Parting Thoughts from Rick Kern

Parting Thoughts from Rick Kern

This past summer I stepped down as Director of the BLC because of increased administrative duties elsewhere on campus, and so this is an opportune moment to reflect a bit on the importance of BLC and the people who make it work. The BLC has been my intellectual home since its founding by Claire Kramsch back in 1994. I’ve been involved in BLC activities since its inception, and was proud to serve as its director from 2006 to this year.

The beauty of the BLC is that it is not just a campus unit, but it is a community that reaches across many departments, languages, cultures, and pedagogical cultures. Moreover, it regularly hosts visiting student researchers and visiting scholars from around the world for lengthy stays. Talk about diversity! I am so grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to meet, work with, and learn from lecturers and visiting scholars from so many different languages whom I would never have met without the BLC. I think many people feel the same way, that their lives have been enriched by participating in the BLC community.

Community doesn’t just happen; it involves dedicated effort, and I’m grateful to the many exceptional people who have strengthened the BLC community over the years. Claire Kramsch continues to be an extraordinary presence and influence, hosting events at her home, working with visiting scholars, editing the L2 Journal and engaging our lecturers and graduate students in the publishing process, and lending her wisdom and inspiration to us all as we explore language education in all its multiple facets. Mark Kaiser, with his incomparable organizational prowess and creative intelligence that produced Lumière, BOLT, Ciné-colloquium (with Chika Shibahara) and so many other projects that have improved the teaching of languages at Berkeley and well beyond, has been a godsend to the BLC. Working with Mark in various ways over his 25 years of service as Associate Director was a personal pleasure—it made work fun—and he has had a profound impact on generations of language lecturers and graduate students through his humane guidance of BLC Fellows. And his expertise in teaching language and culture through film is still enlightening BLC fellows (note the presentation of 2022 Summer Fellows that will happen this Friday, September 23). Victoria Williams, who retired last spring, has been the longest-standing member of the BLC, extending back to its days as the Berkeley language lab, and Victoria’s deep interest in people has been the “glue factor” that not only brings people together but also makes them feel at home and keeps them coming back for more, event after event. Orlando García has been brilliant in keeping our business affairs in order, assuring smooth operations, and enlivening all of our social events. John Wuorenmaa has kept the BLC (and language instruction on campus) technologically operational—especially important in these recent years—and has helped me out more times than I could possibly count. Keith Hernandez has applied his recording and editing expertise to numerous language projects and has helped all of us to be more savvy about sound and image. Elle Suzuki, through her programming expertise, has enabled the BLC to produce sophisticated infrastructures like Lumière and BOLT that not only serve the Berkeley community but also, in the case of Lumière, academic communities around the globe. But all these individual contributions become synergistic when the BLC produces Annamaria Bellezza’s Words In Action each spring or hosts a major international event, such as the Linguistic Landscape conference in 2015. I’ll never forget the BLC staff’s creativity, mutual support, and camaraderie that made that conference such a success.

The continuing good news is that the BLC is in the more-than-capable hands of Kimberly Vinall, now one-year-installed as Executive Director, and Emily Hellmich, newly hired from the University of Arizona, serving as Associate Director. Both are graduates of the Berkeley School of Education (as am I), and both were BLC Fellows when they were graduate students. They bring fresh ideas and energy to the BLC, and I cannot express how happy I am to see them launch a new phase in the BLC’s development: namely, creating a community of undergraduate students interested in language research.

Meanwhile, Don Doehla and Nancy Salsig continue to be extraordinarily successful in co-directing the Berkeley World Language Project, which provides continuing education and leadership training to secondary school teachers in Alameda, Contra Costa, Solano, and Napa counties. Don and Nancy have developed a thriving teacher-leader community, and I am eager to follow their future development.

I am optimistic about the future as increasing numbers of students with interest in Arts & Humanities arrive on campus, as the Letters & Science Executive Committee deliberates strengthening the language requirement, as the administration considers new funding models for languages, and as the campus moves toward its goal of becoming an Hispanic Serving Institution. The Berkeley Language Center has an especially important role to play as the UC system considers ways to increase the sharing of language courses (especially for less-commonly-taught languages) across UC campuses.

I look forward to continuing to participate in BLC activities, and I thank all of you, friends of the BLC, for your engagement and support over the years. Vive le BLC!