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Tuesday, March 13, 2018 - 2:15pm
Dobbs Ferry Campus
Bronx Campus
Manhattan Campus

If you walk into the Center for Academic Excellence and Innovation (CAEI)—also known as the Learning Center—on Mercy’s Manhattan Campus late on a Wednesday morning, you will see a small group of students working with a faculty member. Nothing out of the ordinary. But as you move closer and hear their conversation, you might wonder which subject they are studying. They shift from discussing an article about education reform in Finland to role-playing job interviews. Only a break to clarify the meaning of an idiom or learn about verb tenses might clue you into the fact that these students are participating in an English language workshop.


Every week at the Learning Centers on Mercy’s Manhattan, Bronx, and Dobbs Ferry Campuses, the English Is My New Language workshop series supports Mercy students who are non-native English speakers. The students who attend come from diverse backgrounds—international students, recent immigrants, and others who are still learning English. They speak a wide range of languages, including Vietnamese, Arabic and Spanish, and they all find support and a sense of community.


The language workshops intentionally balance structure with flexibility. Facilitators use practices based in research and Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) pedagogy to teach grammar, reading comprehension, and other academic and career skills. However, the plans are flexible to enable facilitators to adjust in order to meet students’ needs. When several students in a Manhattan workshop expressed anxiety about interviewing for internships, for example, Learning Support Manager Juli Steadman Charkes and her co-facilitator Claire Bush devoted several sessions to reviewing formal grammar, teaching specialized vocabulary words that might arise during an interview, and role-playing interviews. The workshops are meant to be informal and fun, so they require no registration and involve no homework. Each session is an hour long, but students can join for any portion of that time. “I always tell students that even if they can attend for 20 or 30 minutes, it makes a big difference in their ability to navigate their academic work and their lives here,” Steadman Charkes explains.


This workshop series is an example of Mercy’s student-first philosophy in practice. Through programs like PACT and now English Is My New Language, Mercy reveals its commitment to offering the support students need as they work to transform their lives through higher education.


The English Is My New Language workshop series started in 2017. As members of a faculty committee reviewed Mercy’s composition course sequence, they realized that a significant number of students struggled with native language interference in composition classes, explained Steven DeRosa, Associate Director of the CAEI. To support students facing this challenge, the CAEI proposed offering language workshops in the Learning Centers on three Mercy Campuses. After a successful pilot in the spring of 2017, the English Is My New Language workshop series launched in fall 2017. The workshops quickly drew a core group of about 10 students on each campus, though many other students have attended at least one workshop.


A secondary goal of the workshops is to introduce students to their campus’s Learning Center. DeRosa explains that many students enter a Learning Center for the first time when they attend an English Is My New Language workshop. However, they soon realize that there are many resources and friendly people to help them, so they set up one-on-one tutoring sessions. In this way, a language workshop is a non-threatening introduction to a world of support at Mercy.


Though the workshop series is still new, students like Yuna Lee are finding success. An undergraduate student from Korea, Lee is majoring in business at Mercy’s Manhattan Campus. In the workshops, Steadman Charkes and Bush helped familiarize Lee with English grammar and American cultural norms. When she expressed interest in applying to internships, they role-played interviews with her and connected her with the Office of Career Services and Professional Development for more targeted support. Lee is now well on her way to landing a full-time internship and still attends English Is My New Language workshops regularly.


Because students attending the language workshops are self-selected and accessing multiple services at once, it is difficult to quantify the impact of the language workshops alone. However, the CAEI is tracking students’ results, and the early evidence looks promising in terms of grades, motivation and persistence.


Students interested in growing their English language skills are encouraged to drop by an English Is My New Language workshop:

  • Manhattan Campus: Wednesdays 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. in the Learning Center (7th floor)
  • Bronx Campus: Tuesdays 11 a.m. – 12 p.m. and 2:30 – 3:30 p.m. in room 4250
  • Dobbs Ferry Campus: Thursdays 10 – 11 a.m. in room 133J


Faculty who would like to learn more about the English Is My New Language workshops or refer a student should contact Steven DeRosa at (914) 674-7282.