Call it perfect timing.
Fall 2020: Mariana Ricklefs begins her second year on the faculty of the NIU Department of Curriculum and Instruction, thrilled to share in the launch of new (and virtual) Educate Global program with Spain and organized by colleague David Nieto.
Meanwhile, Ricklefs hears from a longtime professional acquaintance who’d recently received a promotion at Ushynsky University in Odessa, Ukraine.
Her name is Anna Slobodianiuk, director of the Israeli Culture Center and on the faculty of Ushynsky’s Department of German Philology and Methods of Teaching Foreign Languages.
Slobodianiuk relates her good news to Ricklefs, asking the NIU professor if she knows of any universities that might have an interest in an international collaboration with Ushynsky.
Of course, Ricklefs replies: the NIU College of Education.
And so was born the latest edition of Educate Global, another virtual experience on Zoom that began March 11 and concludes today. This version took place in three seminars connecting more than 100 students on two continents for seminars and conversations about teaching English.
“In talking about these things with our Ukrainian friends, they said, ‘English, for us, is a foreign language – an international language,’ ” Ricklefs says. “Traditionally, Russian had been their second language, but newer leadership and younger generations are more interested in English, and so, they said, ‘We want to learn more about English, and hearing from professors and faculty in the United States would be a wonderful opportunity.”
Ricklefs knew the subject matter would resonate in Graham and Gabel halls.
“We have courses that discuss multicultural education, and a lot of that has to do with being more open-minded to students who come from different cultural backgrounds,” she says, “in addition to learning best practices to teaching English as a second or added language in school to children who speak a different language at home.”
Networking began March 11 with opening remarks from Dean Laurie Elish-Piper and an exploration of “Teaching English in the United States and in Ukraine” focused on approaches to teaching English as a second/added language for bilingual and multilingual students in K-12 American schools and as a foreign/international language in Ukrainian secondary schools.
John Evar Strid and Anastasiia Yumrukuz, head of Ushynsky’s Department of Western and Eastern Languages and Teaching Methods, served as keynote speakers.
Two weeks later, the participants logged in to talk about “Teaching English Online in Middle and High Schools,” examining methodologies and strategies for keeping students engaged in virtual environments.
Presenters Donna Werderich and Slobodianiuk contrasted language arts curriculum between the two countries when it comes to teaching foreign languages, Ricklefs says: The United States emphasizes reading and writing while Ukraine focuses on listening and speaking skills.
Ricklefs is now looking forward to today’s finale, as NIU and Ushynsky colleagues cover “Teacher Candidates’ Fieldwork and Practice” in schools with a comparison of supervision, mentoring and professional development in the two countries. The seminar also will show how NIU partners with school districts.
David Walker, associate dean for Academic Affairs, has appreciated the Ukrainian virtual-exchange and its reinforcement of college-level strategic priorities of innovative practices and climate in its promotion of diversity and globalism.
“We have a saying in the College of Education – ‘Replace judgment with curiosity’ – and I think we really live that,” Walker says.
“From the moment we recruit students as new freshmen or new transfers, we’re getting in front of them, with Brittany Wereminski’s leadership, and talking about the Educate and Engage series,” he adds.
“Our students really start to hear about this, dive into this and engage in conversations about this when they’re still in high school or they’re at a community college. When they start here, it’s embedded – globalism, internationalism, multiculturalism – just as academic equity, diversity and inclusion are embedded throughout our curricula of study and our many majors, minors and certificate programs.”
Ricklefs and Walker are thankful for the power of communications technology that multiplied the impact of this edition of Educate Global in the face of COVID-19’s restrictions on travel.
But for Ricklefs, the true rewards have come from the support of the planning team, which included Elish-Piper, Walker, Sally Blake, Terry Borg, Jennifer Johnson, Susan Mizgalski and, from Ushynsky, Dean of the School of Foreign Languages Olexandra Popova as well as Slobodianiuk and Yumrukuz.
She also feels encouraged by the interest of NIU students to participate and enhance their preparation.
With degrees in Elementary Education (Literacy and ESL/Bilingual Education), Special Education, Higher Education and Psychology, she is passionate about effective teaching across age groups and ability levels for students who are bi/multilingual and who have learning disabilities.
Her mission is a personal one.
“I came to the United States as an international student myself, from El Salvador, as a Fulbright scholar. I am grateful for Americans being so welcoming to international students, and for how much we can learn from one another,” Ricklefs says.
“That was over 20 years ago when I first came, and I was not planning to stay. I traveled. I went back to my country, and then God brought me back here with a job offer from another institution,” she adds. “Now, I feel even more blessed to be part of this university. The NIU College of Education has such an emphasis on learning from other cultures and different groups, and I think that is not common. You don’t see much of that at other universities, but the College of Education promotes this openness.”