Meet Claude

A Conversation with Claude Mauk

Claude Mauk is director of undergraduate studies and senior lecturer in the Department of Linguistics as well as director of the Less-Commonly-Taught Languages Center. Mauk began teaching in 2004 and has coached, counseled, and helped hundreds of students throughout the years as a departmental advisor. His outstanding achievement in this role was recognized this spring, when he received the Ampco-Pittsburgh Prize for Excellence in Advising. You can read more about Mauk’s award at


What is your philosophy when it comes to advising?

“What I try my best to be as an advisor is someone who is there to listen as well as to advise. Students spend most of their time in academic settings listening. This is an opportunity for them to be heard. They appreciate being accepted as a full person rather than just as a face in a crowded classroom. When students appreciate their advisor, I think they also are more receptive to the advice that we give them. They know that I respect them, and in turn they respect what I have to say. I also feel that good advising is going beyond talking about degree requirements and navigating the University; [it] also includes advice about transitioning out of their student role at graduation.”

How does advising help students to succeed?

“Our students are all very intelligent. They are very good at learning the course content in their classes. … What course work rarely does, however, is help students have good ideas of what specific thing they want to do after graduation or even how to figure out what that is. An advisor can work with each individual student to help him or her decide what is best for him or her.”

What motivates you to teach and to continue teaching?

“I think what motivates me to teach is something more than just a desire to share knowledge, though that is certainly part of it. As important to me is the chance to help students grow as people. Undergraduates, in particular, will change and grow a great deal while pursuing their degree. Helping to shape that growth is really rewarding. This is also part of why I enjoy being an advisor.”

What do you want your students to remember most about the classes they have taken with you?

“Honestly, I hope the students will remember that I treated them with respect and fairness. Then I hope that they will take that as an example of how to treat others and do that for the rest of their lives.”

What excites you about linguistics?

“I think one of the great things about linguistics is that it’s a true crossroads of disciplines. Language touches on most areas of the human experience: Phonetics covers some information from anatomy, physiology, and physics. Morphology, syntax, and phonology include logic. Other areas touch on medicine, sociology, psychology, and so on.

“The research I do is on the phonetics of American Sign Language. Phonetics is usually defined as the study of the movements of the speech articulators, the acoustics of speech sounds, and the perception of those sounds. Sign doesn’t rely on sound, so the term phonetics might seem to be strange when applied to a signed language. What I look at is the movement of the signer’s hands, arms, head, and torso during signing using 3-D motion tracking. My hope is that the next thing I will be able to look at is a deeper examination of what we refer to as the signing space—the space that the signer’s hands are generally limited to and rarely leave.”

What advice would you give to undergraduate parents whose student may be interested in tackling this major?

“Parents often are most concerned about their child’s career potential and are concerned that an ‘unusual’ major might limit their child’s options. I would say that it’s just as important for parents to be educated about career options for a linguistics major as it is for our students to be educated about those options.

“For linguistics, there are two main directions our students tend to go: language teaching and language technology. However, there are many other possible directions for students to go depending on their interests and abilities—international affairs, translation, law, etc.”