I was able to get a meeting with the director of the English Language Program to learn more about the students and faculty. There are currently 400 students in the ELP, with about 30 faculty. One of the program’s main concerns at the moment is to increase retention rates. Far too many students start the program, and never finish. Most students in the program enter with the goal of matriculating into an academic program at VCU, either graduate or undergraduate, and many are going into engineering.
There are three levels of study, 1-3, and three main categories within each level: Oral Communication, Written Communication, and Vocabulary. Other courses include Expanded Reading Skills, Mastering TOEFL, and academic prep courses such as Business. A few facts I learned:
- Students struggle with integrating reading and writing. Reading comprehension at an undergraduate level in general is a challenge.
- Difficulty with vocabulary and idioms
- Students may be in different levels for reading and writing at the same time. For example, many students from East Asia are usually more advanced in reading and writing, but have very little, if any conversation skills.
Our conversation centered on some basic info about the program, and what I could do as a librarian to provide some support. Not many classes have a formal research component, but I’m ready to jump in and work with those that do. We talked a lot about the library as a space, and a study hub in which students should be comfortable. Just being in the library can help international students become more integrated with the university and campus culture, because it’s such a popular spot. Many international students live with other international students, and due to the language barrier, have a hard time connecting with American students. Just being around more English speakers could help them a lot. I already have some tours and workshops scheduled for this semester, and will start reaching out to faculty to get some interest in bring their classes to the library. The ELP director offered to send an email to the entire faculty on my behalf. Score!