UAB is a diverse community, with citizens of more than 100 countries currently studying and working on our campus, says Carol Argo, director of the International Scholar and Students Services (ISSS).
Argo often receives inquiries from people who need to enhance their English skills so they can take the language entrance examinations needed to enroll in college. But there have been times when she couldn’t provide the help she wanted to the faculty, staff and students who have come through her door.
|Elise Belcher (left), Rebekah Trinh and the English Language and Culture Institute will begin offering an Intensive English Program this summer.
“For years we had to funnel inquiries to Gadsden or Tuscaloosa,” she says. “They were the only ones in the area with an intensive English program.”
That has changed. The University of Alabama System Board of Trustees recently approved the School of Education English Language and Culture Institute (ELCI), giving UAB the resources to keep these prospective students on campus. The mission of the ELCI is to foster communication among cultures through innovative English courses and cross-cultural training opportunities.
In addition to part-time study options, the institute provides a full-time study option for international faculty, staff and students who want to improve their English before applying to a degree program at UAB.
“A significant fraction of educational energy is devoted the teaching English to those who don’t speak it,” says School of Education Dean Michael Froning, Ph.D. “This unit works here because of the history we have training teachers to teach English as a second language. We have some really terrific people here who have expertise, have helped us develop the expertise and have the business savvy to make an operation like this work. It’s a unique opportunity for us, and we’re very excited about it.”
Rebekah Trinh, director of the ELCI, says it will play a key role in the recruitment of international students.
“By bringing students here and giving them an opportunity to learn English here, they become comfortable and start building a social network,” Trinh says. “The institute will keep us from not accepting high-quality students for lack of English preparation, because they will have all the resources they need to succeed right here.”
Three areas of focus
The ELCI’s commitment encompasses the metropolitan Birmingham area and focuses on three areas:
- Addressing the unmet English language-learning needs of UAB’s international community — specifically its undergraduate student population — and providing cross-cultural learning opportunities for international students.
- Meeting the specific needs of employees of greater Birmingham-area businesses.
- Providing relevant, need-based language instruction to the city’s international community.
One major program ELCI is offering is the Intensive English Program, which begins this summer. The program will bring people in to UAB who plan to study English full time to earn the scores on their language entrance examination tests that will enable them to be admitted to an undergraduate or graduate program.
“We anticipate that the Intensive English Program is going to expand our international student population,” says Trinh. “Nearly every other university in the state has one of these programs. It’s a way to recruit students whose English is not yet strong enough for degree study, but who are qualified academically in every other way.
“Now, they can come to UAB, study English, take the language tests and then matriculate into the degree program they have an interest in pursuing.”
History of ELCI
The idea for the ELCI project emerged as the need grew for English language instruction in the Greater Birmingham region. The ELCI was formed as a special project of the Birmingham Area Consortium for Higher Education (BACHE), which comprises five institutions: UAB, Birmingham-Southern College, Miles College, Samford University and the University of Montevallo.
BACHE shepherded the program from its inception in summer 2000 until December 2003. The ELCI was relocated to the UAB School of Education in January 2004, and it since has experienced steady growth in by seeking out ESL training needs in central Alabama and striving to meet them.
“I’ve seen this evolve and grow, and it’s really exciting to see that this actually is coming to fruition,” says Argo, an inaugural member of the BACHE committee. “This is a wonderful addition to services that we can offer our international population. If we have students who need supplemental English-language training, they also may bring dependents with them who want to study here. This also provides opportunities to the spouses of our foreign faculty members.”
The ELCI also works with non-profit organizations to provide English training. Courses also are available for UAB employees through Training & Development, including business writing, speaking and pronunciation classes.
To learn more on these services and cross-cultural workshops provided by ELCI and to see a course schedule, visit www.uab.edu/elci.