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Welcome back to ThanksUSA’s Scholarship News! This week, we continue our feature on Brianna Bikker, an outstanding student at Texas A&M Univeristy who is using her $3000 Goldman Sachs Gives/ThanksUSA Scholarship to complete her junior year of Electrical Engineering studies. This week Brianna shares her experiences as a military child and the lessons learned through a study abroad program.

Brianna’s father was commissioned 1989 as an Electronic Warfare Officer and has served with several commands. Growing up, Brianna spent time in England, New Mexico, Washington, and Florida. “Having been born abroad while my dad was stationed in England, I have always loved traveling abroad and experiencing different cultures. I can also thank my military dependent lifestyle for my ability to adapt to new areas and being comfortable with different beliefs and lifestyles,” says Brianna.

Although she has always embraced her military lifestyle, Brianna admits that there were times when being a military dependent became confusing. “It is easy to get defensive over things such as the war in Iraq when your mom or dad is risking their life over there for you and other US citizens. For me, this was especially difficult this past fall being in the Middle East, where the US military is a controversial thing.  Even though being against the war is perfectly okay, I want people to know that soldiers risk their lives and should be respected for their work. At times, this can be difficult.”

When Brianna speaks of being in Middle East, she is referring to her studies at Texas A&M University’s branch campus in Doha, Qatar. “Before leaving for the Middle East, I learned a lot about the region to prepare myself for any culture shock that is to be expected when living in an unfamiliar region. However, even with all my research, there’s nothing that can compare with actually living in a new and exciting place.

I spent the semester taking classes with students from not only the Middle East, but from all over the world. The collage of different traditions and cultural values gave me a completely new perspective on the rest of the world. I learned so much about the values, traditions, and lives of people around the world. Even more fascinating was when I got to travel through the Middle East, to Oman, UAE, Jordan, and Bahrain. Travelling to more countries opened my eyes even more to the amazing variety of people within a region that many Americans would consider all the same.

Overall, my experience in Qatar last fall semester was one of the best that I’ve ever had; I am glad to have a better idea of what the Middle East is like and to have made life-long friends that taught me so much. Especially in a time where understanding is vital, I wish everyone could experience the generosity and sincerity that I did last fall; in the mean time, I plan on sharing my experience with others so that I can help broaden the perspective of at least some.”

Brianna, we appreciate your sharing and hope that you continue to broaden the perspectives of those you meet. ThanksUSA is proud to support such deserving military dependents. Scholarship applications for the 2011/2012 academic year will open on April 1, 2011. Please share our website with your military friends and family members. Prospective applicants can sign up for a reminder email here. While visiting ThanksUSA, please be sure to make your tax-deductible donation today. With your support, ThanksUSA will continue to provide financial aid to students like Brianna.

“Being financially supported through ThanksUSA scholarships has made a huge difference in my education. Other students like me want to have experiences such as studying abroad while in college, but have financial worries that prevent them from the experience.  Also, not having to work throughout the semester just to pay for school allows me to spend more time on what I went to college for in the first place: academics, research, and the student organization I’m involved in. I am truly grateful that there are organizations such as ThanksUSA that are designed to support military dependents.  Although it can be rough at times, being a military brat is truly a blessing, and it’s great to have people recognize that and support us in our education.” – Brianna Bikker

You can support students like Brianna by making a $10 donation today…simply text THANKSUSA to 85944 to make your $10 donation.

 

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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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