ESP Project Leader Profile: Yilin Sun

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

In this ESP Project Leader Profile, you will read about a former president of TESOL International Association—Dr. Yilin Sun. Here is a portion of her bio on the TESOL website:

Yilin Sun has served as president of TESOL International Association, as chair of the TESOL Affiliate Leadership Council, and president of Washington Association for the Education of Speakers of Other Languages (WAESOL). In 2011-2012, Dr. Sun was a Fulbright Senior Scholar in Taiwan at the National Taiwan Normal University. Dr. Sun received her doctorate in applied linguistics/curriculum and instruction from the University of Toronto, Canada. She has more than 28 years of experience in the field of TESOL as a teacher educator, a researcher, a classroom teacher, and a program leader with various institutions of higher education in China, Canada, and the United States.

In addition to the above, Yilin will be a plenary speaker at the Joint International Conference, ESP in Asia: Frontier and Advancement, The 8th International Conference on ESP in Asia & The 3rd International Symposium on Innovative Teaching and Research in ESP in Japan.

I look forward to hearing Yilin speak at the conference. You can find the call for papers here. The deadline for proposals is 30 June 2016 (23:59 GMT).

Yilin Sun

Dr. Yilin Sun, South Seattle College

e-mail: or

Define leadership in your own words.                                    

To me, leadership skills include the ability to inspire a team of professionals to work together to develop a vision into reality.  It takes unwavering commitment to accomplish bringing people together to transform a vision into a tangible project. It needs clear strategic directions and accountable action plans to make it happen.

Effective leaders are genuine advocates for their profession, their students, and their community. They walk the walk and are trustworthy. A good leader doesn’t need to be always in the spotlight but she/he knows when to lead from the front and when to step back and lead from the peripherals.

During my service as president of TESOL International Association, I shared two blogs on the topic of leadership, which I hope will provide you with a better understanding of my definition of leadership.  One is entitled Demystifying the Myths About Leadership and the other is Seven Magic Words to Develop Teachers as Leaders.

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?

Over my career I have been involved with several ESP projects including curriculum development, ESP teacher training, and teaching ESP/EAP courses. There are always stories behind success as I see success as a journey requiring ongoing collaborative effort with all stakeholders, not just by a single leader.

I have two stories to share. These illustrate the two types of students I normally teach.  One project is an ESP teacher training program and the other is a language program for adult immigrants and refugees students.

The ESP-AMT (Aviation Maintenance Technology) teacher training program was a project I designed for a group of international ESP teacher trainees.  This project turned out to be very successful; a true team success as a coteacher teaming with the AMT instructors.  Unlike conventional teacher training courses where the trainees would work by themselves, this group of trainees attended AMT classes with local American AMT students for 4 hours a day, hands-on training.  Following the conclusion of classes each day, we would debrief as a group.  Instructors engaged trainees’ questions, and modified instructional materials and activities as needed.  One of the tasks that contributed to the program’s success was that I would conclude each week with working directly with trainees on topics related to ESP lesson planning, needs assessment, teaching techniques, and AMT genre-analysis, etc.

Another story I’d like to share is the Project I-DEA program. I-DEA stands for integrated digital English acceleration. I started with this program in summer 2015. This is a program targeting community college students in Washington State’s lowest three levels of English Language Acquisition courses.  The program aims to help immigrant and refugee students through the integration of technology and language learning. The I-DEA project is funded by the Gates Foundation. For more information about I-DEA, please refer to its website.

In this program, the instructors utilize a blended/hybrid format with a flipped instructional model and integrated instructional technologies.  The students meet with me in class and online for 11 weeks.  It was a challenging start; the majority of students had no computer skills and limited English abilities, not to mention knowing nothing about how to work online.

However, with concerted efforts by the students and the teacher, at the end of 11 weeks, the students’ progress was amazing—both in digital literacy and language skills.  The new skills have given these students confidence to work online, work in teams, and share ideas in class and on Canvas. Those skills are essential in moving forward on their pathway for career and college success.

Here are the six points that I feel are necessary in making a project successful:

  1. Shared vision, trust, passion, and commitment for student success among all team players
  2. Everyone works collaboratively as a true community of practitioners
  3. Willingness to step out of comfort zones and embrace new ideas, intercultural communication, and interdisciplinary collaboration—border crossing acts
  4. Motivation, commitment, and support from all stakeholders: unit administrator, college IT services, and learners
  5. Realistic long-term and short-term goals and steps to measure and achieve them; ongoing needs assessment
  6. Innovative approaches and modules in scaffolding steps: A flipped model allows the program to significantly increase the rigor for students without requiring them to be on campus for additional time, fosters independent learning, and increases individual attention; project-based learning encourages students to utilize the course information and critical thinking to creatively solve problems

After reading Yilin’s profile above, I took a look at the I-DEA program website as she suggested. On the website:

  • The Integrated Digital English Acceleration (I-DEA) program teaches English language skills in the context of college and careers for learners who face the largest language gaps. Unlike traditional approaches — in which learners are expected to learn English before pursuing college or job-training — I-DEA teaches English in tandem with college and career skills. Students quickly learn skills relevant to their lives and careers.
  • I-DEA is based on Washington state’s I-BEST program, which integrates instruction using team-teaching to combine college-readiness classes with job training. I-DEA connects to I-BEST and other programs that lead to certificates, degrees and family-wage jobs.

Very interesting and useful information!

Do you have any questions or comments for Yilin? Please post those below or contact her directly! Thank you!

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.
This entry was posted in TESOL Blog and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.