Tag: Uruguay

James Cohen wins Fulbright

James Cohen

James Cohen

James Cohen will spend the summer of 2019 in Uruguay as a Fulbright Scholar.

The associate professor of ESL/Bilingual Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction will work alongside Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. Rodriguez is also the national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“Essentially,” Cohen said, “I will be going around the country, from region to region, working with high school English teachers, focusing on a combination of English as a Foreign Language pedagogy and cultural sensitivity issues.”

Cohen hopes to make these educators “more culturally responsive in their teaching strategies and teaching approaches.”

“I want to provide a venue in which they can understand the hierarchical nature of these systems of injustice that exist in every country, including theirs,” he said. “I also want to provide a venue in which they are aware of their perspectives of the students – in other words, are they viewing their students from a deficit model or from a strength model? We are learning that the research is very, very clear on this.”

His reason is equally clear.

“No child should be treated as ‘the other,’ and I’ve seen it many times where teachers and school systems treat kids as ‘the other.’ It’s unethical, it’s immoral and it’s wrong, and a lot of times, teachers aren’t always aware that they’re doing this. It’s all about raising awareness,” said Cohen, who joined NIU in 2010.

“My experience here in the United States is that when teachers gain the awareness of how they’re interacting with their students, and how they’re viewing their students, it’s a win-win for everybody,” he added.

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

“The teachers are no longer frustrated with their students; the students are no longer upset about going to class; and the students end up working harder for the teacher because the teacher is respecting them. I’m passionate about this because I know it makes a difference in kids’ lives.”

Before Cohen and his family embark for South America, he plans frequent and extensive conversations with Rodriguez to discuss the specifics of the implementation of the proposed project.

In preparation for this time in Uruguay, Cohen is taking an advanced-level Spanish course this semester during his sabbatical because he does not know what level of English proficiency the teachers will have. He also hopes that, by spending three months in Uruguay, he and his daughter will continue to improve their Spanish.

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by then-Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program is administered by the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the U.S. Department of State.

Fulbright awards approximately 8,000 grants each year to roughly 1,600 U.S. students, 4,000 foreign students, 1,200 U.S. scholars and 900 visiting scholars, in addition to several hundred teachers and professionals.

Cohen’s first application for a Fulbright grant, one he submitted four years ago in hopes of visiting Paraguay, the country located directly north of Uruguay, received “alternate status” and never came to fruition.

However, this year’s attempt seemed predestined to succeed.

fulbrightDuring a recent academic conference, while he awaited word on his proposal, Cohen bumped into a close friend who teaches at Western Illinois University. She unexpectedly mentioned that she had applied for – and had received – a Fulbright grant.

The good news was enough to excite Cohen, but the “rest of the story” sent him over the top: His friend was going to Uruguay. “I’m like, ‘This is awesome!’ ” he said. “She’s there now. She just went down there in January, and she’ll be there for the whole semester. I didn’t even know that she was applying.”

Cohen got his good news while in Washington, D.C. for the Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation Institute, sponsored by the American Association of Colleges and Universities and held from Jan. 19 through Jan. 23.

“I was listening to a presentation and then, all of a sudden, I get this email, and it says, ‘Congratulations! You have won!’ ” he said. “Needless to say, I have no idea what that presenter said. From that moment on, I was no longer listening.”


LEPF doctoral student leads multilingual efforts in Uruguay

Aldo Rodriguez

Aldo Rodriguez

Languages are deeply valued in Uruguay, where multiple tongues beyond the native Spanish are the norm.

“Uruguay is a country of immigrants,” Aldo Rodriguez, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says of his homeland.

“We have more than 120,000 Italian citizens living in Uruguay. We have British people. We have Spanish people,” Rodriguez adds. “We have German, Swiss and Portuguese cities settled by immigrants from those countries.”

People living near the country’s border with Brazil are generally also fluent in Portuguese, which is considered a regional language.

And everyone is expected to know English, which the country regards an international language. Students begin learning English in fourth-grade.

The man in charge of advancing the government’s language ambitions is none other than Aldo Rodriguez, the recently appointed national director of Second Language Policy for the Uruguay National Board of Education.

“By 2030, we want a multilingual country,” he says. “For more than 40 years, our secondary school students have learned French, Italian and English. Authorities believe in the neurological benefits of learning multiple languages.”

Schools in this country should share that ambition, he adds.

uruguay-flag“I think U.S. schools will benefit by adopting these types of policies, first and foremost for the multicultural heritage the country has,” Rodriguez says. “It’s outstanding how diverse and culturally rich the United States is. Learning multiple languages will make people understand more about other cultures and people. When you learn a language, you learn its culture.”

Rodriguez, who is living and working in Uruguay while he completes his NIU dissertation, is responsible for crafting policy for all levels of education from first-grade through college.

His professional background fuels his passion for the job. He earned a bachelor’s degree in teaching English as a Second Language, a career he began in 1998. He’s also mentored dozens of teachers, designed educational materials, delivered workshops and seminars and served as the director of an institute for second languages.

Teaching also drives his Educational Psychology dissertation, which focuses on persistence in adult secondary school contexts.

“I started working at the adult schools. The population of this school is very unique since 100 percent of the students went through a negative experience with education, and they had to drop out of traditional education,” he says.

“Dropping out is something really common in this context. Sometimes you start with a class of 50 students, and only six or seven finish the school year,” he adds. “My questions were, ‘Who is successful? Who finished school? Why?’ ”

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Jorge Jeria and Stephen Tonks

Coming to NIU in 2010 on a Fulbright grant to pursue his master’s in Adult and Higher Education opened many doors.

“When I read the profiles of the professors I was going to have, and the expertise they had on adult education, I just loved it,” Rodriguez says.  “I had Dr. Jorge Jeria as my first mentor, and I think I couldn’t have made it to the end of the master’s course without his support.”

Staying at NIU for his Ph.D. brought the mentorship of Stephen Tonks, for whom Rodriguez became a three-year research assistant. Before returning home in 2015, he also worked as a TA and participated in a search committee.

“My experience at the LEPF department was one of the best in my life,” he says. “All the people who work there are just great, and they made me feel at home.”