ESP Project Leader Profile: Ethel Swartley

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this TESOL Blog post, you will read the ESP project leader profile of Ethel Swartley. In each of the (six in total) ESP project leader profiles that have been posted previously, the focus has been on English for occupational purposes (EOP). The focus of Ethel’s profile, however, is on English for academic business purposes (i.e., in connection with an MBA program in the USA) as she explains below.

Regarding Ethel’s bio, the following points are of particular interest and relevance:

  • A past chair of the ESPIS
  • 10 years at Drexel University (Philadelphia) developing contract programs and an executive business communication program
  • Four years as a language teaching and training consultant
  • ESP specialist projects for U.S. Department of State in Jordan, Algeria, Curacao, and West Africa
  • Now 9 years at University of Denver doing English for academic purposes (EAP)

As you can see from her experiences, Ethel has expertise in both EOP and EAP.

Ethel’s expertise is evident in her profile below, which is especially interesting for me because she focuses on how she gets the support and involvement of stakeholders to achieve the goals that they desire. Similarly to Anne Lomperis, Ethel is in the position of improving a program that is already in place, and she needs to influence decision makers. Accordingly, she acts as a “change-maker.” Notice how she involves stakeholders to build a “team” that supports the students.


Ethel C. Swartley
Teaching Assistant Professor/Special Programs Coordinator
University of Denver English Language Center

1. How would you define leadership?

Leadership means exercising one’s own knowledge, abilities and talents in such a way that others are inspired and empowered to exercise their own, and thus, projects can be accomplished in effective and creative ways.

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?

Project: English for Academic Business Purposes

Project description: Transform a general academic language orientation into a short ESP course for international graduate students in an American MBA program.

Success is defined by more active participation and greater success of international students in MBA courses (as reported by business faculty), positive feedback from students about program relevance, and data from pre- and postprogram proficiency assessments.

Needs Assessment

  • interviewed business faculty, administrators, and current students (both domestic and international)
  • attended departmental planning meetings with admissions officers and advisors
  • listened to expressed needs and asked questions
  • observed and recorded target course activities to analyze communication requirements
  • collected sample assignment descriptions, target course texts, and syllabi
  • conferred with departmental faculty and administrators to determine program design and content

One challenge in this project was that the business college administrators had a language orientation in place but were dissatisfied with its outcomes without knowing what they wanted instead. Leadership skills came into play as I asked questions, not about the weaknesses of the original program, but about the target skills and communication tasks that the learners needed to be able to perform in their business courses. The stakeholders did not know that ESP was what they wanted, but because I had ESP analysis skills, I was able to help them define and envision a program that prepared the learners specifically for the communication tasks they would have to do.

Having opened Pandora’s box of dreams, I then had to help the stakeholders focus in on what their most important goals were for the program and to define what was achievable in the time available. In the end, because the stakeholders recognized that students needed some skills on Day 1 of their classes, while other skills could wait, we designed a two-tiered program: 2 weeks of intensive ESP workshops when the students first arrived in country, followed by weekly ESP support sessions throughout the students’ first term in their MBA program.

By working with various types of stakeholders in the needs analysis process, I was able to identify who could do what in terms of providing ESP support. Some training could be provided by language professionals, while other skills could be addressed by business faculty and student peers. By involving people at each of these levels in the discussion and the decision-making, we developed strong buy-in from all levels of the business college, and the program ran successfully for more than 5 years.

Ethel drives home the point that we do not meet our learners’ needs alone. As a leader, she made sure that everyone was focused on meeting the needs of the learners…which brings me to the question: What are you doing to bring stakeholders together to meet the needs of your learners?

In connection with getting the support of others for the training of my students, I obtained agreement from leaders (in the public, private, and academic sectors) to use the research data (that I was collecting in semistructured interviews) when I conducted leadership communication training with my undergraduate students in Japan. That story was published in my doctoral thesis.

Do you have questions and/or comments for Ethel? Please post those below!

All the best,


Note: To see all of the ESP project leader profiles, go here.

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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