ESP Project Leader Profile: Jennifer Speier

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In the 44th ESP project leader profile, we learn more about one of the TESOL ESPIS leaders, the secretary and archivist, Jennifer Speier. When I spoke with Jennifer at the annual convention in Chicago in March 2018, I learned that she was multilingual and doing ESP work in Mexico, and I was especially pleased that she agreed to share her experience as an ESP project leader in this profile.

Jennifer Speier is a current Master’s International Peace Corps volunteer working at a polytechnic university in Hidalgo, Mexico, as part of the English for Technical and Academic Purposes program.  She is in the process of completing her MA TESOL degree from California State University Sacramento.  Prior to beginning her MA degree Jennifer taught in EFL and ESL classrooms in France, Colombia, Wisconsin, and California.  Her research interests include assessment, second language writing, and materials development.

In Jennifer’s responses to the interview questions, we gain insights into how to successfully create an ESP program that meets the English communication needs of faculty and students.

Jennifer Speier
Peace Corps volunteer, Mexico

1. Define leadership in your own words.

At a basic level, I would define leadership as the ability to manage a team to bring about the successful outcome of a project. Leadership styles and context go hand in hand; leadership will look different depending on the project, team members, resources, etc.  Successful leaders recognize the strengths of team members and assign tasks appropriately to facilitate collaboration, foster effective communication within the team, and inspire the team to ensure investment in the project; they keep the project driving forward and learn from their mistakes in order to continue to grow.

In this field especially, it is important to recognize that leadership in a multicultural setting adds an additional layer of complexity because potentially multiple value sets are at play. When I have taken on leadership positions, I’ve found that willingness to collaborate, effective listening, and humility go a long way.

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?

During my Peace Corps service in Mexico, I have had the privilege of working with the graduate studies department at my university. When I began my service, English classes were not formally part of the curriculum for masters and doctoral students, yet these students were expected to participate in professional development opportunities in English and reach a B2 level on the CEFR at the time of graduation. Working alongside the department chair, we have been trying to implement English support for students and faculty. We created a course on public speaking to prepare masters and doctoral students as well as university faculty to present their research in English, and we are beginning a writing program to support those who would like to publish in English.

University students and faculty are expected to be able to research, collaborate, and access professional opportunities internationally in both English and Spanish. Those with limited English capabilities are unable to share their work and compete on a global level. In the beginning of my service, it became evident that the ability to get published in journals and present at conferences in English was a main priority for the university; however, students and faculty were given very little language support to do so. Articles written in English were already incorporated into the curriculum; thus, most students and staff felt comfortable reading in English and had a general understanding of the genre, but they struggled when it came to writing and speaking about their own research.

In my experience, projects are more successful and sustainable when they are participatory and inclusive, so I tried to involve stakeholders, in this case the chair of graduate studies, faculty and students, as much as possible in the design of both projects.  To this end, a significant portion of my needs analysis was stakeholder interviews, but I also reviewed the current curriculum of the three programs I was working with and analyzed previously published articles and drafts in progress.  Once the needs had been established and the planning and approval phases had begun, I found that patience and persistence were key.  There were delays due to scheduling and turn over at the university, but I kept communication open with the stakeholders and the projects eventually moved forward.

Once the classes had begun, it became clear that the most significant challenge was participant buy-in.  As these projects were not formal curriculum classes, participants were lacking the extrinsic grade motivation and were struggling to make time in their schedules.  Even if they enjoyed the sessions and could see the value and their improvement, consistent turnout was still a struggle.  To combat this, I’ve added more emphasis to online components where possible, expanded my availability, and adjusted the grouping of participants to personalize the sessions more for their needs.

I consider both the public speaking course and writing program to be ongoing projects, but they have been successful for me so far.  It has been a great learning process, and my goal is that continued collaboration between the graduate studies department and the foreign languages department will lead to these projects continuing beyond my service.

The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Government, the Peace Corps or the Government of Mexico.

It is interesting to me that the word “peace” appears in Jennifer’s profile because I was recently asked to write an article about peace leadership, and I view the ESP project leader profiles as providing examples of leaders engaging in socially responsible activities for good purposes. In this connection, I am reminded of the TED Talk given by Ernesto Sirolli (September 2012), a sustainable development expert, which is described as follows:

When most well-intentioned aid workers hear of a problem they think they can fix, they go to work. This, Ernesto Sirolli suggests, is naïve. In this funny and impassioned talk, he proposes that the first step is to listen to the people you’re trying to help, and tap into their own entrepreneurial spirit. His advice on what works will help any entrepreneur.

I see connections between leadership and entrepreneurship because they are both creative activities that involve others. In her profile, Jennifer shows us how to work together with others to create programs that meet learners’ real and immediate needs for English language communication skills.

Please feel free to contact Jennifer directly with any questions or comments!

All the best,

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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One Response to ESP Project Leader Profile: Jennifer Speier

  1. Rossana Ramírez says:

    Thank you Jennifer for sharing your experience. I think collaboration is key, but when people are not willing to collaborate it becomes a hindrance. Also, policies sometimes do not contribute when we want to make changes. Anyways, we need to keep trying for inclusive education.

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