Gannon University’s Writing and Research Center (WRC) recently started a new program to help international students develop their English verbal communication skills.
The Conversation Partners program was introduced this semester after exploration by WRC staff to find new ways to form relationships between the WRC and English Language Learner (ELL) students.
Jeanette Long, assistant director of the WRC, stated that many ELL students already use the WRC for their paper development and editing services, as well as humanities tutoring.
After receiving the blessing of Beth Kons, WRC director, Long began discussions with Mariana Syrotiak, director of the Office of English Language and Global Training, to develop new initiatives that would benefit both departments.
It was at this time that Syrotiak asked if WRC consultants could serve as speaking and listening partners for students in the English as a Second Language (ESL) program, and Long immediately volunteered the WRC staff.
“One of Gannon’s major institutional goals is to develop a worldview,” Long said. “This program fosters that for everyone involved as a conversation partner — the consultants and the ESL students both have a lot to gain from this.”
Currently there are nine WRC consultants involved in the program as well as nine international students, meaning each international student is able to receive one-on-one attention.
“Eventually, we would like to see these numbers grow, but for a pilot program, this is a great start,” Long said.
International students currently enrolled in the program represent the countries of Nepal, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and China.
As new students come into the ESL program, the hope is that Conversation Partners will become even more diverse.
Conversation Partners is entirely voluntary and extracurricular, meaning the international students who participate take time out of their schedules to attend and are not mandated to come for specific ESL classes.
Over the course of the semester, students from the English Language and Global Training program meet for three hours with their WRC conversation partner and talk.
Students meet with their assigned WRC consultant and have the opportunity to get to know their partners on a personal basis.
There are no specific topics that are required to be covered during Conversation Partner sessions.
“It’s mostly just about opening up a dialogue and conversation about anything both partners are interested in talking about,” Long said.
A kickoff event for Conversation Partners was held Thursday in the Writing and Research Center.
International students participating in the program were invited to have their first introductory meeting with their assigned WRC partner and learn how to make their next appointment.
Senior chemistry major Katie Kapp has served as a WRC consultant for three years and expressed her excitement for the introduction of the Conversation Partners program at the WRC.
“This is something we have never done before, so I am excited to test it out and see how it goes,” she said. “I think this is a great opportunity to sit down and have a conversation with someone from another culture that I might not otherwise be talking to.”
English as a Second Language student Asmaa Alghamdi is excited to be a part of the Conversation Partner program.
“I am excited to participate because I need to talk with someone who’s native in the English language,” she said. “I can make my English improve, and also it will make me have new American friends.”
Discussing plans for expansion, Long provided some insight.
“One of the Writing and Research Center’s goals is to eventually serve as a transitionary resource of English language learners as they move from the ESL program to general education classes,” Long said. “The Conversation Partners program is just the first step of many for this to happen.”
Speaking about her own personal excitement for the program, she continued, “Our center works to create a culture of support — anything we can do to make students, domestic or international, feel comfortable on campus or feel like they have the skills to succeed, we want to embrace that. I am so lucky to work with such a supportive staff, director and collaborating department.”