Zuzanna Fuchs CC ’13 is looking forward to spending the next few years of her life “playing with word endings.” Beginning this fall, Fuchs will pursue a Ph.D. in linguistics at Harvard, where she will delve into her fascination with morphology, a subfield that studies the structure of words and the processes through which words are created.
As a College student, Fuchs, who is fluent in English and Polish and advanced in Spanish, declared a major in statistics, but decided to add an independent major in linguistics after enjoying “Introduction to Linguistics” with Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature John McWhorter. “Linguistics is something that people don’t realize is around us all the time,” she says, citing a favorite example. “‘Haha’ and ‘LOL’ are modal particles. They don’t mean anything; they just set the tone for whatever is being said. It’s fun to be at a party and say, ‘Do you know that when you text ‘haha’ or ‘LOL’ you’re using a modal particle?’ It’s a nerdy fun fact, but it’s interesting.”
For her senior thesis, Fuchs examined the gender and grammatical cases assigned to English nouns adopted into the Polish lexicon. “Because nouns in English have neither cases nor genders, I wanted to see what happens to them when they are borrowed into Polish,” says Fuchs, who presented her research at the Annual Conference of the International Linguistic Association, held in April at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn.
Buoyed by her experience as a teaching assistant for two semesters each of “Introduction to Linguistics” and “Introduction to Statistics,” which entailed leading review sessions and occasionally lecturing, Fuchs now envisions herself as a linguistics professor. “Seeing [the students’] eyes when they get it — that’s the greatest part,” says Fuchs, whose father has taught at the University of Detroit Mercy’s School of Architecture since she was 8 months. “When I finish a lecture or a review session, I feel that I won something huge; it’s the best feeling.”
Fuchs, who split her childhood between her native city of Warsaw, Poland, and Royal Oak, Mich., recalls always wanting to attend an Ivy League school. It was the Core, however, that ultimately drew her to the College. “A solid base of knowledge in a lot of different areas before specializing — that was really important to me,” she says.
Since her sophomore year, Fuchs’ main extracurricular pursuit has been the College Group Committee at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The committee, which includes students from the College as well as Barnard, NYU, the Pratt Institute, Hunter College and other NYC schools, plans museum events for fellow college students. As publicity coordinator her senior year, Fuchs helped plan and execute an Andy Warhol-themed event in October 2012 that she proudly says was well attended by Columbians. “It says a lot about the Columbia student body that everyone has varied interests and that the Met brings in everyone, not just the art majors,” she says.
- Nathalie Alonso CC ’08