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Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2020 graduates.
Chenay Gladstone is competitive.
The Phoenix native has typically channeled that energy into club sports — like volleyball, which she played throughout her undergraduate and graduate career at Arizona State University. Once in a while, Gladstone turns that high-beam, competitive laser on herself. In other words, she’s a bit of a perfectionist.
Gladstone pushes herself. She not only completed her Bachelor of Arts in English (linguistics), a minor in German and TESOL certificate in three years, she’s completing a Master of Arts in linguistics and applied linguistics this spring. In fact, she is one of the first students to graduate from this accelerated ASU program.
With a curiosity about the burgeoning field of forensic linguistics, Gladstone cornered her research in the subfield of “deception detection” — essentially, “lie detecting” in legal settings based on language cues.
“A lot of interest in that area is directed toward police interrogations and witness statements,” she said “so I thought ‘what about 911 calls?’ since those are often what kind of start an investigation.” Her thesis was titled, “Determining the Veracity of 911 Homicide Calls in the Metro-Phoenix Area Using COPS Scale and Concordance."
Oh, did we mention that she did her graduate work while teaching sheltered English immersion at Sun Valley High School and coaching girls’ volleyball at Valley Lutheran High School last fall?
One thing is clear: Gladstone makes no excuses. Even so, she lauds her professors, friends and the university at-large for their support, and for teaching her that it’s OK to be imperfect.
In an interview with ASU Now, she discussed not only why she chose ASU, but why she stayed here.
Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field?
Answer: I realized I wanted to study linguistics when I was a junior in high school. At the time, I was on an AFS (American Field Service) study abroad program in Germany. I didn't really know any German before leaving for the program, so everything I learned was basically from immersion. Going through the language learning process this way and getting to interact with exchange students from all over the world got me really interested in language in general. After doing some searching online, I discovered linguistics and decided that that is what I wanted to study if I went to college.
I realized I wanted to study my thesis topic — the veracity of 911 calls — at the start of graduate school. I had an interest in forensic linguistics after hearing about it in one of (ASU Regents Professor) Elly van Gelderen's classes in undergrad.
Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: Something that surprised me was that people are a lot more accommodating than I thought. I have always been very apprehensive about asking for extensions or for forgiveness for some mistakes. I've had this weird idea in my head that people expect me to be perfect, but there have been several times throughout the past few years where life happened and I found myself in tricky situations in which perfection was far from attainable. I found that if I just explain my situation (whether that be to a professor, customer service agent at my bank or a Starbucks employee), people are often understanding and accommodating. It has been a huge weight off my back to realize that no one expects me to be perfect and that even the most intimidating of people understand that we are all only human.
Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: I chose ASU largely for financial reasons. I was accepted into the undergraduate program with a generous scholarship and financial aid that made going to ASU more possible than other schools.
I stayed at ASU because I was very pleased with the professors, class sizes and extra-curriculars. Aside from my one 400-plus person lecture freshman year, all of my classes have had around 30 students or fewer, which I was not expecting at a school with such a large population. All of my professors were reasonable and shared their personalities with us. They never assigned us busy work and the work they did give us was challenging and clearly meant to help us understand the topics at hand better. Outside of class, I was able to meet people through the outdoors club and the women's club volleyball program. I am especially thankful for club sports because I was able to continue pursuing my passion of playing competitive volleyball and simultaneously attend a big university.
I chose ASU for graduate school because the scholarship I had received was for four years and I finished my undergraduate degree in three. Because of this, I was able to afford to stay and get my master’s degree through the 4+1 program.
Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?
A: (ASU Assistant Professor) Tyler Peterson. Sometimes students would ask him questions he didn't know the answer to and instead of trying to finesse an answer or play it off he would just admit "I don't know." I really appreciated that answer because it showed he was being honest with us and it demonstrated that no matter how knowledgeable someone is, they still aren't omniscient, and there are still things out there for us, as scholars, to discover.
Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Don't think about what can happen in a month. Don't think about what can happen in a year. Just focus on the 24 hours in front of you and do what you can to get closer to where you want to be. It's easy to get carried away thinking about the future, but try to focus on the little things — showing up to class, turning in assignments, meeting with your adviser, not buying your fifth iced coffee of the day, etc. — that make the big things — graduating, getting an internship, paying off tuition, etc. — happen.
Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: Hayden Lawn! Some months it is simply too hot or too cold to spend time there, but in late fall and early spring, spending time out in the sun was my favorite. My second semester of undergrad I spent almost every day between class and volleyball practice napping and doing homework on Hayden Lawn. That's even where I met one of my former roommates!
Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: First, sleep. Then, move. Aside from the times I've studied abroad, I've been a resident of Arizona my whole life and I'd like to settle down, at least temporarily, somewhere a little bit cooler. I'm trying to get a job in New Zealand or Germany. As far as work goes, the semi-realistic dream is to work for the FBI, but applicants have to be at least 23 years old, so I've still got a couple of years to build a stronger background in forensic linguistics and explore other subjects I am interested in. I'm hoping to get a copyediting job until then.
Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: At the time I am answering this, the obvious answer is to give the money to various hospitals and manufacturers to help fund the people and businesses who are tending to those with COVID-19 or producing PPE (personal protective equipment).
If COVID-19 wasn't in existence, I would use the money to help charter schools provide more programs and extracurriculars at their school. I currently teach at a charter high school, and the school provides so much opportunity for students who otherwise would have none, and it would be amazing if the school and other charter schools had the funding to be able to offer sports, music classes or life-after-high-school classes, for example.