Janet Tom Cowal

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” — Margaret Mead

One winter day in 1960, a future teacher of applied linguistics and an immediate blessing to the world christened Janet Tom was born. Janet met her husband, Vincent Cowal, a future advanced mathematics and computer sciences teacher, in their 22nd year. In the summer of 1989 they traveled around the world and got married on the way home. Two dynamic and artistic children arrived in 1996 and 1999. Peter Aidan Tom Cowal and Sanya Grace Tom Cowal add the complementary voices to familial singing of the Doxology in 4-part harmony. The cooperative elements of melody, harmony, and rhythm are mirrored in Janet and her family life.

Janet graduated from SUNY Stony Brook, Phi Beta Kappa with Distinction in her Linguistics Major. She obtained a Masters degree in TESOL from Portland State University. She made video games talk in German, French, and Italian in Los Angeles, California. She taught English in Changchun, Jilin, China 1987-1989. Janet also taught applied linguistics through Portland State University and the World Health Organization in Hunan, PRC in 1995. She is a past board member of the Buckman Indoor Park and a former vestry and choir member of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Parish.

Currently Janet is a member of the Department of Applied Linguistics at Portland State University, teaching linguistics and applied linguistics and co-teaching a class in Community Activism. She is the Director of the Community and Language Enhancement Partnership — a sustainable and model partnership between Atkinson Elementary School (which her children attend in Southeast Portland) and the Department of Applied Linguistics. One tangible result of this partnership is a multicultural garden that not only produces food grown from seed planted by the elementary school children, but also grows deep multigenerational language relationships. The benefits of the Atkinson Elementary School partnership with the PSU Department of Applied Linguistics, have recently been recognized with multiple awards from Portland State University.

Janet aligns her personal objectives with achievable goals. We find this to be heroic. In her role as the Director of the Community and Language Enhancement Partnership she is able to celebrate, sustain and nurture languages, cultures and the environment both locally and globally. She is implementing her vision to foster student excitement about linguistics. She believes it is important to develop listening skills. By seeking first to understand, Janet implements her ongoing objective to work for social justice.

The harmony of family and community participation is central to Janet’s life approach. We also find this to be heroic. Currently, Janet is a member of the PSU Diversity Action Council, Advisory Board Member of the PSU Learning Gardens Laboratory, participant in PSU’s Heritage Language Initiative, member of the Oregon PTA, member of the Outreach and Education committees of the Atkinson PTA, member of the Atkinson Learning Gardens Steering Committee, volunteer in Peter’s and Sanya’s classrooms, and Co-Team Parent for Peter’s soccer team.

As a dedicated mom, Janet lists the following as highlights in her journey: raising with her husband, Vince, two incredibly wonderful kids; helping her children with homework and projects; schlepping kids to soccer practices and games, piano and violin lessons, swimming, gymnastics and DoJump! classes; reading and cuddling with her family; singing, laughing, playing games, and making music with her family and friends; and being part of a community of great families supporting each other in the adventure of parenting.

Janet states her biggest challenge is juggling being a mom, a professional linguist, and a responsible contributing member of society while enjoying people and life, staying spiritually centered, finding time to get exercise and make music, and keeping a sense of humor.

We believe that this final favorite inspirational quote selected by Janet serves as a reminder that a balanced life dedicated to melody, harmony, and rhythm in the world is to be applauded.

I am only me, but I’m still someone.
I cannot do everything, but I can do something.
Just because I cannot do everything does not give me the right to do nothing.
— Motto from an Amish School in Pennsylvania

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