Celebrating IEM: Interview with Bill Wallace

 

IEM SPOTLIGHT NEWSLETTER, VOL. 14, Summer ISSUE - August 2017

By: Stephanie Ingvaldson, Sacramento State University

Bill Wallace, PhD, is currently the director of the University of Alabama’s English Language Institute (ELI) and VP-Elect for Advocacy on the EnglishUSA Executive Board. At the University of Alabama, he has been a strong advocate for internationalizing the campus and supporting the successful transition of English language learners to full-time degree-seeking study through pathways and conditional admission programs he initiated. He created a study center to foster independent learning for ESL students, and his vision has made the University of Alabama’s ELI a world-class intensive English program (IEP), where international students feel welcomed, supported, integrated, and celebrated.

An active proponent in the ESL field since 1978, Wallace was presented with the 2017 Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Enrollment Management by NAFSA’s IEM Knowledge Community. We had the opportunity to ask Wallace about his start in IEPs and what has maintained his passion in the field.

Out of all the areas of specialization within the international education field, how did you decide upon ESL?

I did not really start from the premise that I wanted to be involved in international education. Rather, I realized that I was fascinated by people from other countries, the cultural differences, and “international things” in general. This interest, along with my undergraduate major in English literature, pointed me toward a career in ESL.

You’re a seasoned professional in the area of IEPs and have seen a wide spectrum of evolution. What would you say have been the most impactful changes affecting those who work in the field?

In my mind, there are two events that have had a tremendous impact on the field of IEPs in the last 20 years: (1) the creation of a professional accrediting body (Commission on English Language Accreditation in 1999) that specializes in the accreditation of IEPs; and (2) the passage and implementation of the Accreditation Act of 2013, which requires all IEPs to be accredited, either directly or indirectly, in order to issue I-20s. Both of these events have had a very positive impact on the field, in my opinion.

What advice do you have for those professionals working in the areas of ESL and IEPs who want to become further involved and advance professionally?

My advice would include the following: (a) work hard at your job, care about your work, and do your best for your employer and your constituents, especially your students; (b) get involved in professional organizations such as NAFSA, TESOL, EnglishUSA, and University and College Intensive English Programs (UCIEP); and (c) remember to care about individuals, no matter who they are or what position they hold.

Many colleges and universities have seen a large decrease in the flow of conditionally admitted students as a result of government scholarship programs beginning to decrease their funding for students who want to study English at a university and then start their degree program. What suggestions do you have for the institutions and IEPs that want to continue working together to increase student enrollment but are unable to rely as heavily on the conditional admission pathway?

Many of us in the field, including me, are struggling with these issues of enrollment management. These decreases in enrollment are particularly difficult for IEPs, which are typically self-supporting units regardless of whether they are governed by universities or are stand-alone, independent, proprietary programs. I have no particular suggestion to offer other than to remember that, although IEP enrollments tend to fluctuate from time to time, in the past when there have been significant dips, enrollments have always bounced back and become even stronger. We are all hoping that history repeats itself and that the same thing happens this time!

You were this year’s recipient of the annual Award for Outstanding Contributions to International Enrollment Management, and during your acceptance speech at the NAFSA Annual Conference you had some powerful words to share about the role of IEM professionals in today’s world that resonated with us in the room. For our colleagues who were not present, what do you think are the current issues we need to focus on or the values that we need to uphold in our field?

What I said in that speech is what I truly believe about our work as international educators: “I know it is clear to each of you that our work and dedication are needed now more than ever because of these challenging times that we are facing. Yes, we are international educators, and in this role, we are peacemakers in the world. We bring the world together. We work for peace and love and understanding among all of humankind. Let us rededicate ourselves with a newfound fervor. Let us never forget that our work makes the world a better place.”


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