Alumni and Friends

Alumni News: Shawn Chattin found his academic home—eventually—and never looked back

Like many College of Arts and Sciences students, alumnus Shawn Chattin embraced the journey to discover where his intellectual curiosity intersected with career opportunity. He's never looked back.

After almost a decade spent teaching English in South America, followed by a few years in Boston, Chattin is now in Pittsburgh teaching online, both independently and through a foundation based in Colombia.

"I was one of those types who changed their major multiple times. My ah-ha moment was surely when, while majoring in psychology, I took a Linguistics 101 course. I had never thought much about the field of linguistics before, and the chance to combine my interest in science with my love of language was too good to pass up," said Chattin, who earned a B.A. in Linguistics from the College of Arts and Sciences in 2011. He also minored in psychology and received a Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) certificate.

Linguistics is the scientific study of the nature and development of language and how it is acquired and used. In addition to preparing graduates to teach English in foreign countries, a popular outcome for those who love to travel, the program also prepares students for careers and graduate school in bilingual education, forensics, cognitive science, and even artificial intelligence. Linguistics is also an excellent preparation for careers in communication sciences and disorders and translation and interpretation.

Big hill to climb: choosing a major

Chattin said deciding on a major and a career path was a big hill to climb—perhaps even steeper than OHIO's daunting "Jeff Hill" that stands between residence halls and uptown.

"The most difficult challenge for me was deciding who I was as a participant in academia. For two years, I fought with myself over my 'ideal' path. Through the support of the OHIO faculty and administration, I landed in an area that matched me perfectly," Chattin says.

"In the 12 years since graduating, I have not once thought about leaving linguistics behind and am grateful each day that I took the time to discover my fit," he said.

Chattin started his career journey in South America.

"After finishing my undergraduate degree in linguistics, I felt I had a great understanding and theoretical grasp of what language was. However, as I looked around at all the impressive postgraduate students in OHIO's program, I felt I was missing an essential piece: the ability to speak a second language fluently. So, instead of applying for graduate school, I decided to find work in South America and experience firsthand what I had comprehended indirectly through textbooks. I almost immediately found work with an Ohio University-affiliated program and began my journey as both a language teacher and learner. More than a decade later, I am happy to say that I speak Spanish fluently and have yet to satiate my curiosity in finding the ideal approach and methods for language acquisition."

In addition to his love for language, Chattin is now interested in bringing science and storytelling together as he designs curriculum for his virtual students.

"As technology has evolved to spur the remote learning movement so prevalent today, integrating such approaches and methods into a digital context has forced me to acquire new skills to augment my online classroom. Despite these changes, the one consistency throughout all my years has been the power of stories to drive interest," he said.

"These stories can be personal, or they can be fictional. Regardless, if there's a lesson to be learned and an opening to empathize, learners will pay attention. If learners pay attention, the language will be acquired. The potential of storytelling and language learning took me over a decade to realize, but I am happy I waited to see it. Now, with a clear goal ahead of me, I can finally apply to a postgraduate program with full confidence."

Q&A with Shawn Chattin

Q: Who were your favorite professors and how did they make an impact on your life?

A: Two professors who really impacted how I viewed language were Dr. Hiroyuki Oshita and Dr. David Bell. Dr. Oshita helped me see language through an analytical lens during his courses related to syntax, whereas Dr. Bell's courses opened up my eyes to the social impact language has. These two perspectives complement one another in the English learning classroom, as some moments call for analysis and others retrospection.

Dr. Bell, 12 years after my graduation, supported my career with a letter of recommendation. I have always been encouraged by the amount of support the OHIO faculty offers its current students and alumni alike.

Q: What are your favorite OHIO memories?

A: Aside from the unique, memorable social environment OHIO cultivates, my favorite memories often involved just walking around the campus and letting my senses take over. Each season shows a different side of Athens, and each one made me feel welcome. The university really blends perfectly with the surrounding natural environment, and taking time to enjoy the sights, smells and sounds refreshed me when I felt worn down.

Q: What’s the one thing you would tell a new OHIO student not to miss?

A: A new student should come to OHIO focused on not missing the special character the area has cultivated over its nearly 200 years since OHIO was founded. Athens is a social island within a quite rural area, and like all islands, some very specific patterns have evolved within it. Though it might be impossible to define exactly, for me, it's a spirit that expects excellence, cherishes oddities, and embraces risks for the sake of happiness. The sooner you see it, the sooner you can absorb and enjoy it.

March 6, 2022
Staff reports