Featured Students

Featured Student: Jessica Alford


  • Name: Jessica Alford
  • Year: Senior
  • Majors: Psychology & Japanese
  • Hometown: Mayfield, KY
  • Quirky Fact: When I lived in Japan, I went to the local karaoke box on average three times a week. I also learned to play guitar while in Japan.
  • Favorite thing to get (food/drink) on campus: The sushi (tuna) from the Curris Center
  • Best movie youve seen recently: Unholy Women
  • Favorite movie: Robin Hood (the Disney version)
  • Best book youve read recently: I’ll be really honest; I have no time to read for fun. But I did just finish a book for one of my classes on Ghengis Khan and the Mongolian Empire that was a really fascinating read.
  • Favorite book: Fault in Our Stars
  • What do you like to do on campus: My research
  • Whats one of your favorite Japanese sayings?  “Ichi-go-ichi-e,” which translates to “once in a lifetime.” But it goes a lot deeper than that: it means that you’ve all come together in one place and it’s the only time that you’re going to experience things exactly like this, in this place, with these people. It really affected me.  You should really treat every moment like an Ichi-go-ichi-e moment because we’re never going to be in the same place, same moment, together again. It puts your life in focus.


Q & A:

Tell us about yourself:

My name is Jessica Alford.  I’m a double major in Psychology and Japanese and what I really like to do is research on second language acquisition and what I want to do with that is work for a company like Rosetta Stone to help make it easier for adults to learn a second language. So my life pretty much revolves around that. I’ve studied abroad in Japan three times, so I’ve kind of made it my mission to learn languages as I learn about the process of language acquisition myself.

What made you come to Murray State?

Well, I live nearby and when I was in high school and looking into colleges and my options with scholarships, Murray State pretty much offered a full ride. So just to make it easier on my parents so they wouldn’t have to pay for anything or take out loans, I decided to come here.

Who have you enjoyed working with?

I have professors I like from both departments that I’m in. I like all of the Japanese department, but I do a lot of work with Hatakeyama sensei. She’s been really crucial in helping me with my research in psychology. She’s always helping me with proofreading for anything that has to be in Japanese or helping me find scales or other things that would be necessary for my research because my research in psychology also focuses on Japanese language a lot of the time, and it’s not something that my psych advisors can help with considering that they don’t speak Japanese. So Hatakeyama sensei has always been good to work with; she’s always been really helpful. In the Psychology Department, I do almost all my research with Dr. Brown.  Since I was a sophomore, I’ve been going to her as either a research assistant or to perform my own research, so we get along really well and she’s always helping me with the logistics surrounding my research.

Who inspires you in life?

It’s a cheesy answer, but I’d have to say my grandpa. A little bit of background: my grandpa is a southern Baptist preacher, and I don’t always get along with that stuff as well as I could, but I still really respect him. He’s always really supported everything that I wanted to do regardless of how he feels about it. It’s really more that he’s always shown me what encouragement is, so I just try to emulate that aspect of him.

What made you choose the major you did?

When I first came to Murray State, I came in just as a psychology major, and I really wanted to do research. My original research topic was on depression, but that changed my freshman year when I got to participate in something called the Kakehashi project, for which Hatakeyama sensei chose me. That’s where the Japanese government does this exchange program with the United States with different colleges, and they pick students to go and be in Japan for ten days. It was a really great experience, and it was totally free!  Being able to participate opened my eyes to language and the importance of language and understanding culture because when I was there I didn’t understand much Japanese and it was really hard for me to communicate. It made me realize that in order to understand a culture you really have to understand their language or at least have to make an attempt to know the language and that’s what put me on the path I’m on now, which is why  I’ve bumped Japanese up to a second major and decided to focus my research on that.

Works/ projects related to your major?

I do a lot of research. I’ve started a few projects with Dr. Brown, and they’ve all been related to acquisition. There was one where we were looking at that to see how if you were shown these videos of a Japanese speaker vs. a second native English speaker speaking Japanese and performing the same scripts what the participant (a Japanese as a second language learner) would take away from it and what would be different and try and see how that works in L2 learners–L2 means second language. We’ve done research on that and right now I’m doing two theses, one for Japanese and one for Psychology. My thesis in psychology is focusing on the effects of language formality, gender, and listening proficiency on L2 learners’ perception of native speakers, so basically it means are you a girl or a boy, are you speaking formal or informal Japanese and how is that going to affect the way I think of you, whether I attribute masculine or feminine qualities to you or will I do none of that. For my Japanese thesis, I have been looking at feminism in early 1900s Japan, when it was really regarded as having no feminism.

Future plans?

I’ve applied for the JET Program, which is teaching English in Japan. I want to do that for a year just to take a gap year, take a break. As much as I love school and research, I need a break. If I’m able to do the program, when I come back from that I’m going to look into a graduate program at the University of Hawaii that focuses on second language acquisition research.  I’m hoping to get into that school and eventually get my PhD. I hope to teach at a university so that I can continue my research.


Over the years I have seen her develop not only as an academically excellent student but also a person who is emotionally mature, personable and considerate of other people’s feelings. She always offers help to others at times in need. I am glad that I can recollect some of the moments I have shared with her. It was gratifying to be at two award ceremonies when she won honors at the Tennessee Area Japanese Speech contest two years in a row. The time I spent with her preparing for the speech contests is a cherished memory for me. She is going to graduate soon and I will miss her.

-Yoko Hatakeyama (Japanese Professor) 


Jessi is a delight to work with. She has found her passion in combining her love of Japanese language and culture with psychology. She has great ideas for studies that will broaden our understanding of second language acquisition. I cannot wait to see where she chooses to go next.

Dr. Brown (Psychology Professor)


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