria Russell
Marissa Russell, CSD'20, will study why bilingual people choose to use one language over another in their daily lives.

Marissa Russell will be taking her MGH Institute education to a new level when she begins a Fulbright Scholarship next fall.  

Russell, who graduated in 2020 with a Master of Science in Speech-Language Pathology, will work with Dr. Gitte Kristiansen, an associate professor of linguistics at Complutense University of Madrid in Spain.   

She will spend the nine months of her Fulbright term adapting questionnaires that measure bilingualism by incorporating cognitive sociolinguistic information about when, how, and why people choose to use one particular language over the other in their daily lives. This can impact overall bilingual proficiency as well as how people respond to questions on the questionnaires.  

Cognitive sociolinguistics seeks to use knowledge about cognitive processing to help explain language variation in social settings. Incorporating this information, she said, can provide a more detailed view of language use in a way that strengthens existing questionnaires and will allow researchers to more accurately compare study results to better understand how the bilingual brain functions.  

“Clinically, a better understanding of bilingualism could provide clearer information about its role in preventing neurocognitive decline and treating language disorders in bilingual individuals, said Russell. “Socially, a deepened understanding of bilingualism can continue to help dispel myths about the negative effects of speaking more than one language, ultimately helping promote cultural and linguistic diversity.  

Russell was awarded the Fulbright during her last year in the SLP program, making her the first IHP student to receive a fellowship. It placed the school among just 10 others listed in the “Four-Year Special-Focus Institutions” category of the top-producing institutions for the Fulbright program.  

Her interest in bilingualism began during her undergraduate years at Emory University, where she was a double major in Spanish and linguistics and conducted research on speech and language perception. She recognized working with patients who had communication difficulties would provide her with the practical experience necessary to pursue a research career within the health care realm. Her two years at the IHP supported her progress towards this goal, where experiences such as working with clients in the Aphasia Center helped her fine-tune her research interests.  

“There’s not a lot of research on cognitive-linguistic processing in bilingual people who have experienced a stroke or brain injury. Deepening our understanding in this area can help us create improved, evidence-based treatments and better support these individuals as they work towards regaining access to their language ability,” she said, noting she plans to get a PhD to study bilingual aphasia. “It’s an area that needs to be further investigated.”  

Currently, she is completing her post-IHP clinical fellowship at Northeast Rehabilitation Hospital while also working part-time as a clinical and scientific consultant for Constant Therapy Health, a speech, language, and cognitive therapy app designed for patients recovering from stroke, traumatic brain injury, and other neurological disorders. After she completes her Fulbright fellowship, she will begin a PhD in Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at Boston University.  

Since its inception in 1946, the Fulbright program has given more than 390,000 passionate and accomplished students, scholars, teachers, artists, and professionals of all backgrounds and fields the opportunity to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas, and contribute to finding solutions to important international problems. The global network of Fulbrighters fosters mutual understanding between the United States and partner nations, advances knowledge across communities, and improves lives around the globe.