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Return to Community College Leads to
ESL Career for Alumna Emily Jacobs


West Windsor, N.J. - Alumna Emily Jacobs '02 (A.S., Humanities and Social Science) grew up in the community college culture. Her mother was a theater teacher at the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI). Jacobs took many classes there over the years as a teen and young adult, earning 57 credits in singing, dancing and acting.

In the late 1990s, following her move to Central New Jersey, Jacobs worked for the Marriott Corporation as a Human Resource trainer. Her role was to recruit and train the unemployed, with a Marriott job as the end goal. "I tried to teach both job and life skills," Jacobs notes.

The social work component of her job held great appeal. So when the program was discontinued, Jacobs decided she wanted the college credits to make social work an official credential.

"I was offered positions by both the Department of Labor and the Mercer County Board of Social Services to do Welfare-to-Work training, but there was so much that I still needed to know." Jacobs decided to return to school at MCCC.

During her first semester, she took an introductory Spanish class and proved such a natural with the language that her plans changed. "The teacher was really supportive and encouraged me to think about teaching English as a Second Language (ESL)," Jacobs recalled.

Emily Jacobs '02

Testing the waters at the Berlitz Language Center in Princeton, she began teaching English part-time to adult executives from foreign countries."I decided early on at Mercer that's what I wanted -- to be an ESL teacher," she says.

Jacobs notes that being a resident of Hightstown, which has seen a significant influx of Spanish speakers in recent years, helped to strengthen her skills. When assigned a research paper in her Cultural Geography course, she focused on Ecuador, "our unique population in Hightstown. I frequented the tiendas and restaurants on Main Street, spoke to the owners, and read Ecuadorian magazines. One restaurant owner sat me down with an Ecuadorian cookbook," she recalls. "They were so welcoming. They would insist on giving me free samples of dishes. I embraced this community."

Also fully engaged on campus, Jacobs served as an officer for the Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society and was active on the Student Activities Board. She recalls that in 2001, after the horrific events of 9/11, she helped to organize respectful dialogues with Muslim students. She informally tutored many students in Spanish and composition. She was an All-State Academic Team member, president of Alpha Mu Gamma, listed in Who's Who in Two-Year Colleges, and was awarded scholarships to help pay for further tuition. She earned her associate degree in Humanities and Social Science in 2002, graduating with high honors.

Jacobs credits Mercer with bolstering her confidence, social skills, and of course, learning. "I remember the thrill of seeing the connections between what I was learning. I literally began to feel smarter every day. I really had the sense that the people at Mercer were saying, 'Go Emily.'"

Jacobs realized - very quickly - how marketable her bilingual skills were. "Literally, the Monday after graduation, I began working as a substitute teacher for the East Windsor School District." She was assigned to ESL, bilingual and foreign language classrooms; several assignments were long-term positions. "I subbed for all six schools in the district. It was the most important training of all," she said.

Jacobs also found her skills in demand in Mercer's noncredit division. She taught English for the Center for Training and Development (CTD), working with employees at a warehouse and country club. There she began to learn the issues facing adults, particularly Spanish-speaking parents of school age children. "At that time, in East Windsor, letters from school administrators were not sent home with Spanish translation. I really championed for them to change that," Jacobs said.

Jacobs was also committed to continuing her education. She attended the University of Pennsylvania for one semester, but decided to transfer to Thomas Edison State College, which took her Mercer credits, those earned at CCRI, and additional credits for work experience. She completed her bachelor's degree in Liberal Studies in 2005. Next she earned her ESL certification at The
College of New Jersey.

This past October, Jacobs made a welcome return to MCCC as an instructor for both ESL and Adult Basic Education at the James Kerney Campus. She is teaching more than 30 students from various backgrounds, including Haitians displaced after last year's devastating earthquake and other non-English speakers who have lived in the United States for a decade or more. "They may live in a setting where they don't need to speak English. But once their children are of school age, the push is on for them to improve their language skills."

She says the social worker in her is satisfied. "To understand where adult students are coming from, you have to get more involved in their community and their culture, and understand the challenges they face as parents. I also try to educate them about American culture."

Jacobs notes that she and the program's three other instructors are a cohesive group. "We are committed to helping our students develop the skills to be able to go on and earn their GEDs, get jobs and maybe eventually pursue college level work."

Jacobs is outspoken about her belief in the community college system. She notes that it is what you make of it. "I've always encouraged teens to try Mercer. You have opportunities that wouldn't be afforded to freshmen and sophomores in a big school - like being editor of the school newspaper or head of the radio station. I consider my experience as a Mercer student to be the best time in my life."

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