Transforming Students Into Researchers and Leaders

Hello, ESPers worldwide!

One of my passions has been preparing my undergraduate students in Japan for their leadership roles in the future. What I have been learning in this regard is also important for ESPers. In this TESOL Blog post, I will explain to you what I mean.

Maria Klawe, the president of Harvey Mudd College, wrote an article titled “Transforming Today’s College Students Into Future Leaders” that was published by Forbes. The first part of that article is as follows:

The issues facing our nation today—building a strong economy, providing quality health and human services, creating environmental sustainability, maintaining national security—are formidable. To tackle these problems successfully, we need innovative, able leaders who are skilled in their fields and dedicated to pursuing creative and innovative solutions.

How do we develop these leaders?

One of the best learning strategies may surprise you. We need to engage more students in undergraduate research.

When I read the article above recently, I felt as if I were reading about my own leadership development efforts with my students. Why did I feel like I knew exactly what she was talking about? The following quotes from her article reflect my own ideas:

  • In our increasingly technological and information-rich world, the skills honed through pursuing original research and scholarship are vital to any field and are essential to preparing today’s students to become tomorrow’s problem solvers.
  • Engaging in undergraduate research and scholarship through these types of experiential learning opportunities benefits students intellectually, personally and professionally.
  • They gain self-confidence, independence of thought and perseverance as they encounter challenges in their research process, and they learn to collaborate in teams.
  • They also hone important communication skills as they present their findings both on campus and at conferences around the world.
  • Students take ownership of a project and gain a new maturity. This is really the transformation from a good science student to a good scientist.
  • The most obvious gain is in doing science and becoming scientists….They cross that threshold as they participate in these processes and projects.

I consider project leadership to be an extremely important part of my leadership development efforts with my students. In this connection, I view leadership as involving communication to create and to achieve the vision. I agree that such experiential project-based learning can be very effective in developing my students into better problem solvers.

So what is my next step? To connect my students to leaders on a global scale as researchers. Their aim will be to conduct research that prepares them to become leaders in the future. Their focus will be on professional communication.

How is “all of the above” related to ESP? As ESP practitioners, we are trying to transform our learners into the professionals they need to become. Our focus is on professional communication skills. In this regard, we should be trying to connect our learners in various ways to the kinds of professionals they seek to become. In my mind, such connections can occur through documents, people, etc. Further, research can be a way to enable our learners to take ownership of their learning and to make their own connections.

Good luck in helping your students to achieve their goals!

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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