Achievement Profile: Rhona Genzel
Advocating for University Intensive English Programs
Professor Rhona Genzel founded and directs the English Language Center
at the Rochester Institute of Technology. As the ATESL representative
to NAFSA's Council on Public Affairs, she is a persuasive advocate for
university IEPs, and the vital role of international students in American
academic settings, now placed at risk by new INS policies. The ESL
MiniConference Online is proud to share Professor Genzel's remarks
with our readers around the world.
Some Rhona Genzel links:
RIT English Language Center Home Page (www.rit.edu/~370www)
The Alphabet Soup Group
(AAIEP, ATESL, TESOL-PA IS, TESOL-IEP IS, UCIEP)
Getting Ready to Study English in the USA
Culturally Speaking: Second Edition, co-authored with Martha Graves Cummings (Heinle & Heinle, 1994)
Experiment in International Living (www.experiment.org)
The Role of ESL Instruction in the U.S. Economy, by Robert Pesik (www.opendoorsweb.org)
An ESL MiniConference Online interview
with Rhona Genzel:
What is your main ESL activity now? What are your
principal projects, and what is on the back burner?
I am primarily involved in running a full-time intensive
English program at the Rochester Institute of Technology.
As director, my duties include maintaining high standards
for our program, providing students with the courses they
need, doing advising and recruiting students. I am currently
also writing proposals for grants to get funding for students
who cannot afford to come here.
Right now, I am involved in reviewing the new INS regulations
and serving as the ATESL representative to NAFSA's Council
on Public Affairs.
I am hopeful that my publisher will give the green light
to a revision of Culturally Speaking. There are
many changes and updates I would like to make to the book.
How did you start your ESL career? Who influenced
your decision? What were some important formative
experiences in the early stages of your development?
I think my ESL career has its roots in my experience
as an exchange student to Spain with the Experiment in
International Living. While at that time I had no idea
I would become an ESL teacher, it provided me with the foundation
for my future career. It gave me both a cross-cultural
experienc and a form of language experience. It broadened
my world view and provided the basis for my later
study of Russian and my Master's, which focused
on intercultural communication.
Technically, my ESL career started when I was working in
the Training and Professional department at Xerox many
years ago. It was after the riots in Rochester, and I was
hired as part of the National Alliance of Businessmen's
program to prepare poorly-educated inner city and migrant
workers to improve their level of reading and writing
so they could get jobs working in the factory. Because
of my background as an English teacher and reading instructor
with knowledge of two foreign languages--Spanish and Russian--I was
sent to the Puerto Rican Forum in New York City for training
in ESL, and asked to develop an ESL program for Xerox.
When I left Xerox five years later, I worked as an ESL
instructor and assessment coordinator for the Adult Education
program. I also taught ESL part-time at the University of
Rochester. It was during this time that I realized there
was no intensive ESL program in Rochester, so I approached
each of the colleges in the area suggesting that they create
one. RIT was the only school interested; they hired me
on an hourly basis, and said, "Let's see what you can do."
It is now 22 years later. The ESL program serves between
60-100 students per quarter, and 60 students who graduate
from RIT each spring with Bachelor's or Master's degrees
have studied at the English Language Center.
In sum, my experiences living overseas, knowledge and love
of other cultures, and being in the right place at the
right time and not being afraid to try new things contributed
to my career development.
What are the language/culture backgrounds
with which you are most familiar as a teacher? Which
ones are you familiar with from the perspective of a
language learner yourself? What insights have you
gained in how to meet the needs of English learners
from these cultures and language backgrounds?
I have studied both Spanish and Russian; however, my
studies in intercultural communication have given me a
broad understanding and appreciation of the differences
between cultures. I am a strong believer that people have
different learning styles, and it is important to provide
learners with a variety of ways to learn. I also think
that students need to be oriented so that they understand
how teaching is conducted in the United States, and how it may
be different from teaching in their own countries. We all
come with a set of expectations, so we can be disappointed,
dismayed or confused. Students need to understand what
the expectations are from a U.S. classroom teacher.
If you had to give several pieces of advice to a
new ESL teacher, what would they be?
a. Be more formal when you first meet students. They
are unaccustomed to the informality used in the United
b. Listen carefully and with complete attention to what
students say when you speak with them one on one.
c. Tell students what they will learn and why.
d. Be open to new ideas, but stick to your guns if
you believe a so-called "old" idea works.
What do you see as the most important issues
facing the ESL/EFL teaching profession today?
The biggest issue right now is the changes with regard
to INS regulations. Another issue is assessment and what
effect the changes in the TOEFL exam will have on IEP
At the college level is the issue of awarding credit
to international students for studying English, which
is their foreign language.
Interviewed by Robb Scott
2003 ESL MiniConference Online