As Doan talks about her plans to help homeless people in her native Vietnam, Cooper stops her from time to time, making suggestions, correcting her pronunciation, and offering ideas to help her succeed when she speaks in front of her class at Indiana University Kokomo.
“You’re going to be great,” she reassures Doan with a smile. “Everybody in your class is nervous, too. It will be fine.”
Doan is one of the 62 international students on campus who seek assistance from Cooper, the campus’ English as a Second Language (ESL) tutor. Cooper works with international and immigrant students, helping them master American university cultural expectations, as well as skills to succeed in college-level writing and presentations.
These students represent several countries, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, Vietnam, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and South Korea. She also assists about a dozen immigrant students, a group she says “go under the radar on campus.” Many of those students know the language, but need help with the more formal English used in the classroom.
“My goal is to help these students feel comfortable and supported,” said Cooper. “If they’re not finding success on their own, I want to be there to help them find it.”
Doan, 19, said Cooper plays a critical part in helping her adjust to her first year in college. She only attended school for a short time in Vietnam before her family moved to the United States. She learned to speak English at Kokomo High School, but finds writing it more challenging.
“I feel confident right now because of Megan,” she said. “I am getting better grades and my writing is getting better. I am learning a lot from her.”
Cooper provides a valuable service to these students as they adapt to college life in the United States, according to Todd Gambill, vice chancellor for student affairs and enrollment management.
“Megan is a fantastic student advocate and support resource,” he said. “We have seen a significant increase in the utilization of ESL services. I believe she will help these students succeed in school, complete their degrees, and have a positive experience on our campus.”
Cooper makes a point to welcome students to her office in their own language, learning basic phrases in Arabic, Russian, Vietnamese, Spanish, Yoruba, Amharic, and Italian, among others, to build trust with them.
“I want them to understand that I am friendly, this is a safe place, and I can help them,” she said. “A little compassion goes a long way.
“Our international students often have taken English classes since they were young, and they have the academic language, but need help with the social language,” she said. “The students who have lived here a few years have learned the social language from friends, but need to raise the bar on their academic language.”
One of the largest demands is helping the students communicate with their professors. Many are used to more formal relationships with faculty in their home countries, and are nervous to approach them.
“I help get the ball rolling, and demonstrate that our faculty members are not intimidating people,” she said. “IU Kokomo is full of amazing professors, who want to help students succeed.”
She also listens to presentations as students work on them, offering tips and suggestions as they prepare.
“Having to speak in front of the entire class is intimidating for some of them,” she said.
Cooper noted that international students must meet stringent English language requirements in order to enroll, but still want and need assistance to make the cultural adjustment. For example, Doan can read English, but wants someone to clarify and make sure she understands what she is reading and writing.
“Her writing has improved significantly this semester,” Cooper said. “We’ve worked hard on it. When they start understanding where they need the help, it’s very rewarding.”
For other students, she provides someplace that is friendly and comforting, more than anything else.
“They know I’m here when they need me, but the ultimate goal is academic independence,” she said.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.