Since February 2012, I have been working with a network of local churches to serve the growing Baton Rouge refugee community. Our primary outreach is English lessons, but we also do home repairs, doctor visits, and job placement. I have served as one of the primary beginning English teachers, working with students young and old who speak little to no English at all. My classes were composed of students from all over the world – Syria, Burma, Iraq, Nepal, and Sudan, to name a few. I taught the alphabet and phonics, counting and money, reading and writing, and basic conversation skills. I discovered the importance of simple and concise communication, and the importance of engaging each person in the audience. It is challenging attempting to communicate to people who very often have had no formal education and cannot even read or write their own language. But all that labor is worthwhile when you see someone’s eyes light up when they read for the first time or say their ABC’s.
Currently, I am teaching an advanced English class and developing an American history course for students preparing to apply for citizenship and take high school equivalency exams. Although I am an engineer and a scientist by training, a lifetime of reading and travel, supplemented by caring parents and gifted educators, has given me a passion for history and education. Trying to condense the most essential American ideas down to an accessible level has proven to be one of the most intellectually challenging and exciting endeavors I have ever undertaken. In a recent lesson, I talked about the Apollo 11 moon landing, and I saw the same excitement in my students’ eyes that I had as a kid. It is still a struggle to bring the long and colorful story of this country down to its most basic level, but is a story that deserves to be told. It gives me great joy to know that my students will one day be able to add their own voices to it.
Working with students makes me thankful for the wonderful people through the years who have personally invested in my education. Those relationships have played such a crucial role in my own life, and I try to provide that same level of individual attention in my leadership and service. Whether in the laboratory or the classroom, I relish the opportunity to teach and mentor, and that is crucial to the type of work I hope to do in the future.