ESP Project Leader Profile: Jennifer Roberts

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP project leader profile, we meet our incoming English in occupational settings (EOS) representative for TESOL ESPIS. If you would like to speak with Jennifer and other ESPIS members in person, please attend the ESPIS Open Meeting at TESOL 2018 in Chicago. Jennifer’s bio highlights her background as an aviation English specialist, her international experience, and her research interests:

Jennifer Roberts is a faculty member in the College of Aeronautics at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide, serving as the Aviation English Specialist to develop and implement aviation English programs both locally and internationally. Before coming to Embry-Riddle, she served as an English Language Fellow in Indonesia where she focused on teacher training and program development, shortly after receiving her MA in applied linguistics and ESL from Georgia State University. Her research interests are in the pedagogical applications of corpus linguistics, language policy and planning, and curriculum and materials development in English for specific purposes settings. Currently, her research focuses on the level of English language proficiency necessary for ab initio aviation personnel, such as those beginning flight training.

In her responses to the interview questions below, Jennifer shares how she uses through promotional methods to get stakeholder buy-in for an aviation English course.

Jennifer Roberts
Faculty, Aviation English Specialist
College of Aeronautics
Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Worldwide

1. Define leadership in your own words.

“Good management is the art of making problems so interesting and their solutions so constructive that everyone wants to get to work and deal with them.”

Paul Hawken (1987, p. 39)

Although “management” isn’t always synonymous with leadership, Hawken’s quote embodies what I try to do as a leader; i.e., advocate for solutions by highlighting the issues in a way that engages, inspires, and ultimately drives others to contribute because they see the value in what we are doing and find the context to be so interesting. Leaders in ESP settings should strive towards developing and implementing innovative solutions to complex problems, but with the mindset of doing whatever it takes to adhere to best practices while accommodating the specific needs of the target audience. Additionally, great leaders capitalize on opportunities and find ways to say “yes” in an effort to allow those we service to move forward based on the support they receive from our courses, programs, etc.

Prior to working in aviation English, I was privileged to work with many diverse groups of English language learners, beginning with adult immigrants and refugees, transitioning to university IEP students, traveling to China to train teachers and excite summer camp students, and finally working with Indonesian university students, future teachers, lawyers, and even ornithologists. These experiences taught me that our most important responsibility is the identification of the specific need and the careful consideration of how to appropriately and effectively respond to that need.

2. Tell me an ESP project success story. Focus on your communication as a leader in the project. How did you communicate with stakeholders to make that project successful?

Today, aviation is growing exponentially in countries where English is not the first language. Coupled with the looming pilot shortage, the need for new pilots to be trained quickly and permitted to enter the job market has become a hot topic and is contributing to the increase in nonnative English speakers traveling to countries where the language of flight instruction is English. To successfully complete flight training in a manner which is safe, cost-efficient, and time-sensitive, cadets should ideally enter the program with adequate English language proficiency.

Through conversations with flight schools and an outpouring of anecdotal evidence, I learned the unfortunate truth that if a student pilot’s English skills are found to be insufficient after beginning training, most flight schools do not have a viable solution to offer. Students are often “grounded” and told to find private tutoring, or they continue to try and fail, spending money and time in an effort to obtain their pilot’s license. Additionally, common complaints from flight school instructors and administrators reference the student’s lack of technical English skills, such as aviation-related vocabulary knowledge.

Here at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, we decided to create a program that could be offered to students prior to entering flight school, to facilitate the acquisition of language skills and foundational aviation knowledge, designed to support the communicative demands the student will encounter during their journey through flight school. Importantly, these demands extend beyond pilot–air traffic controller radio communication, to include a student pilot communicating with his flight instructor, both on the ground and in the flight deck, or a student pilot in a classroom during ground school, listening to lectures and taking notes.

Our major goal in the “Aviation English for Flight Training” course is to provide language skills that will allow nonnative English speakers to participate fully in flight training without language proficiency interfering with safe and efficient flight operations or overall program cost and time. The intensive program we have developed utilizes a content-based approach, focusing on foundational aviation materials and the language skills put forth by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO): comprehension, interaction, fluency, pronunciation, structure, and vocabulary.

An important component of the course implementation has been, of course, the “selling” of the course. Communicating with stakeholders, including flight school administrators, flight instructors, and the student pilots themselves, has been most effective when the value of the program is emphasized in an educational and supportive manner through outreach initiatives such as newsletters and webinars.

In her conclusion, Jennifer focuses on an important skill for ESP practitioners. We all need to be able to obtain stakeholder support in creating and implementing our courses. Jennifer uses the word “selling,” and I see a relationship between “sales” and “leadership” when the act of persuading stakeholders involves obtaining stakeholder support for achieving a shared vision. The creation of the shared vision (or goals) in an ESP program is a collaborative effort.

If you haven’t read Jennifer’s article titled “Responding to the Unique Needs  of Aviation English Students,” please take a look at it and the other two aviation English-related articles in the October 2017 issue of ESP News.

Do you have any questions or comments for Jennifer? Please feel free to contact her directly.

All the best,


Hawken, P. (1987). Growing a business. New York, New York: Simon & Schuster.

About Kevin Knight

Kevin Knight
Kevin Knight (PhD in Linguistics, MBA, MPIA) is an associate professor in the Department of International Communication (International Business Career major) and has also been working in the Career Education Center of Kanda University of International Studies in Chiba, Japan. In the TESOL ESP Interest Section (ESPIS), he has served as chair and English in occupational settings (EOS) representative, and he is currently the ESPIS community manager. He was also a member of the Governance Review Task Force (GRTF) appointed by the board of directors. In addition, he has been a TESOL blogger in the area of English for Specific Purposes (ESP). He has more than 30 years of professional experience working for private, public, and academic sector institutions including Sony and the Japan Patent Office. His doctoral research on leadership communication (i.e., discourse) as a basis for leadership development was under the supervision of Emeritus Professor Christopher Candlin and Dr. Alan Jones.
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