English Language Institute Celebrates 25 Years

Students of the English Language Institute at UM stand with birthday poster

 

(Photo: Staff and students of the English Language Institute are pictured celebrating the 25th anniversary of ELI outside the International Center on the University of Montana campus.)

 

Happy birthday! April 2018 is the silver jubilee of English Language Institute at the University of Montana. When ELI started in 1993, it was the university’s centennial. Since then, this intensive English program has taught students from more than 44 countries. 

Many changes have occurred over its 25 year history, but the ELI Mission remains the same: “To serve non-native speakers of English who wish to improve their English language and academic skills in order to pursue personal, professional and academic goals at the University of Montana or another institution of higher learning.” 

Lee Ann Millar (M.A., San Francisco State University, 1991) is someone who has been with ELI since its inception. Millar originally trained and taught at the Intensive English Program (IEP) at San Francisco State. After teaching overseas at Kumamoto University in Japan, she was contacted by Dr. Robert Hausmann, the Chair of Linguistics at UM, who wanted to start a program similar to IEP in Montana. 

Millar said, “Bob wanted to get the program off the ground, and he had a student. If I could be in Missoula in ten days he could get me some work. So I did. I got here. He matched me up with the first ELI student.”

The first ELI student was Yuko Nishikawa from Japan. 

“Student and teacher, that was it,” recalls Millar about ELI’s modest beginning. “We started classes in Bob's living room in his house across from the university. He gave me a key to the house. I met Yuko there. A month later, we had our second student, Mahmut Aydin from Turkey. This was April and May. We were joined by a third student later that September. Choti Sherpa from Nepal. 

Soon the trio of ELI students were joined by seven Japanese students. ELI outgrew its living room and officially moved to the UM campus.

Millar mused how she got a nice second floor corner office with windows in Linguistics, located in those days in what is now the Fine Arts Building. She was the sole teacher, staff member, and administrator of ELI. Meanwhile Hausmann used his wherewithal as Linguistics chair to implement and stabilize the ELI program at the university. Logistically, he worked with the dean of arts and sciences, and made sure UM President George Dennison knew about ELI. 

“So the next couple of years it was about getting students more entrenched in the university, working with Resident Life, getting them Griz Cards. Just getting name recognition,” said Millar. She also worked with Effie Koehn, founder and director of Foreign Student and Scholar Services (FSSS), as it was called then, today known as International Students and Scholars (ISS). Koehn had been a foreign student herself, so it was especially rewarding for her to assist international students. 

“We made sure students had proper documentation and maintained visa standards,” said Millar. “I also worked with Mary Jones and Cindy Ferguson at Admissions. When our students started becoming eligible to enter university we wanted to ensure it was a smooth transition. This was long before we had the conditional admission procedure we have now.”

In the early days, international students applied directly to ELI. Today international students apply directly to the university. The university evaluates their credentials, and if the student is accepted, the university provides their Form I-20, Certificate of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status. Students take this to the embassy in their country and apply for their F-1 visa.

ELI was in the fine arts building for ten years. The program slowly grew for the first year. Summer, fall, spring there was one class. And then they started offering two levels.

A second teacher was hired: Donovan Lytle (M.A., The University of Montana, 1990) from Billings. Then, a third, Julie Eells (M.A., Saint Michael’s College, 1994) from Vermont, joined a couple of years later. 

So it went to the end of the century, 2000. ELI moved to the building that was formerly Continuing Education. Millar became Director of Studies and all three instructors taught.

“As it developed, we all had our own providence, in terms of curriculum, book selection, entrance and exit exams, placement,” Millar said. “Donovan became director of marketing. He designed print-based brochures and may have been responsible for the first website. Julie became director of Student Life. It worked out well. Housing, meal plans, airport pickups, parties, field trips, ceremonies, health care.”

This model continued for ten years. There were two levels of English instruction. Enrollment ran 15 to 20 a semester. There were a lot of students from Japan. More students from around the globe followed.

Students arrived from Finland, Indonesia, France, Italy, Colombia, Burkina Faso, Chad, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, British Hong Kong, and Tibet.

Millar was interim director (2003-2004) before deciding to focus on teaching and her family – a conscious choice. At some point in 2005 ELI moved from academic unit of linguistics to the administrative unit of International Programs. Jana Hood was hired as ELI Director in 2006. 

Around 2005-2006, the government of Saudi Arabia decided to issue millions of dollars of scholarships for Saudi students to study abroad in English-speaking countries.

Mehrdad Kia, the Director of International Programs at UM, was connected with the State Department at the time. Kia ensured that UM was on the radar of the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission (SACM) as one of the universities that might be recommended as recipients of these scholarships. 

Suddenly there was an influx of Saudi students enrolling in ELI. The program went from having less than 30 students to over 100. ELI classes were typically 20 hours a week. Classes capped at 15 students. The intensive English program expanded to accommodate the Saudis. ELI went from two sections which required 40 hours a week classroom space to eight sections requiring 160 hours a week. The Saudis had low English levels, so more entry level classes were offered. 

Millar spoke of the challenge of finding qualified teachers. “One challenge of any program like this, the ability to hire teachers is dependent on enrollment. So often people are hired on temporary contractual basis. In a city like San Francisco, if you open a job in ESL, you get a lot of applicants. In Missoula, the problem is there is no other work in this field. There isn’t a pool of applicants within driving distance. When you look for qualified teachers, you can do a search, you can usually offer a few months guaranteed work.” 

This was a post-911 climate. A bit of public relations work was needed for Missoula to accept and absorb Saudi students successfully.

“Missoula is already an open place,” said Millar. “Suddenly there are seventy-five Saudi students in this city. We did press releases, ran stories in the Missoulian and the Montana Kaimin. We did community outreach, had dialogues, talked to classes in Washington Middle School and Hellgate High School.”

The Saudis integrated successfully. At this point the program really started to grow. More teachers were hired: Quincie Albrecht, Heather Breckenridge, Julie Brown, and Robert Squires (Squires is presently Director of Instructional Design and Technical Support at UMOnline). 

During this time, in 2006, Josh Rosenberger (M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of Montana) briefly joined ELI after graduating. A native Nebraskan and an AmeriCorps volunteer, he then went to teach English in Andong in South Korea for a year, and when he got back, he was hired as a full-time instructor by Hood, a fellow Nebraskan, right after the peak of the economic recession.

When Hood eventually left in 2010, she was followed by more interim directors, until Sandi Janusch was hired as a full-time Director of ELI in 2012. She and her colleague, Peter Baker, were responsible for actively recruiting a large group of Brazilian students to UM in 2013. The Brazilian Science and Mobility Program (BSMP) was similar to the Saudi scholarship program, but through the Brazilian government. The Brazilians were strong English speakers, and ELI added a sixth level course.

Sara Schroeder (M.A. Linguistics, University of Montana, 2011), was hired by Janusch as an ELI instructor during the Brazilian boom in 2013.

Looking back on her first year and comparing it to 2018, Schroeder said, “When I started in 2013, the program was bigger. A lot of Saudis. Then a year later a lot of Brazilians. Since there were more students, we had a bigger teaching staff. We ran out of room. More staff, more students. I always taught all levels. The first summer I worked every single level we had. One through five or six levels.”

2013 was also the year the Hubert H. Humphrey fellows first arrived at UM thanks to Janusch who went to Washington D.C. on ELI's behalf. Janusch wrote the five-year grant that started the program.

The Humphrey Fellows, who are sponsored by the U.S. State Department, are mid-career professionals from a variety of fields: finance and banking, human resource management, law and human rights, public policy analysis and public administration, agricultural and rural development, public health, and environmental policy.

These international scholars, who have been arriving every spring since 2013, are a highlight for ELI, which serves as a long-term English program to assist fellows with their transition to the United States and the English language.  

Like clockwork, a new group of Humphrey Fellows have arrived this April 2018, just in time for the silver jubilee. They will stay until August for acculturation and language. Afterwards they go on to their inernships at such prestigious universities as Boston University, UC Davis, Cornell, MIT, Penn state, American University and Emory. 

This year's class of Humphrey Fellows comes from various countries: Benin, Burma (Myanmar), Central African Republic, Chile, Colombia,  Cuba, Ecuador, Georgia, Iran,  Mongolia, Nepal, Niger, Senegal, and Togo.

As part of their cultural acclimation,  ELI instructors aim to provide the Humphrey Fellows with “authentic Montana cultural experiences.” They get to visit Yellowstone in the summer, and Rosenberger teaches them fly fishing every year in the local rivers and streams. “They've never done it, and they see how pristine Montana is, and it's rewarding for them,” he said. “As one of their instructors I give them support. If they give cultural presentations at Janette Rankin Peace Center, I’ll go and attend their celebrations,” he added.

Millar said when the Humphrey Fellows first arrive, they are wide-eyed to their new surroundings. "When they first come, they ask themselves: what have I gotten into? Missoula seems foreign and scary to them. By August, when they leave, they’ve fallen in love with Missoula. They’re sad to leave Missoula. Even if going to work in the Pentagon, they don’t want to leave Missoula.”

When Sandi Janusch left as ELI director in 2015, she was replaced by Jeanie Castillo (M.A., California State University, Fresno, 1998). Castillo is the Chair of ELI, and under her direction, the Humphrey Grant has just been renewed for another five years.

Besides the Humphrey grant, the biggest milestone for ELI recently has been official accreditation, a process started by Janusch.

Rosenberger said, “Working with Sandi, we started the steps with getting accreditation. When she left in 2015, Jeanie continued the accreditation process.”

ELI had initial accreditation in 2016 when the Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) did a site visit. CEA has high standards and its rigorous accreditation process takes awhile. That same year, ELI received final accreditation.

“It was official. From CEA. They’re considered the highest accreditation organization especially for intensive English programs,” said Rosenberger. “It’s long term and permanent. The first time you apply. A stamp on the program saying our standards of teaching, staff, curriculum meet the standards of CEA. It helps because if you’re accredited it shows you’re not a random program. We can use it to promote ourselves for recruiting and publicizing ourselves to university and community.”

Schroeder said the ELI program is fairly consistent for accreditation. “We've been streamlining the curriculum, developing it, and the student learning outcomes have been consistent. The curriculum has been getting stronger.

The future looks bright for ELI, which also has accreditation from Northwest Commission of Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), for its being affiliated with UM.

Lee Ann Millar, who has been with ELI since the beginning, sees another 25 years for the program. “ELI has survived because the teachers who worked here have had integrity, good will, and educational experience in this field,” she said.

Schroeder says the future of ELI depends on the recruiting. This year there are only eleven ELI students – the lowest ever.

“With no recruiting, we wouldn’t be here,” she said. “International recruiting is needed, maybe somebody in admissions. We once had a private recruiter working for us overseas in Indonesia. Sandi Janusch had a lot of responsibilities when she was director. She went on recruiting trips. We don’t have recruitment now. That’s a change. Sandi left, and she wasn't replaced. Still, we make the core ELI curriculum work with Jeanie Castillo.”

Schroeder is overall optimistic. She enjoys the creative freedom she is allowed in ELI, and being a team player. “When people ask about my job, I say what I like most is the team of teachers I work with. I can say Jeanie gives us a lot of creative freedom. So, for example, I have weird ideas. Sometimes I use graphic novels (Maus, Persepolis, Steve Jobs: Insanely Great) with my students. They have complex language but students can understand them for pictures. I’ve even given presentations at conferences about this. People ask me: you got your boss to approve this?”

Schroeder said Jeanie Castillo trusts her and the other ELI instructors to know what their students need.

“As long as I can get my students to their learning outcomes, Jeanie lets me steer my own ship. She totally trust me,” Schroeder said, emphasizing, “I like my team. Everybody helps each other.” 

When Ronsenberger is asked about the future of ELI he says, “ELI is still not well known, but the ELI mission remains the same. Hopefully ELI will be around in 25 years. And what will it be like 25 years from now? A consistent amount of students and ELI successfully fulfilling its mission.”

 

ELI birthday poster

 (Photo: English Language Institute birthday poster created by Sarah Bortis, ELI Program Coordinator.)