Thursday, October 27, 2011

Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute expands, adds new programs and staff

Following is reprinted from the Oct. 27, 2011 edition of the Virginia Tech News.

Elsie Paredes, left, with Don Back and Amanda Johnson, right, in the
newly renovated lobby of the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute
BLACKSBURG, Va., Oct. 27, 2011 – With a 300 percent growth in student enrollment over last year and a doubling of office and classroom space, the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute is setting records as it carries out its mission of serving international students and others with language training.

“We were formerly known as the English Language Institute,” says Don Back, the institute’s director. “This was later changed to encompass not only the English-language training but also to include other languages as well as intercultural training and other related programs with international focus.”

Part of the university’s Outreach and International Affairs, the institute provides language-related programs and services for academic and professional development. A major clientele served consists of international students seeking admission to Virginia Tech and other major U.S. universities. The institute also partners with universities in Chile, China, and Haiti to help those institutions build capacity in English-language instruction.

With classrooms in Blacksburg as well as in Falls Church, Va., the institute hosts more than 500 students per year from more than 30 different countries.

Much growth has occurred in existing programs, but many new programs have been implemented as well. The Indonesian Scholars program, for instance, is in its second year of offering an eight-week course to help young leaders from that country develop English language proficiency and critical-thinking skills. Abroad, Georgia Wyche, one of the institute’s English instructors, is currently in Valdivia, Chile, where she is teaching faculty and students at Universidad Austral de Chile.

The institute has grown significantly not only in numbers of student enrollment but also in staff. Since the beginning of the year about a dozen new full-time staff members have been hired to create a total of 50 employees at the institute – a leap from the five staff members when Back first came to Virginia Tech five years ago.

Elsie Paredes is the institute’s new associate director. Having been a teacher for more than 20 years, her previous career was good training for her new role, which includes taking charge of the English program. “Providing workshops and seminars for the teams of professionals that visit gives me my dose of being a teacher. This was a perfect opportunity for me,” Paredes says.

With the need to service more students came a new student-advising center offering university admissions and immigration advising as well as guidance not related to academics. Students can consult with Diana Housein-Salaita, the international student advisor, on personal, immigration, or legal issues. The center also organizes an extensive array of student activities. Housein-Salaita came to the institute from Virginia Tech’s Cranwell International Center.

As assistant director for special programs, Amanda Johnson is in charge of testing services, foreign language training, and new initiatives. Before coming to Virginia Tech in August 2010, Johnson worked as a program director, instructor, and teacher trainer at an Ecuadorian school of foreign language and linguistics. Among the current projects Johnson oversees is a college-preparatory program for gifted students from Saudi Arabia, a cooperative effort with the College of Science.

The Humphrey Fellows Program is the institute’s flagship. Each year for the past four years, the institute has hosted this group of mid-career professionals from around the globe for a spring-and-summer immersion in English. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Humphrey Fellows have a busy schedule including class visits, community interactions, academic networking, and leadership training. The program is headed by Bert Wilson, an expert in China’s Uyghur minority. Wilson also directs a similar project for junior government officials from Turkey, who are taking English courses at Virginia Tech as well visiting local government offices.

“We’re looking forward to even more developments in the coming year,” Back says. “The institute contributes to the university’s diversity and intellectual capacity by helping to attract the best and brightest international students, scholars, and professionals to our community.”

Virginia Tech’s Outreach and International Affairs supports the university’s engagement mission by creating community partnerships and economic development projects, offering professional development programs and technical assistance, and building collaborations to enrich discovery and learning – all with the overarching goal of improving the quality of life for people within the commonwealth and throughout the world. Outreach and International Affairs leads Virginia Tech’s presence on five continents; its regional research and development centers across the commonwealth focus on graduate education and professional development. Blacksburg-based centers are dedicated to student engagement, language, policy, and governance.

Written by Yen Dinh, a senior from Alexandria, Va., who is a marketing major in the Pamplin College of Business with a minor in leadership and social change in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.


Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Senegal faculty train at the VTLCI

On September 29th, the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute saw off a group of twelve Senegalese participants involved in a ‘train the trainers’ (TOT) program. Focused on building English teaching capacity at a number of institutions in the country, the program is part of a broader ‘Feed the Future’ food security initiative being executed by the Office of International Research, Education and Development (OIRED). Seven of the thirteen universities that are working with OIRED in Senegal were represented among the VTLCI group.

Given that much of the literature and research on food security is only published in English, VTLCI’s role in this project is to enhance teaching of English as a foreign language at participating universities. Seminars and workshops for this group introduced on-line delivery of English instruction, techniques for teaching English with few resources, and teaching English for specific purposes - all against the backdrop of current language acquisition and adult learning theory.

Participants visited VTLCI intensive English classes, reviewed teaching materials, and began developing plans for applying their observations and learning back home. “The TOT format gave participants the opportunity to try out what they had learned in a safe, structured environment at the VTLCI.” said Amanda Johnson, program coordinator.  “Our group will help bolster English teaching back home in order to support delivery of content in the language. By improving English in the professoriate, we will in turn increase access to vital research on food security." 

Participants met at OIRED for final presentations, and to receive certificates, at the program graduation ceremony. Babacar Diop, an English language instructor at the University of Ziguinchor, with colleagues, presented on plans to implement their group's training outcomes in Senegal. “We have planted the tree of friendship and collaboration and we will all water it with correspondence and exchange until it grows up and gives the expected fruits to people of both nations,” said Diop. More training is being planned for 2012.

Friday, October 7, 2011

UACh Travelogue: My Adventure in Valdivia 2, by Georgia Wyche

Unfortunately, there still is not a lot going on in university campuses throughout Chile because of the national strike to reform education.  The semester dates and school year calendars are completely out of whack due to many months of striking and student protests. The second semester is supposed to begin in October, but nobody really knows. Things change in the Chilean news everyday and there are student protests every Thursday afternoon.  

Georgia at the Center for Languages, UACh
The situation in Chile has been frustrating for a lot of people at the university, including myself. Despite my frustrations, I am still very happy to be here representing Virginia Tech. Also, I have been able to keep myself busy. I’ve been teaching English classes on a daily basis, working with English teachers at the university and in the community, giving presentations on foreign language teaching methodology at the “Centro de Idiomas” and preparing lessons for my Applied Linguistics class. I’m also going to be volunteering and attending the upcoming TESOL conference, which will be hosted at UACh next week.

I’ve also met with many important people at Universidad Austral de Chile, including the university president, Mr. Victor L. Cubillos. Mr. Cubillos has actually requested that I give him English lessons. I’ll begin working with him in the coming weeks.  I’m excited about strengthening and building a new relationship between Virginia Tech and Universidad Austral de Chile.  

I’ve also met with the director of the American Corner of the UACh library. The American Corner is a special section in the library devoted to lovers of English language and American culture. The American Corner is funded by the American Embassy in Santiago de Chile. There are 12 other American Corners in different universities throughout Chile. Along with the American Corner, there is also the Australian Corner. I look forward to sharing and assisting with activities and projects at the American Corner during my stay in Valdivia.

I’ve arranged English classes for faculty members, including university administrators, deans and directors.  In addition, I’ve met with honors students, living in Valdivia, who would like to attend classes to improve their English skills while the university is on strike. The English classes I’m teaching primarily focus on speaking and listening skills.

Georgia with the foreign language instructors of UACh
I teach English classes to professors and faculty members from the veterinary, economics, engineering, architecture, medical, chemistry, biology schools and departments.  All of these are scholars attend my classes on a regular basis and are excited to build their confidence in conversational English. For example, they want to be able to speak English comfortably at a coffee break during an academic conference in an English speaking country. They want to be able to use everyday English at the post office, the supermarket, or at a friend’s party. The university professors are confortable with academic and technical terminology in English related to their field, but they want practice and help with everyday conversational English.  I’m happy to assist them in any way that I can while the university is on strike.
Along with teaching English classes to academics, I’ve assisted in editing and revising material to be presented at conferences and to market the university on an international level.  I’m eager to assist in more of these projects and activities because they serve to strengthen the relationship between UACh and Virginia Tech.
I’m also going to be teaching an Applied Linguistics class to students in their last year of study to be English teachers at UACh. Initially, I was only going to teach this class during part of the second semester, but now due to the strike I’ll be teaching the class during the entirety of the second semester. I’m excited about this teaching opportunity and new challenge.