ESP Project Leader Profile: Kay Westerfield

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In the 30th ESP project leader profile, we meet the founder of the ESP Interest Section, a former member of the TESOL Board of Directors, and one of the TESOL 50 at 50 award winners, Kay Westerfield.

Kay Westerfield is a veteran consultant and invited speaker in the fields of English for Specific Purposes, International Business Communication, Leadership, and Program Evaluation. Kay has worked with audiences in academia and in the corporate sector throughout Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East. She founded and directed the International Business Communication Program at the University of Oregon. Kay is the co-author of several articles and books, including Effective Practices for Workplace Language Training. She served on the Board of Directors for TESOL International Association and was recognized by TESOL in honor of the association’s 50th anniversary as one of the 50 at 50: 50 individuals who have made significant contributions to the profession within the past 50 years.

In Kay’s interview, we learn about intrapreneurship in ESP.



Kay Westerfield
Global Communication Consulting

1. Define leadership in your own words.

 My colleagues in their postings have highlighted key aspects of leadership in ESP including recognizing a need, carefully listening to all stakeholders, building trust, creating an action plan, and communicating effectively (not easy!). To their gems, I’d like to add a few of my favorite quotes on the topic: “A leader is someone who wants to help” (Margaret Wheatley). “If you inspire others to dream more, do more, become more, you are a leader” (John Quincy Adams). “Leaders don’t force people to follow. They invite them on a journey” (Charles S. Lauer). 

Intrapreneurship in ESP

In ESP, we often have the opportunity to be intrapreneurs rather than entrepreneurs. That is, rather than creating our own business as an entrepreneur (which also definitely happens in ESP), we see the need for a change within our existing organization (e.g., university, language institute, school, professional association), and take the responsibility to make that change happen. For many of us, this might take the form of a developing a new program or content-discipline focused course to address the needs of a specific group of learners. 

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? 

One ESP Project: The International Business Communication (IBC) Program at the University of Oregon

As Charles Hall wrote in his ESP Project Leader blog post, it’s hard to choose a “success” story because we learn a lot even from the “failures”—the projects that didn’t work out for one reason or another.

The The International Business Communication (IBC) Program, now in its 21st year, is offered at the University of Oregon by the American English Institute/College of Arts and Sciences and the Lundquist College of Business. It stands on the shoulders of other intrapreneurship projects in ESP-business that did not continue but were rich learning experiences and provided the foundation for subsequent ESP endeavors.

Through those early projects, I was able to bump up my knowledge and expertise in business communication (a field new to me!) by sitting in on classes in the College of Business; this helped me to build trust and relationships with senior business faculty and, therefore, my credibility when it came to establishing a new program in international business communication.

Program Needs Assessment

My colleagues in the College of Business and I believed there was a need to better serve international, undergraduate business students in their academic courses and in their future careers, so we embarked on a needs assessment—the heart of ESP.

The initial needs assessment focused on key stakeholders: students, business faculty, student advisors, top administrators, and companies.

  • For international students, we held focus groups (with snacks!) to determine interest, preferred courses, and the importance of receiving a Certificate of Mastery in International Business Communication. I also sat in on undergraduate business classes to understand what was required for student success.
  • For business faculty, we conducted face-to-face interviews using a questionnaire. We also worked closely with the university’s business and economics reference librarian to understand the business research genres and databases required in courses and by companies.
  • For student academic advisers, we met to understand the constraints in adding courses to student schedules and how best to manage that.
  • For top administrators, we met individually with those in our own institute or college and then had meetings with all together.
  • For company stakeholders (the future employers!), we relied on information from current and former international students, and statements from local and international companies.

The International Business Communication Program

As a result of our needs assessment, we designed five, 300-level courses in international business communication offered in the College of Business. For more information, see University of Oregon’s International Business Communication Program at Lundquist College of Business and American English Institute.

 Some Thoughts on Credibility and Communication in ESP

  • In ESP, being able to bump up one’s discipline-specific content knowledge is key for building credibility not only with content experts but also with colleagues in one’s own language department, the latter being emphasized by an early leader in language teaching, Wilga Rivers.
  • ESP course credibility is increased by pushing in to the field (housing advanced discipline-specific communication courses in the content department) rather than pulling out and offering those advanced courses in the language department.
  • ESP practitioners and researchers benefit greatly from strong cross-cultural communication skills as they seek to enter the new discourse community of the content discipline.

Here’s another leadership story that is not really an ESP story. 

Intrapreneurship in TESOL International Association

Establishing the ESP Interest Section in TESOL International Association 20 years ago was an intrapreneurship project that arose in response to a clear need: the need to see the field of ESP more fairly represented by the number of ESP sessions at TESOL conventions. This project required

  • understanding the steps in the process to establish an interest section (IS)
  • being able to enlist others to collaborate, documenting the strong interest in ESP by listing past convention sessions
  • marketing our vision for an IS and gaining the required number of TESOL members committed to making the ESP IS their primary IS
  • listening to and effectively responding to the concerns of other IS leaders
  • fostering sustainable leadership within the IS after its approval.

The ESP IS will now be considering how best to continue advocating for ESP and enhancing communication among ESP practitioners and researchers during upcoming changes to the IS structure in TESOL International Association.

Kay’s responses illuminate the importance of collaboration on multiple levels. Her definitions of leadership were provided in view of the definitions of others. Her intrapreneurship activities were also conducted with others.

I see the future ESPIS as a community where members are all collaborating to do the following: (1) to achieve their own goals and (2) to help others to achieve their own goals. In my mind, this means that we all continue to develop our leadership skills (when leadership is conceptualized as an activity that involves creating and achieving a shared vision).

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

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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