Campus to Campus: Elaine Burer

How Freshman Elaine Burer is exploring language beyond City High


Kate Meis

Elaine Burer ’26 poses in City High’s music wing, where she is involved in choir

Kate Meis, Reporter

It’s a dreary spring morning as Elaine Burer ‘26 walks past the University of Iowa’s Old Capitol, the sidewalks are mostly empty as few college students are up this early on a Saturday. Her destination is Phillips Hall, home of the university’s foreign language department and her class of about 20 other high school students all learning Mandarin Chinese through the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“I’m involved in mock trial, the play, and the musical. I’m in a whole heck of a lot of clubs, like the Review and Student Senate,” Burer said.

Besides Burer’s handful of clubs and activities, many of her Saturday mornings are spent studying Mandarin. The course, which grants its students college credit, has both a format and workload different from most high school classes.

“There’s a bit more content you go through and I would say it’s a bit more laid back as compared to a high school class or middle school class, just because like how frequently we meet and the style of meetings,” Burer explained.

The program within the university is funded by the National Security Agency, making tuition free. Burer found out about it from her Spanish teacher at South East Junior High in eighth grade and was immediately intrigued by the opportunity.

“My mom’s side of the family is Chinese and my grandmother speaks Mandarin. My mom and her siblings and also my grandma speak Cantonese, it’s not the exact same, but I’m still interested,” Burer said.

With taking this class comes the difficult task to learn mandarin, the course starts with pinyin, a romanized spelling of Chinese words, and slowly adds in and transitions to the use of characters. Beyond the language, the class includes learning about Chinese culture and has been a chance for Burer to meet new people from other schools in Iowa City, North Liberty, and other towns further away.

“On the top of the class being really cool, how it’s offered with no [tuition] and letting middle schoolers to high schoolers participate in is cool,” Burer concluded.