ESP Project Leader Profile: Michael Ennis

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP project leader profile, we meet Michael Ennis, a leader in Italy who shares his story of launching a TESOL group that has held several ESP conferences. Please see Mike’s bio:

Michael Ennis is the English Language Coordinator at the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano’s Language Centre and the founding coordinator of the TESOL Italy Val d’Adige Local Group. He has taught English and German at multiple universities in the United States, Germany, and Italy, and has given numerous conference presentations, organized teacher training, and published on his interests in ESP, ESAP, CLIL, extra credit and motivation, intercultural language teaching, and cultural studies. He is an active member of TESOL Italy and TESOL International, also serving on the TESOL Italy National Committee and the Editorial Review Board for TESOL Journal. He recently contributed an entry on “bilingual programs” to the TESOL Encyclopedia of English Language Teaching.

In his interview responses, Mike reflects on project leadership and provides valuable information for ESP practitioners aiming to start up an ESP group.


Michael Ennis, Ph.D.
Didactic and Scientific Coordinator for the English Language
Language Centre, Free University of Bozen-Bolzano

1. Define leadership in your own words

The definition of leadership and the ideal profile of a leader changes with each new project because every project requires leaders with a different set of traits and skills. In fact, the real leaders of a project often receive little public recognition because it can be difficult to even determine who the real leaders were until after the project successfully (or unsuccessfully) ends. Leaders can only be evaluated in terms of how successful their team was in achieving its objectives, so the difference between good leaders and bad leaders can only be determined retrospectively. My best definition is as follows: A good leader is someone who recognized (i.e., past tense) his or her own strengths and weaknesses with respect to an objective and managed to form strategic partnerships with like-minded individuals possessing the traits and skills required to meet that objective.

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?

I moved to Verona, Italy, in the autumn of 2009 and taught ESP and EAP at several Italian universities until the Free University of Bozen-Bolzano (unibz) became my sole employer in 2016.

Although teaching in Italy is rewarding, during the first few years I found myself starting over in Italian academia. I soon had colleagues with whom I worked regularly at two or three universities, but I no longer felt part of a community of practice (CoP). I no longer had time and funding to engage in continuous professional development (CPD), and I was no longer actively participating in professional and academic discourses. I quickly realized that I would not find university teaching in Italy rewarding long term unless I found a way to network and collaborate with colleagues.

One of the few conferences I managed to attend was the TESOL Italy National Convention, which is held each November in Rome. In 2014, I decided to form a TESOL Italy “local group” (LG) that would operate in the three provincial seats along the Adige River (i.e., my frequent commute to work): Verona, Trento, and Bozen-Bolzano. My ambition was to connect with local colleagues so that we could form our own CoP and create our own CPD opportunities. My first objective was to establish a dialog across the three local universities: unibz, the University of Trento (unitn), and the University of Verona (univr).

The first hurdle was seeking approval from TESOL Italy to form an LG. My selling points are listed below:

  • As part of TESOL Italy, our CPD activities would be associated with a respected brand and accredited by the Italian Ministry of Education.
  • With the founding members based at the three universities, we could form partnerships with the universities that would endow our events with credibility and prestige.
  • Focusing on the needs of university instructors at first, we could gradually include members from primary and secondary schools.

After gaining approval to form the TESOL Italy Val d’Adige Local Group, the next challenge was recruiting at least four additional founding members, ideally ELT professionals with more experience in Italy than me, as well as strong ties to one of the three universities.

Recognizing that experienced and established university instructors might have some apprehensions about joining another professional association, I described my vision for the group as a collaborative project that would bring mutual benefit. In my correspondence with potential founders, I employed the motto “By English teachers, for English teachers” and stressed that all members would be invited to propose, plan, speak at, and attend our events, though they would be free do so at their own leisure.

The founding members (Paola BazzoniSharon HartleJemma PriorCatherine Riley, and Steven Sparks) had over 100 years combined teaching experience in Italy!

During our constitutive meeting in June 2014, I proposed that our first event should be a symposium on teaching English for ESP/EAP, hoping that this would secure the interest and participation of the founding members, in particular my experienced colleague Jemma Prior.

For our first symposium on Teaching ESP/EAP (2014), we invited speakers from the three universities—including four founding members—to share perspectives and experiences teaching ESP/EAP.

The success of our first event cemented ESP/EAP a cornerstone of our LG. For our symposium on Assessing ESP/EAP (2015), we likewise invited LG members and other speakers from the three local institutions, while calls for papers solicited national and international perspectives at the symposia on Teaching English for Tourism (2016) and Approaches to ESP/EAP (2016).

Upon accepting a position at the unibz Language Centre, I proposed that the Language Centre host a fifth symposium including the other two official languages of instruction at unibz: German and Italian. The call for papers for the Symposium on Teaching LSP/LAP in Higher Education, which will be held on 29 June 2018, has attracted almost 50 submissions from more than 20 countries.

Our LG has organized more than 20 lectures, seminars, and symposia to date, and we have successfully expanded our activities and membership to include secondary and primary teachers. All of the founding members have taken on a leadership role on multiple occasions. Due to our rapid growth, our LG split in two and the Verona LG was formed in 2017.

Although I could benefit much more from the LG personally and professionally, it is clear that our group would be better served by a new coordinator. For this reason, I have nominated Andrew Wimhurst to replace me as coordinator of the Val d’Adige LG. I am confident that a continued focus on ESP and EAP will sustain the participation of our most active members.

Mike’s account of his creation of a CoP in Italy reminded me of the TESOL ESPIS transition to a C0P under the current organizational structure of TESOL International Association. As a co-leader with Kay Westerfield of the ESPIS transition team and as a member of the Governance Review Task Force (appointed by the TESOL Board of Directors), I recognize the importance of various stakeholders.

Please feel free to contact Mike 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: Michael Ennis

  1. Rossana Ramírez-Avila says:

    It was nice reading this article. I wish I had more time to read more about these type of articles. Since, they provide real insights of the sequence of activities, steps and personality factors that involve starting a new project.

    Thanks for sharing.

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