On the last weekend in February, Penn GSE hosted the 37th annual Ethnography Forum, an event that attracts over 900 people from all over the world. The theme of this year’s Forum, Mobility, Multiplicity, and Multimodality, paid tribute to Faculty Convener Nancy Hornberger’s work in educational linguistics and ethnographic research – as well as her efforts over sixteen years to make the Ethnography Forum a place for young academics to introduce their work to an international research community.
“One of the things I am most proud of during my time as Faculty Convener is creating a venue of mentorship for new scholars,” said Hornberger. In addition to being a Professor at Penn GSE and advising fifty-eight Ph.D. students to completion, she is recognized internationally as a leading scholar in bilingualism and biliteracy, ethnography and language policy, and Indigenous language revitalization. She chairs Penn GSE’s Educational Linguistics division.
Ellen Skilton, now a Professor at Arcadia University, said Hornberger’s encouragement motivated her to study Educational Linguistics at Penn GSE.
“Nancy believed in me and helped me think in ways I never had before,” Skilton said. “This Ethnography Forum is the first place I ever presented a paper. Nancy assumed that my contributions as a young and developing scholar had inherent validity, that I could claim space alongside seasoned researchers.”
Skilton was one of many former Ph.D. students who returned to Penn GSE for this year’s Forum to thank Hornberger.
Attentive to the tradition established from the first Forum in 1980, Hornberger intentionally involved graduate students in every part of the weekend, from running and organizing the event to reading research proposals and presenting papers. Her goal was to bridge the gap between rising and renowned scholars. In a new program format under her leadership, students are invited to participate in brown-bag lunches where they can converse informally with plenary speakers and other distinguished scholars about their research.
During her tenure as Faculty Convener, Hornberger raised the Forum’s profile while giving it more global outlook. This reflected Hornberger’s globetrotting career, one that has earned her three Fulbright Senior Specialist Awards. Each year, she invited an international scholar to address the Forum.
“The Forum is a beacon of high-quality research,” said Hornberger. “Speakers who come are deeply committed to social justice and engaging in in-depth work.”
The outpouring of appreciation for Hornberger’s work did not surprise Kathy Hall, this year’s Faculty Convener.
“Students adore her,” said Hall. “Nancy has a warm, gracious spirit and makes everyone feel welcome and part of the community.”
After learning that former students were going to facilitate a variety of panels in her honor, Hornberger’s family decided to fly in from California, Washington, New York, and Connecticut for the occasion. They were treated to a special moment during an event in Houston Hall, when Hornberger, an accomplished singer, performed Handel’s “Ombra mai fu,” the opening aria from the opera Serse. She was accompanied on piano by Fred Erickson, her predecessor as Forum Convener.
While Hornberger is no longer the Faculty Convener, her impact on the Forum will continue, both in the spirit of the event, and on the people who benefited from the welcoming environment she created.
That includes Alex Posecznick, a Program Manager and Adjunct Assistant Professor at Penn GSE, who now helps organize the Forum. While a doctoral student at Teachers College Columbia University, he presented his first paper at the Forum.
“In my mind, Nancy has been the face and heart of the Ethnography Forum,” said Posecznick.