WILKES-BARRE — Hasan Husain really likes Ford Mustangs, so much so the 19-year-old Wilkes student already has one he tinkers with back home in Kuwait, where he hopes to become an environmental policeman.
Yeison Andres Santamaria Rodriguez particularly liked whitewater rafting on the Lehigh River since he came here, and intends to eventually teach English in his native Panama.
The two are pretty good at conveying all this in English because, well, they are graduates of Wilkes University’s Intensive English Program, which — depending on fluency upon enrollment — lasts anywhere from one to five semesters (three semesters a year). That’s classroom work of 25 hours a week for up to 40 1/2 weeks a year.
The program’s been around since 2006, teaching anywhere from 20 to 40 students a semester. But this month it hit a pretty big milestone. After nearly two years of work proving the quality of the program, Wilkes obtained membership in the University and College Intensive English Programs — an organization that includes only three other Pennsylvania schools: Pittsburgh University, University of Pennsylvania, and Drexel University.
To Wilkes President Patrick Leahy, this is a pretty big deal.
“This will be a real asset in recruiting international students,” Leahy said Thursday. “About 770 schools in the United States have IEP programs, and about 10 percent have UC accreditation.”
It’s not much of a surprise to program graduates like Hasan and Yeison. Both had high praise for their experiences, even if, on first blush, the lessons they cite as most important sound kind of obvious to native English speakers.
“They taught us how to paraphrase,” Yeison said. His example: You say “opportunity,” I say “chance.”
Turns out learning to paraphrase in English is pretty critical for those from some other countries, IEP program director Kimberly Niezgoda. Plagiarism — directly using another person’s published words without citing that person — is a much bigger deal here. “In some countries, quoting another author is considered a compliment,” she said. Here, it can be a crime.
Though they are from places half a world apart, Yeison and Hasan had similar compliments for Wilkes IEP. They both referred to Niezgoda as “mom,” they both said they learned a great deal in their time in the program, and they both praised the staff for being attentive and going the extra mile.
Hasan recounted a time he felt particularly home sick, and a teacher offered a sympathetic ear on her own time.
The two also noted the IEP program includes considerable help preparing for two tests often required by U.S. colleges and universities from foreign students seeking admission: the Test of English as a Foreign Language, and the International English Language Testing System.
Both had to take those tests to enroll at Wilkes after completing the IEP program: Yeison is majoring in education, Hasan in environmental science.
Leahy believes the UCIEP status will help toward his goal of getting Wilkes reclassified as a doctoral institution by the Carnegie Foundation. The foundation’s classification system is widely used in comparing institutions, and it is expected to revamp the system and announce new classifications this year.