The English Language Support Program: Twenty Years of Enhancing Excellence

Feb. 18, 2013 - When Emory graduate student and teaching assistant Cecilia Prudente delivers a lecture in a course on Neuroscience for Physical Therapists, the material is challenging – neuronal information processing, sensory-motor integration, and neuroplasticity are all complex topics indeed. But Cecilia presents the thorny terminology with ease, walking her students through complex problems and fielding every question they raise. To achieve such pedagogical excellence, Cecilia draws upon a toolkit encompassing not just an exhaustive knowledge of neuroanatomy and neuropathology, but also something else – the communication skills she honed through the Laney Graduate School’s English Language Support Program (ELSP). 

Celebrating its twentieth anniversary this winter, the ELSP offers Emory graduate students and research employees a wealth of unparalleled opportunities to maximize their English skills and grow as world-class professionals. Hailing from countries around the globe and working in fields as far-flung as historical research, medicine, behavioral sciences and health education, bioethics, and economics, hundreds of people have participated in the ELSP thus far and gone on to leverage their enhanced English skills to excel in the academy and beyond.

An Innovative Program

The ELSP's unique structure and diverse course offerings have a consistent track record of success. Each semester, the ELSP presents a rich array of multi-tiered course options for students at all levels of English ability. 

Whether it be a lab-style practicum geared towards helping graduate student instructors in their writing and work as teaching assistants, or an upcoming seminar for medical professionals to refine their English-language communication skills in the context of interactions with patients, ELSP courses are tailor-made to help students acquire the competencies they need to excel in the practical, day-to-day situations their professional careers entail. 

wagner  boldt
ELSP staff are innovative instructors who customize the learning experience of their students.  

Under the leadership of Director Grace Canseco, the ELSP maintains an expert staff of four instructors - Heather Boldt, Alan Forsyth, Grace Song, and Peggy Wagner. These teaching professionals employ a set of scaled diagnostics, focused pedagogical strategies, and cutting-edge technologies to produce an exciting learning environment that encourages students to become competent and confident communicators. 

Instead of top-down memorization of grammatical rules, the ELSP philosophy emphasizes communication and fluency building through collaborative learning and engagement with other university programs. For example, a longstanding course partnership with Professor Timothy McDonough in Theater Studies allows ELSP students to draw on acting exercises to grow more comfortable with the non-verbal dimensions of English communication and to find their own preferred speaking styles. 

ELSP teachers harness video and web technologies to hone their new students' speaking abilities through new avenues of feedback. 

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ELSP's succes in integrating methods that engage technology in student learning has inspired other langugae instructors across campus.

The use of these technologies by the ELSP has even inspired other language instructors on campus to follow suit. As one attendee to an ELSP-run Teacher Training writes, “We know that filming is a great way for students to reflect on their speaking, but we do not do so because we do not know how to design such assignments. Today, I felt like we made our first step toward truly integrating technology naturally into our daily teaching.” And it's not just instructors who have been impressed by ELSP pedagogies – over the past decade, ELSP students have given the program a 97% satisfaction rating.

Dynamic Professionalization


“Whenever I give a seminar and the audience congratulates me for my presentation, a grateful thought goes from me to the people in Atlanta to whom I owe this knowledge of how to give an ‘effective presentation.’”- Mihail Popescu, Physics PhD and ELSP Participant (pictured right)

ELSP participants hail from numerous national backgrounds, work in dozens of different disciplines, and represent multiple sectors of the university community. Graduate Student Yun Zhang leverages skills refined through the ELSP to help undergraduates run experiments in the chemistry lab sections she oversees, while Dr. Linda Cendales draws upon her ELSP experience to interact with colleagues and patients in her capacity as Director of the Emory Transplant Center’s Vascularized Composite Transplantation and Microsurgery program. Each ELSP participant brings their unique talents, abilities, and aspirations to their studies in the program, and the ELSP’s staff strives to help them excel through tailored instruction and focused pedagogical attention.

The ELSP also represents an integral part of the robust suite of professional development resources available at the Laney Graduate School. The ELSP works in synergy with other Emory programs like the Teaching Assistant Training and Teaching Opportunity program (TATTO) and the extensive Grant Writing Program offered by the LGS. Together, these resources and opportunities allow the Emory community to take full advantage of the many exciting opportunities for professional growth at Emory. ELSP graduates leverage what they learn in their classes to improve their teaching, write outstanding academic articles, and win competitive grants. 

daniel2Daniel Domingues de Silva (pictured left), formerly a graduate student in History and now an Assistant Professor at the University Missouri, writes, “Thanks to your lessons, I was able to raise enough money from Emory's funding source to go on a five-week research trip to Angola and to present a paper to the congress in Brazil! Indeed, it is impressive what good writing can do for research.” 

ELSP students testify to the impact of the program on their work. Neuroscience PhD candidate Cecilia Prudente concurs, noting how directly her ELSP coursework enhanced her own work leading labs and lecturing. Says Cecilia, “The individual sessions with [ESL Instructor Peggy Wagner] were especially important for my TAing activities – I am really glad I decided to take ESL 520!”  Whether they choose to pursue work in the academy or beyond, ELSP graduates can be confident that they will have the communication skills and language competencies to take their career trajectories to the next level.

A Twenty-First Century Community

linda"It was a great experience for me. Not only to improve my language but to better understand people around me from different cultures. I enjoyed the  interaction very much." – Dr. Linda Cendales, ELSP Participant (pictured right)

As the Emory community grows ever more diverse and its University brand becomes ever more global in renown, the ELSP is helping lead the way by empowering Emory students, faculty and staff to make a confident impression and powerful impact in whatever endeavors they choose to pursue. The enrollment figures of the program continue to grow, and the ELSP is proud to help its students enhance their already excellent skillsets through its proven pedagogical techniques and superior course offerings. 

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The ELSP is not just a learning experience - it's also a cultural experience shaped by personalized attention and technological innovation.

Whether teaching college classes, managing research labs on campus or in the private sector, writing groundbreaking monographs, or wowing future employers at job interviews, ELSP grads are doing amazing things – and the program could not be prouder of them!

Developed with the assistance of Patrick Blanchfield, PhD Candidate in Comparative Literature and a graduate assistant in the Laney Graduate School. 

Learn More

The English Language Support Program

Professor Tim McDonough's faculty page

Assitant Professor Linda Cendales' faculty page

Professor Daniel Domingues da Silva's Profile and Publication Bibliography

From the Dean

A world-class research university must be dedicated to the training and success of its international scholars. The Laney Graduate School's English Language Support Program is a model program that provides outstanding language training to our students and professionals across Emory. With a team of instructors that are committed to offering a learning experience that is innovative and customized to evolving student needs, we are confident that our students receive a premier level of support and instruction that helps them succeed at Emory and beyond.

--Dean Lisa. A. Tedesco