Two longstanding cultural bedrocks at the UO are joining the recently launched School of Global Studies and Languages.
The Northwest Indian Languages Institute, known on campus as NILI, and the Yamada Language Center will become part of the College of Arts and Sciences’ newest school. The move is designed to add efficiencies in the operations of both units and elevate the important role languages can have in promoting student success.
The transition will begin immediately, with Robert Elliott, a UO senior researcher, instructor and administrator, serving as interim director of both operations. Longtime NILI director Janne Underriner will continue to teach Languages of Oregon and other courses about Oregon’s linguistic heritage in the College of Arts and Sciences. Yamada Language Center director Jeff Magoto is retiring from the UO, capping a 30-year career. Both Underriner and Magoto will continue their work in association with NILI and Yamada.
“I’m excited to take on these roles because of the rich, cultural traditions these great organizations long ago started at the UO,” Elliott said. “By joining the School of Global Studies and Languages, we can really push things forward to elevate and strengthen our work around language revitalization and link our work to some of the most important global conversations of the day.”
NILI was created in 1997 to serve tribal language programs and support linguistics research at the UO, especially in the area of language documentation, preservation and revitalization. The unit serves Northwest tribal communities through the annual NILI Summer Institute, which brings participants from the Pacific Northwest and beyond to campus to study indigenous languages and learn about language advocacy and revitalization.
The Yamada Language Center was founded in 1991 as the hub for training and technology support for thousands of language teachers and students at the UO. Through the growth of the unit’s self-study language program, multiple languages have been brought to the UO and are now offered by departments across the College of Arts and Sciences.
Elliott is no stranger to NILI and the Yamada language Center. He has served as NILI’s associate director under Underrinner since 2015 and had a 25-year career as a language educator with expertise in computer-assisted language learning. He worked in a variety of settings on campus, including the American English Institute, the Department of Linguistics, Yamada and the Language Teaching Studies master’s program.
“At the Yamada Language Center, I was able to offer in-house professional development workshops for language faculty from multiple UO departments,” Elliott said. “My background was also useful for working with UO international graduate employees, including helping them digitize placement assessments. At NILI, I was able to use my technology skills for language revitalization of Indigenous languages, giving workshops on technology use and beginning to build an online course initiative.”
He will hold the interim title for three years at NILI and one year at the Yamada Language Center.
The UO is ranked as one of the top universities in the country to study languages. Ian McNeely, a UO history professor who heads the School of Global Studies and Languages, said he is eager for the school to add the two centers, which will be important for students who are striving to become tomorrow’s world leaders.
“I’m excited to welcome Yamada and NILI as we prepare to launch the School of Global Studies and Languages this fall,” McNeely said. “Both have a distinguished history at UO and both fit perfectly into the school’s mission. That mission embraces a great diversity of languages and cultures not just across the world but also within our home state and region. Students, researchers and community partners can all be excited about what’s to come.”
Underriner’s retirement caps a 20-year career as director of NILI. She started in 2001 and has led the UO’s efforts in teacher training and outreach to Native communities, and she’s assisted in important language revitalization projects with Indigenous communities.
“The work we do, that I do at NILI, is not about us or me,” Underrinner said. “It’s for the future, as well as the now. It’s healing work.”
Magoto came to the UO in 1992 to help design the new Yamada Language Center and has spent his career supporting language teachers and students from across the globe.
“For the Yamada Center to become part of GSL is a natural evolution,” Magoto said. “It allows the center to continue serving every language in an equally robust manner.” Yamada has been lucky to be in the top 10 percent of language centers around the country because the college has funded us to excel and serve our students so well, so I’m really proud of where the center is today.”
The School of Global Studies and Languages is set to launch this fall.