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