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Rhona Genzel Discusses Importance of American Language Program

August 17, 2010

By Pamela McLaren

Rhona Genzel

Rhona Genzel became director of Cal State Fullerton’s American Language Program last October, leading a long-serving University Extended Education program that provides enhanced language training to international students seeking to meet their educational goals by attending an American university.

Prior to joining the campus, Genzel served 30 years as director of the English Language Center at Rochester Institute of Technology in New York and, in 1995-96, as president of the American Association of Intensive English Programs, of which Cal State Fullerton is a member. She is an author or co-author of several books, including the third edition of “Culturally Speaking,” published by Heinle this year. In 2009, she was included in the National Women’s Hall of Fame Book of Lives and Legacies.

How did you get involved in the American Language Program?

Actually that is a funny story. I was interested in moving to California because my daughter and her family live here. After seeing an ad in the Chronicle of Higher Education for the position of director of the ALP, I decided on a visit to LA to drive to Fullerton to see the campus.

As it turned out, it was graduation day and the campus was teeming with excited graduates, beaming parents and marching bands. As we walked around the campus we came to the College Park building, and I stopped to ask two people chatting in front of the building if this was where the American Language Program was housed. The gentleman responded that it was and asked if he could help me. I responded by saying, “No, I don’t think so. I am considering applying for the position as its director and wanted to see where it was.” The man began to laugh and said, “well, I am the dean you would report to!” That was a truly fortuitous encounter and an omen that the ALP was where I should be!

What is the purpose of the program?

The ALP teaches English to international students from around the world in preparation for study at an American university. It helps students adjust to the new culture and to learn about American customs. In addition to studying English, we take them to many of the tourist attractions in Southern California, such as Disneyland, Knott’s Berry Farm, shopping malls, the beach, Sea World and more.

What are the general characteristics of students in the program?

Students must be at least 18 years old, high school graduates and have studied some English before. Currently, the majority of the students are interested in studying business. The second popular major is engineering.

Students come from Saudi Arabia, China, Korea, Kuwait, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Vietnam and more. Some students will study for undergraduate degrees and others for graduate degrees.

In the fall, we will be offering a revised comprehensive pre-M.B.A. program to help students get accepted to and be successful in (Mihaylo) College of Business. This program offers skills training in areas that they may not have gotten in their country: advanced oral language — stress, intonation, etc. — critical thinking, American business culture, business English and writing — the focus being on business needs.

Have there been changes in how American language programs are run? Reasons for change?

As research into language acquisition brings forth new ideas, methods and philosophies change. We now know that students learn differently and we know that students in different parts of the world are taught differently. Here, we use a highly communicative approach and when teacher training is done for those who teach in other parts of the world, they are often surprised by how interactive and active our classes are.

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