With a 300 percent growth in student enrollment over last year and a doubling of office and classroom space, the Virginia Tech Language and Culture Institute is setting records as it carries out its mission of serving international students and others with language training.

“We were formerly known as the English Language Institute,” says Don Back, the institute’s director. “This was later changed to encompass not only the English-language training but also to include other languages as well as intercultural training and other related programs with international focus.”

Part of the university’s Outreach and International Affairs, the institute provides language-related programs and services for academic and professional development. A major clientele served consists of international students seeking admission to Virginia Tech and other major U.S. universities. The institute also partners with universities in Chile, China, and Haiti to help those institutions build capacity in English-language instruction.

With classrooms in Blacksburg as well as in Falls Church, Va., the institute hosts more than 500 students per year from more than 30 different countries.

Much growth has occurred in existing programs, but many new programs have been implemented as well. The Indonesian Scholars program, for instance, is in its second year of offering an eight-week course to help young leaders from that country develop English language proficiency and critical-thinking skills. Abroad, Georgia Wyche, one of the institute’s English instructors, is currently in Valdivia, Chile, where she is teaching faculty and students at Universidad Austral de Chile.

The institute has grown significantly not only in numbers of student enrollment but also in staff. Since the beginning of the year about a dozen new full-time staff members have been hired to create a total of 50 employees at the institute – a leap from the five staff members when Back first came to Virginia Tech five years ago.

Elsie Paredes is the institute’s new associate director. Having been a teacher for more than 20 years, her previous career was good training for her new role, which includes taking charge of the English program. “Providing workshops and seminars for the teams of professionals that visit gives me my dose of being a teacher. This was a perfect opportunity for me,” Paredes says.

With the need to service more students came a new student-advising center offering university admissions and immigration advising as well as guidance not related to academics. Students can consult with Diana Housein-Salaita, the international student advisor, on personal, immigration, or legal issues. The center also organizes an extensive array of student activities. Housein-Salaita came to the institute from Virginia Tech’s Cranwell International Center.

As assistant director for special programs, Amanda Johnson is in charge of testing services, foreign language training, and new initiatives. Before coming to Virginia Tech in August 2010, Johnson worked as a program director, instructor, and teacher trainer at an Ecuadorian school of foreign language and linguistics. Among the current projects Johnson oversees is a college-preparatory program for gifted students from Saudi Arabia, a cooperative effort with the College of Science.

The Humphrey Fellows Program is the institute’s flagship. Each year for the past four years, the institute has hosted this group of mid-career professionals from around the globe for a spring-and-summer immersion in English. Sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, the Humphrey Fellows have a busy schedule including class visits, community interactions, academic networking, and leadership training. The program is headed by Bert Wilson, an expert in China’s Uyghur minority. Wilson also directs a similar project for junior government officials from Turkey, who are taking English courses at Virginia Tech as well visiting local government offices.

“We’re looking forward to even more developments in the coming year,” Back says. “The institute contributes to the university’s diversity and intellectual capacity by helping to attract the best and brightest international students, scholars, and professionals to our community.”

Written by Yen Dinh, a senior from Alexandria, Va., who is a marketing major in the Pamplin College of Business with a minor in leadership and social change in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
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