Mary Catherine (Casey) Devine

Meet the Fellows


Front row (left to right): Naomi Sternstein, Kayla Lee, Karen Nguyen, You Bin Maeng, Ariel Hoffmaier, Amber James, Lauren Yan; back row (left to right): Mary Catherine (Casey) Devine, Ian Sears, David Beinhart, Yong H. Kim, Isabel Bleimeister

In early May, members of the 2016-17 group of Honors Fellows joined the 2017-18 cohort for lunch, where they discussed their challenges and successes and offered pointers to the new group.

Attendees included David Beinhart, Isabel Bleimeister, Mary Catherine (Casey) Devine, Ariel Hoffmaier, Amber James, Yong H. Kim, Kayla Lee, You Bin Maeng, Karen Nguyen, Ian Sears, Naomi Sternstein and Lauren Yan.

Adjusting to Change (pt. 2)


When I started my research over the summer, I wrote about how difficult it was to adjust to a new schedule of doing research full time. Now, a week and a half into the school year, I find myself adjusting (again) to a new schedule – one that involves classes, campus activities and working on my senior thesis. Initially, the prospect of writing a thesis in addition to my schoolwork seemed daunting and overwhelming.

I decided to give myself at least two weeks off from researching and found this to be very beneficial. I was able to figure out what days I had more free time, so I could more easily schedule time to work on my thesis. I am immensely grateful that I participated in the Dietrich Honors Fellowship Program over the past summer – I feel a lot more comfortable going into my senior year knowing that I have a good foundation for moving forward with my research this semester.

Earlier this week, I met with my adviser to see what I was missing. Moving forward, I will work primarily on my survey about La Loi Toubon and La Charte de La Langue Française. This survey will be sent out to participants based in France and Quebec, and will ask general questions about language use, the importance of speaking French in the public sphere and knowledge about La Loi Toubon and La Charte de La Langue Française. I am primarily interested in better gauging contemporary opinion about language use and identity, and am looking forward to evaluating and analyzing my results later this semester.

Summer Wrap-Up: What I’ve Learned

The soundtrack to my summer

The soundtrack to my summer

At the end of every semester, I always ask myself, “What did I learn this semester?” This question is applicable to all aspects of my life – academic, personal, social, etc. And so, as I’m wrapping up my summer research, I asked myself the same question: What did I learn this summer?

  1. Finding the right work space: I’ve learned to accept that there are places where I’m very productive and places where I am not. This summer, I learned that I do my best work when I switch it up. I would spend some mornings at the library, some at Starbucks and some at cafés around CMU’s campus.
  2. It’s okay to ask for help. When I was about three weeks into my research, I started to experience a lot of self-doubt about my work. I went to multiple sources about this issue, and was given a lot of useful pieces of advice. I learned that it’s okay to have some self-doubt, but that it’s important to keep working.
  3. Take breaks! I also learned that I was more productive doing research when I took the weekends off to relax, spend time with friends and family and read for pleasure. I even picked up extra work shifts at the campus bookstore, which was more helpful than I could have imagined it would be. Researching alone all day can become fairly isolating, so it was nice to go somewhere in the afternoons where I could interact with people and take a break from focusing on French language policy.
  4. Music helps. I’ve always listened to music when I do school work, but found it to be extremely helpful in increasing my productivity over the summer. When I find the right playlist or album, I’m really able to focus on my readings and am more motivated to use my time effectively.

I’m really looking forward to applying what I’ve learned about how I work most productively to my academic work this coming fall. I’m also curious to see what rhythm I fall into once classes start up again.

In terms of what I accomplished in relation to my research this summer, I’ve been able to create a Language Policy and Planning timeline for France and Quebec, and now have a theoretical and historical basis for better understanding language policy and nationalism in these two contexts.

Moving forward, I will be reading public debate surrounding La Loi Toubon (1994-France) and La Charte de la Langue Française (1977- Quebec), and sending an online survey to participants in France and Quebec to better gauge contemporary opinion about the French language and its relation to identity. I hope to determine how multiculturalism and globalization are effecting the somewhat homogenous nature of of French and Quebec language legislation.

Thank you for reading, and I’m really looking forward to how my research will develop over the coming academic year!

Honors Fellows Wrap Up Summer Research

Group photo

Eleven Dietrich College Honors Fellows are poised to begin their senior year with a head start on piloting psychological studies, conducting field research and laying the groundwork for film and writing projects.

Over the past three months, the fellows have examined citizenship and belonging in South Korea, the impact of La Loi Toubon on French nationalism and coming of age as a Vietnamese American, among other topics.

Recently, they presented their works-in-progress to each other and faculty members including their advisers and fellowship program directors Jennifer Keating-Miller, Brian Junker and Joseph E. Devine.

“This summer’s group was particularly impressive,” said Devine, associate dean for undergraduate studies in the Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. “While their topics were interestingly diverse, they displayed shared qualities of high enthusiasm, confidence and preparedness that served them well this summer and will surely continue to do so over the coming academic year.”

Read more.

On France

Devine - Paris panorama

Over the past week and a half, thanks to my Dietrich College Honors Fellowship, I was able to travel to France to do hands-on research for my project.

I’m so grateful to have been able to go back to France. Last summer, I left Pittsburgh to spend six weeks in Aix-en-Provence, a small town in the southeastern French Provençal region. I was extremely nervous before leaving, but after coming back six weeks later, I knew that I made the right decision. I had an amazing time in Aix, made wonderful friends and was already ready to go back. I had no idea that I would be able to come back to France just this summer.

To apply the research I’ve been doing for the past few months to the “real world” was exciting and a bit unnerving. For this trip, I analyzed the linguistic landscape of two French cities: Paris and Aix. While doing this research, I took pictures of all kinds of signage (on cafés, in front of stores, at museums, etc.). My particular interest in signage has to do with the work I’m doing about La Loi Toubon, which was passed in 1994 to assure that the French language be used on all public and commercial signs throughout France to prevent the increasing usage of the English language.

Devine - Paris


Before going to Paris, I expected to see a lot of signs in different languages. I was proven right. Everywhere I looked, there was a new opportunity to take a picture. This made sense to me, because Paris is a large tourist attraction, especially during the summer. Not only did I see different languages around me but I also heard so many different languages on the streets – French, English, Spanish, Chinese and probably more. This made me realize how diverse Paris is. I made an effort to go to as many neighborhoods as I could, but I ended up going to the typical tourist spots, all of which had a diverse set of signage.

Devine - Paris signageDevine - Mont St Michel

Mont St. Michel

One day, we took a day trip from Paris to Mont-St-Michel, which for me looks like the French version of Hogwarts. Mont-St-Michel is a small island in the northwestern Normandy region of France, and is also a large tourist attraction. There is a large abbey perched on the top, and leading up to it are different shops, restaurants and cafés. I didn’t expect to see so many different languages on signage in such a small town.

Devine - Mont St Michel signage

Devine - Aix

Going back to Aix was very cathartic. It was strange to be back in a place so familiar at a different time of year without the same people that I spent six weeks with last summer, but was so happy to have the opportunity to go back. I definitely experienced Aix in a different way this time around. I noticed so many more things about Aix that had to do with my research. I didn’t expect to see a lot of signs in English, but found a very interesting collection while spending time in Aix.

Devine - Aix signage

All in all, my trip to France was simultaneously exhilarating and exhausting. I was experiencing France in a whole new way – instead of just being a tourist or a student abroad, I was a researcher. I was conducting my own research and finding new conclusions based on the signage that I was documenting.

On a much more somber note:

I had originally written this post on my flight back from Paris to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, July 13th. I had intentionally chosen to not be in France for Bastille Day, mainly to avoid crowded areas and any potential risks. I was so saddened and horrified to hear about the attack in Nice on Bastille Day. Bastille Day is a French holiday when the nation is supposed to unite and celebrate the foundations of the republic’s democratic ideals. What upset me so much about the attack was that the caution that I took to not be in France for Bastille Day was proven correct – the fact that I even needed to think twice about being in France for this national celebration is really upsetting. I’m thankful that I made it back to Pittsburgh safely, but am so sorry for France.

Annnnnnnnd break

Devine 2
Am I doing enough? Am I doing too much? Is this article relevant? Should I stop? Should I keep going?

Over the past week or so, I found myself asking myself these questions repeatedly. I felt somewhat lost, apprehensive and uncertain about my work. I was worried that I was losing momentum because of my anxiety, so I reached out to the heads of the Fellowship program and my faculty mentor. I was given advice that I can apply to my current research and for future projects – the questions that I was asking myself were completely normal, and it was okay to doubt myself once in a while.

With the help of a large iced coffee and a good Spotify playlist, I’ve been able to sit down and focus on my work. After sorting through my anxieties about the relevance of my research, I’ve regained momentum and confidence, and I am better able to grapple with the questions that I constantly ask myself. Currently, I’m reading about the ethnic conflict and tensions between English and French immigrants in Canada, and am finding interesting correlations between language policy in France and Quebec based on ethnic and national unity and identity. I’m becoming more comfortable talking about my research with others, and am becoming more confident in my knowledge about French language policy.

Perhaps one of the most helpful pieces of advice I was given was how important it is to clear my head once in a while. Sitting down and reading for hours at a time can be a mundane task. I’m interested and passionate about the work I’m doing, but I’ve realized that my productivity during the day increases when I take some time off from my work. Whether it be Skyping with a friend who is abroad or going to a Pirates baseball game, I’m learning more about the importance of finding balance between work and taking time off.

Adapting to Change

Devine 1

I’m a girl who likes routine. So the prospect of starting my own research for the summer was exciting but also daunting. Over the past summers, I’ve always been given a plan or some sort of instruction for my jobs; now it’s up to me, with the help of my adviser, to instruct myself.

After speaking with my adviser, we were able to choose three topics to research over the next coming months. I will start with exploring the relationship between language policy and nationalism to contextualize two case studies I plan to research.

I originally planned on using one case study (the French Toubon Law of 1994) to further explore the relationship between language policy and nationalism. La Loi Toubon was passed to regulate the usage of French in public spaces and commercial areas (such as on the radio, on television, etc.). This was largely in response to the increasing usage of English in French society, and was consequently installed to protect French national unity and centralize French power.

After speaking with my adviser, we decided to analyze and research another piece of legislation to further analyze the relationship between language policy and nationalism in a different context. In the 1970s in Quebec, the Charter of the French Language declared French to be the official language of Quebec (a province in Canada). I hope to study the history of French involvement in Quebec, and how French speakers in Quebec use their language as a way to create a unique national identity.

I am really eager to continue my research, and am looking forward to adapting to this change of pace for the upcoming summer.

French Nationalism and Unity Associated with La Loi Toubon

CaseyDevine_201x201Before attending Carnegie Mellon University, I lacked serious academic confidence. I worked hard and got good grades through high school and in my freshman year of college, which was spent at the University of Pittsburgh. But I continued to doubt myself and worried that sooner or later my hard work would not be enough to sustain me. Luck unexpectedly changed this for me. After beginning at Pitt, I placed into an intermediate French course that was full, so I got permission to cross-register at Carnegie Mellon for the comparable course. This is where I first met Dr. Mame-Fatou Niang, who was its instructor and who raised my self-esteem to a whole new level. During this French course, I came to realize that CMU was a much better fit for me than Pitt. Dr. Niang played a significant role in this realization, because she helped me believe that I could succeed here. I applied for transfer, and was accepted to begin my studies as a sophomore in Fall 2014.

Because of the confidence that I’ve gained from my experience at CMU, I’ve branched out of my comfort zone and have had experiences that I would have never imagined I would have had the confidence to pursue. Over the past summer, for example, I studied abroad in Aix-en-Provence, France through a program unaffiliated with CMU. Needless to say, I was extremely anxious about the prospect of jumping into the unknown, but with the encouragement of Dr. Niang, I pursued an experience that I knew I would benefit from. After this unforgettable experience, my passion for French culture and French language amplified.

The experience in Aix also inspired the topic for my senior thesis. One of my biggest anxieties about studying abroad in France was using the French language. As silly as that sounds, I had only experienced using French in the classroom. And while this training prepared me to use proper grammar and cite relevant historical and cultural facts, I still felt unprepared to use French in the “French-speaking world.”

As it turns out, when I arrived in Aix-en-Provence, I was shocked to find that mostly every French person I encountered and interacted with spoke English. This surprised me because in comparison to Paris, where many natives will refuse to speak to Americans in French, I imagined Aix-en-Provence to be a much more isolated, genuine “French” city. And while Aix is rich with southern French culture and is a place that I absolutely fell in love with, I couldn’t help but realize how dominant the English language had become, so much so that I didn’t need to use my French skills to “get by.” Regardless, the Aixois were welcoming, and I was able to practice and improve my proficiency in French. Even so, I was still unable to forget the fact that many of my peers that I traveled with had no experience with studying French, and could just as easily “get by.” I started to wonder if the French language was becoming less significant in French life because so many of the natives seemed to prefer to use English when engaging with Americans.

Reflecting on my academic and travel experiences over the past few years, I am proud of the confidence that I have gained as a student, and am very grateful for what CMU has done to help me mature in this way. Stepping up to the challenge and opportunity of the Dietrich College Senior Honors Program to take on a project of my own with the same professor who so inspired me as a timid freshman will help me to truly develop as a researcher. This program will serve as a fulfilling and rewarding way to complete my undergraduate studies.

Learn more about my project.