College of Humanities and Social Sciences

Current PhD Student Bios

Aseel AL-Ammar

Aseel is a first year PhD student in linguistics and a linguistics graduate teaching assistant, currently assisting with LING 306-General Linguistics.  In 2014, she earned her Master's degree in Linguistics and TESL certificate from George Mason University.  Aseel's research interests include phonetics, phonology, and second language production and perception and bilingualism.



Abdullah Alfaifi

Abdullah is in his first year of the PhD program. He is interested in phonology; particularly, in Second Language Acquisition of speech sounds and relationship between speech perception and production. In addition, he is also interested in Arabic dialectology. He's co-authored and published an article titled “First Notes on the dialect of Jabal Faifia” in the Journal of Arabic Linguistics.

Sung Shim Choi

Sung is a second-year grad student in linguistics at George Mason University. Her research interests include L2 phonology and language acquisition and language processing in children and adults. Currently, she is working at Linglab with Dr. Jennifer Culbertson.
Her research interests include:
L2 phonology, First/second Language Acquisition, Language perception and production, Korean/English semantics and syntax, ESL/EFL teaching.


Natalie Cline

Natalie Cline is a PhD student in Linguistics and a Linguistics Graduate Teaching Assistant.  In 2013, she earned her Master's degree in Linguistics from West Virginia University.  Natalie's research interests include phonetics, phonology, and second language aquisition.


Kelly Enochson

Kelly is a third year PhD student. She earned her undergraduate degree from the University of Virginia and her Master’s degree from George Mason University’s linguistics program. Kelly’s research interests include L2 phonology, psycholinguistics, and statistical learning. For more information about her research projects, visit her website at


Zhiyan Gao

Zhiyan joined the Phd program in 2013. He is interested in phonetics and phonology, and his research plan includes sound change, and second language speech perception, especially second language (L2) learners’ perception of L2 contrasts. Zhiyan has several years of Mandarin Chinese teaching experience both in the U.S. and abroad. He received a BA in Chinese from Soochow University, China, where he focused his efforts on Chinese philology. He also holds an MA in English from George Mason University.

Elena Hillenburg

Elena Hillenburg's research interests include language acquisition, bilingualism, and heritage languages, particularly languages spoken by individuals who grew up in immigrant families speaking the heritage language at home. Her native language is Russian, but she is also fluent in English and speaks some French. Elena works at the National Science Foundation. In her spare time, she travels with her husband and 10-year old son, grills, and reads for fun. She enjoys being part of the Linguistics Program and looks forward to meeting new students.

John Kinney
John is a fourth year PhD student.  His research interests include L2 phonology, optimality theory, second language acquisition, and language disorders.  He received his master’s degree in Linguistics from George Mason University, and he teaches ESL and Linguistics at Northern Virginia Community College.





Mike Klein

Mike is excited to study linguistics at George Mason after a stint as a high-school physics teacher. He's still teaching, of course, but this time the topic is English Grammar (LING 307). Mike's first PhD qualifying paper explores the acquisition of English stops by second-language English speakers from different language backgrounds. In future research, he hopes to explore the syntax and semantics of the Mandarin bei-construction.






Baraa Rajab

Baraa is a 4th year PhD student. She earned her BA from King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia and her Master's from George Mason. Baraa has several years of teaching ESL both abroad and in the US. She is now teaching Arabic in the Modern and Classical languages department at George Mason. Her research interests are L2 phonology, second language acquisition, and morphology.






Katie Shoaf

Katie Shoaf is a second year PhD student and graduate teaching assistant, currently assisting with LING 306.  She received her Master's degree in Linguistics from The University of North Carolina in 2009, concentrating in sociolinguistics and pragmatics.  Her current research interests include information theory, lexical semantics, and the syntax-semantic interface.

Justin Voigt

Justin Voigt is a third year PhD student. Before earning his B.A. in English from Mason, Justin worked as a Writing Center peer tutor and an editor for The George Mason Review. He now works as an instructor for the English Language Institute, an instructor for ACCESS, and a researcher for the Speech Accent Archive. He is currently conducting his own research on the acquisition of complex noun phrases in American academic writing and is also developing a grammar textbook for L2 academic writers.


Jason Wagner

Jason is a fifth year PhD student at Mason.  He earned his undergraduate degree from Campbell University and his master’s degree from George Mason.  Jason’s research interests include:  L2 phonology, second language acquisition, comparative analyses of English and Mandarin syntax, ESL, and cross-linguistic analyses of grammatical complexity and complexity’s effects on L2 learners’ ability to learn particular grammatical structures. 

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