Penn State Penn State: College of the Liberal Arts
Linguistic Diversity Across the LifespanGraduate Research Traineeship Program



Human technology, such as smart voice assistants or computer-based intelligent tutoring systems, has become crucial to people’s private lives, education, and the workforce. This technology is largely based on standard American English and the misconception that there is a single, idealized variety of American English, which conflicts with the true diversity of language users. Many U.S. speakers use a regional variety of American English, African American Vernacular English, or a signed language, use a language other than English at home, or have some form of communication disorder. As the US population is becoming older, age-related hearing loss and language impairments will also increase. The linguistic sophistication of technology has not kept pace with the growing linguistic diversity within the U.S., even though that technology is intended to improve the lives of humans and society at large, and people increasingly depend on technology for access to governmental, community, health and educational services.

To address the discrepancy, this NSF NRT program award to Penn State will educate a new generation of experts in human-technology interaction. The program provides a unique and comprehensive two-year training to graduate students, including 23 NSF-funded trainees, from graduate programs in Psychology, German, Spanish, Communication Science and Disorders, Computer Science and Engineering, Information Sciences and Technology, and Learning Design and Technology. Students will be trained to address key challenges in human-technology interaction to ensure the full participation of individuals with diverse language backgrounds, thereby fostering an equal, diverse, and inclusive society.

Program Goals and Mission

By applying the principles of integrated learning and transdisciplinary team science, students will be trained to bridge the gap between language science and human technology, and think beyond disciplinary boundaries—an approach that has been evidenced as the optimal way to prepare the next generation for the future of work. In a two-year program culminating in the new graduate certificate ‘Linguistic Diversity and Human Technology’, trainees will complete cross-disciplinary courses, a course on professional development in language and technology, and work on transdisciplinary team research projects that address a tractable goal and produce a clear product, such as a design project, pilot application, or research study focused on integrating language science and human-technology interaction. Trainees also will participate in collective seminars, research events, and mentoring, and in a linguistic diversity outreach program. They will complete the program with an internship with academic and private sector extramural partners to support careers bridging linguistics and technology, both inside and outside academia, in national and international settings. Trained to work in diverse teams, trainees will be competent in creating knowledge and translating research outcomes into technological solutions that alleviate social, educational, and economic disparities for linguistically diverse populations.

The overarching mission of our LinDiv graduate training program is to prepare a new generation of leaders with the expertise to bridge language science and human technology to ensure the full participation of individuals with diverse language backgrounds and to foster an equal, diverse, and inclusive society. To accomplish this, we:

  • Build a sustainable transdisciplinary graduate training program, linking existing graduate programs (Psychology, German, Spanish, Communication Science and Disorders, Computer Science and Engineering, Information Sciences and Technology, and Learning Design and Technology) and centers of excellence (Penn State’s Center for Language Science and Institute for Computational and Data Science). This program trains students with the knowledge and skills to co-create and enhance human technology that benefits linguistically and culturally diverse language users of different ages.
  • Train students in the skills to successfully function in transdisciplinary teams that design and implement research, integrating various scientific perspectives and societal actors.
  • Equip students with the professional development skills needed to function effectively in a modern and inclusive workforce. Promoting students’ professional development skills is indispensable in graduate training, both from career path perspectives and students’ sense of agency and competence.
  • Prepare students for a wide range of career paths in the US and abroad. The LINDIV internship program is designed to support students’ future careers by maximizing their opportunities to transfer and further train their skills in various national and international settings, inside and outside of academia.
  • Advance and empower diversity, equity, and inclusion. LINDIV students are trained to promote equity and successfully operate in diverse teams and collaborative networks.