Jessica Leach (Ph.D., 2017) received her Ph.D. in Medieval History under the supervision of Dr. Leah Shopkow in 2017. She is the Indigenous Languages Grant Manager for The Language Conservancy (TLC) and the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC). In 2020, Jessica wrote a National Endowment for Humanities grant “E-Learning Platform Expansion and Reader Creation” for the Lakota Language Consortium (LLC), which was awarded. This grant allowed LLC to add a Teacher Portal and classroom integration feature into their Lakota e-learning platform called Owóksape (“Learning Place” in Lakota).
“I wrote the NEH grant to further develop our Lakota language e-learning platform, Owóksape, to help expand virtual learning for Lakota classrooms and learners. When I was applying to graduate school, I almost went into Native American history, so what I do now is not too far away from my academic interests. In summer 2017, I finished my contract with the Journal of American History and a couple months later I got a job as a grant writer at The Language Conservancy.
“The Language Conservancy creates educational materials (dictionaries, textbooks, picture books, apps, teacher training, and e-learning platforms) for Indigenous languages. We help communities create dictionaries, which is usually our first step for creating textbooks, picture books, and other materials. We also do a lot of professional development for teachers—helping teachers learn how to teach Native American languages. They may have a certificate saying that they are fluent in the language, but they may not have the second language pedagogy skills for best practices in the classroom.
“LLC has been working with the Lakota for a few decades. We have a robust Lakota language dictionary, textbooks, picture books, and we are working on more intermediate level picture books as well as an intermediate/advanced Lakota Reader. We also have an audio series that is popular with intermediate learners to work on their pronunciation and listening and other educational products. But even though we have done a lot of work with the Lakota and we have two annual Summer Institutes that offer adult classes and professional development for teachers, we are still trying to fight the loss of the fluent speakers and engage the younger generation. And we are getting there; it is just a slow process. COVID-19 has only made things more difficult as we have lost many Native Elders.
“I think students from History and the English departments are especially suited to writing grants because we know how to work with primary sources, we can analyze who we are writing for, as well as what type of voice we need to use. Plus, we tend to like research and that is an important component to grant writing. Part of writing a successful proposal is figuring out what information will be needed and what project would interest a foundation the most.
“As grant writers at TLC, we need to understand pedagogy as well, so my teaching background benefits my work because I helped to design some of the pedagogy projects that we sought grants for. So, one of our key skills is being able to design the projects that you are applying for. Grant writing is more than creating a narrative. You have to write the budgets and you have to figure out what are the logical steps for completing the task (work plan). And my background as a graduate student has given me these skills as well.
“What can I tell students who are studying history? I can tell students who study History—just follow what you enjoy. I enjoy doing research, learning about different cultures, and helping people and my current position allows me to do all three.”