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Rachel Markley loves to learn. She approaches obstacles with an open mind and a desire to experience all that life has to offer. This week, the University of Chicago freshman shares her academic goals and how a $3000 Hills Bros. Homefront Heroes/ThanksUSA Scholarship is helping her achieve those goals.

Rachel Markley as Isaac Newton

The daughter of Lieutenant Commander John B Markley, U.S. Navy, and Beth Markley, Rachel has truly enjoyed life as a military child. She has learned to adapt to new situations quickly and accepts change without much stress. Skills that have been critical to her, especially this past year.

After graduating from high school in 2010, Rachel took a one year hiatus from school to accompany her parents to Japan. Embracing her new surroundings, she began learning conversational Kanji and had begun teaching English when the earthquake struck. The military assisted evacuation left her thousands of miles from her new home worrying about the devastation.

As Japan recovered, Rachel began preparing for another big move, this time to begin college in Illinois. Initially, she reports, the coursework of her mathematics major was a bit shocking. Proof based calculus is not for the faint of math. But, Rachel appreciates the academic challenges and plans to pursue a career as an actuary.

She has already passed her first actuary test and is considering a focus in economics. To compliment her studies and provide guidance, Rachel is a member of the University of Chicago Actuarial Initiative. Always appreciative of change, Rachel admits that she can’t see herself working behind a desk day after day. She plans to seek employment with a global organization and reminded me that every industry requires risk analysis. For instance, how often do you think of the financial risks of Cirque du Soleil?

Pursuing an international career provides its own challenges, which Rachel is already preparing for. Thanks, in part, to her military upbringing, Rachel is quite comfortable speaking to people of all nationalities and is quite comfortable in a multi-cultural environment. She’s been studying Latin since the age of ten and enjoys learning new languages.

“Since beginning college, I’ve expanded my circle of friends to include more international students,” says Rachel. Her best friend (since middle school) happens to be Serbian, so Rachel’s Serbo-Croatian language skills are always improving. She also continues to teach English to two Japanese students via skype.

With the flexibility to adjust to any situation and the determination to succeed, Rachel will surely flourish. The ThanksUSA team wishes her academic success and hopes that she never loses her adventurous spirit!

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The ThanksUSA team loves hearing from scholarship recipients. This week’s featured scholar, Brianna Bikker, has received $6000 in ThanksUSA scholarships since 2009, including a $3000 Goldman Sachs Gives/ThanksUSA Scholarship for the Spring 2011 semester. After receiving regular updates from Brianna about her academic progress and collegiate experiences, I knew that I wanted to share her story with readers. Currently in her junior year of Electrical Engineering studies at Texas A&M University, Brianna has a very interesting research focus: Foreign Accent Conversion. This will be a two segment blog beginning with Brianna’s research and concluding next week with her experiences studying abroad and life as a military child.

Brianna Bikker

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Brianna has always had great math skills and was interested in puzzles. She knew that she would pursue a degree that would incorporate mathematics, but she did not want to limit herself. She decided to pursue engineering because it would allow her to apply her skills in math and science while pursuing real-life problems that affect people daily. “Where would we be without engineers?” asks Brianna. “I want to have a job where my work produces something that people 10, 20, or 100 years down the road couldn’t believe living without.”

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Brianna’s current research could lead to just that. Brianna explains her research and related end-goals:

My research in Foreign Accent Conversion focuses on essentially removing the “foreign accent” from a recording of a foreigner’s spoken English. Basically, when a foreigner speaks English with an “accent,” it just means that the way his or her muscles move differently and the shape of his or her throat are not the same as a native speaker’s would be; this produces a different sound. In the graphical representation of speech (called a spectrogram), mispronunciations have a different shape than the correct, native pronunciation does.  So, in accent conversion, we use different signal processing techniques to manipulate the speech recording of that foreign speaker so that the areas of mispronunciation become identical to the correct pronunciation instead.  The idea is that when the new modified speech of the foreign speaker is played back, it should sound exactly like that same person speaking English, just without a foreign accent. Of course, this is a lot trickier to perfect than it sounds; computer production of “speech” sounds a lot less smooth than human speech.

Ultimately, my research might lead to a way to improve the actual accent of foreign speakers. Theory says that a person listening to his/her own voice without an accent will help eliminate any foreign accent more quickly and accurately than listening to an instructor’s accent and trying to mimic it.

To compliment her studies, Brianna is involved in the student branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE). She was also named a University Scholar by Texas A&M’s Honor Program. “As a University Scholar, I participate in representing the school in discussion panels, hosting honorary visitors at Texas A&M, Professional workshops, and service projects. Essentially, there are 12 students per class selected to represent the school,” explains Brianna.

Last semester, Brianna had the unique opportunity to study at Texas A&M University’s branch campus in Dohar, Qatar. Please visit next week to read about the experiences that broadened Brianna’s global perspective.

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Kwai Kwai Nedobak! Welcome back to the Treasure Hunt Five blog.  This week we’ll explore the Abnaki language to solve a clue from chapter 6, New Hampshire.  But first, I am pleased to introduce the Phase I winners of chapter 4, the Happy Homeschoolers/the Young family!  For successfully completing one of this years toughest chapters, the Youngs won a $1000 Walmart gift card to purchase school supplies.

Happy Homeschoolers

What a thrilling treasure hunt this has been! Our home school enjoyed learning all about MO, AL, NE and recycling. What a great way to learn about hydro-power dams! We are grateful to ThanksUSA for this opportunity to have fun while learning valuable facts about our country. Most importantly, we want to show our appreciation to all the military men and women and their families. Thank you for serving this great nation!  – Deborah Young, mother/teacher

Happy Homeschoolers, thank you for your kind words and congratulations on sticking with a very challenging chapter!  Your school/youth group can still be a winner…May 20 is the final Phase I deadline.  All school and youth groups who submit correct entries for chapters 5, 6, or 7, will be eligible to win!  Now let’s look at that language clue:

18.  Canobie (Lake) means this in the Abnaki language.

Every child loves to learn words in a new language…whether they’ve just discovered pig latin, hear cartoon characters speaking foreign languages, or meet someone who can speak a language different from their own.  Thanks to online dictionaries and translators, language barriers are much easier to overcome.  A suggested search for this clue may include:

Abnaki + translation + Canobie Lake

Don’t be surprised if your search engine suggests the spelling as Abenaki, or even Abenaqui…you should still find your translation quite easily.  You will probably stumble upon some great Native American websites as well.  Here are a few Abnaki sites that I found very educational:

http://www.nedoba.org/

http://www.bigorrin.org/abenaki_kids.htm

I hope you have fun discovering the Abnaki tribe.  Until next week, Wli Nadialowôgan!

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