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Student Spotlight

Marisa Jimison

Aspiring teacher among the top students honored by CSU Trustees

By Mary Kenny

Marisa Jimison is only the second SF State undergrad to receive a Trustees’ Award

San Francisco State University senior Marisa Jimison has been named the Trustee Emerita Claudia Hampton Scholar by the California State University (CSU) Board of Trustees. Awarded this year for the first time, the $9,000 scholarship recognizes a student who is pursuing a career in teaching and comes from a traditionally underserved population or educationally disadvantaged community.

The honor is conferred as part of the CSU Trustees’ Award, given annually to one student from each of the system’s 23 campuses. A first-generation college student, Jimison is pursuing a rigorous double major in Spanish and English with a concentration in education, with a minor in comparative literature — all while maintaining an excellent GPA.

“One of the main reasons I wanted to become a teacher was because growing up, I came from a really unstable home,” Jimison said. “We were low income and there were a lot of issues in my home around disability.” Those issues included the stress of mental illness in the family and a disability her mother suffered as the result of a car accident. “I remember my mom telling me all the time, ‘Go to school and give it your all,’” Jimison said. “So even though there was not a lot of stability at home, it was guaranteed at school. That helped me so much.”

In addition to her coursework, Jimison has volunteered tirelessly as a literacy and writing tutor for middle school and high school students. “It’s important to be there for all youth, but especially for kids who are going through difficult transitions. It can make a huge difference in their lives,” she said.

“Education is so important. As a teacher, you want students to be sufficiently proficient so they can get ahead in life and in their careers. But the big thing is making them feel worthy, autonomous, and independent. That can happen in school and outside school.”This semester, Jimison was also selected to participate in the Willie L. Brown Jr. Fellowship Program, which provides SF State students who have faced barriers pursuing a college education the opportunity to gain professional experience in the public sector while developing a lifelong commitment to public service. As a fellow, she works 16 hours each week with the Our Children, Our Families Council, an advisory body co-led by San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee and San Francisco Unified School District Interim Superintendent Myong Leigh that aims to align city, school district and community efforts to improve outcomes for children, youth and families.

Jimison said many of her professors at SF State, including Jim Gilligan, assistant professor of English, have been inspirational. And Gilligan credits Jimison with a number of qualities, including humility and industriousness. “She is humble enough to acknowledge the limits of her knowledge and skill, and — once she has identified those limits — she is industrious enough to exceed them by seeking out new knowledge and learning new skills,” said Gilligan. “She is one of the hardest working students I’ve taught at SF State, and she has an impressive career ahead of her as an educator.”

After she graduates in May, Jimison plans to pursue a teaching credential or master’s degree, or both, and teach at the high school or community college level. “The most exciting thing about teaching is working with a student on a task or project that is overwhelming or daunting to them, and then watching as they practice, gain understanding and then eventually no longer need your help,” she said. “When they discover their own independence you can see how satisfied and accomplished they feel. That’s so important.”

Faculty Publication Spotlight

Teaching Engilsh to Speakers of Other Langauges program recognized by State Department

By Jamie Oppenheim

Jennifer Trainor

Assistant Professor of English Language and Literature in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) Robert Kohls guest lectures a graduate level TESOL class. 

SF State named one of the top five feeder schools for prestigious government fellowship

San Francisco State University’s Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) program, one of the first of its kind in the nation, is also one of the top programs producing U.S. State Department English Language Fellows (ELF). The ELF program turns 50 this year and as part of the milestone they’re recognizing five universities for continually producing fellows, colleges that will be given an award at a Nov. 5 birthday celebration in Washington, D.C.

Nearly every year since 1969, San Francisco State’s TESOL graduates have applied and been accepted into the ELF program. Once in, graduates are sent on 10-month assignments around the globe to countries in need of language specialists. Program fellows work on high-level language projects, such as developing a curriculum for a region or holding professional development workshops for teachers.

Teaching English abroad is ultimately about diplomacy, says SF State Associate Professor of English Language and Literature David Olsher. “The State Department sponsors this program because it builds powerful connections and goodwill around the world,” he said. “[The State Department] recognized that our most experienced graduate students are ready to come in and help advise on curriculum design and train teachers.”

SF State TESOL graduates stand out for two reasons, says TESOL program coordinator Priya Abeywickrama. From day one they’re learning the nuts and bolts of teaching, such as creating lesson plans and articulating a teaching philosophy. Students in the program also gain practical experience in a variety of settings, such as teaching immigrant literacy or academic English, which makes them highly adaptable.

It also helps that SF State’s program was formed by a number of leading scholars. “If you look at the history of SF State’s program, it really traces the development of the field,” Olsher said. “Some of the most influential scholars have been on the faculty. H. Douglas Brown, a former faculty member, has written some of the most widely used textbooks in the field. They’re used internationally.”

Heidi Fridriksson, a 2011 SF State TESOL graduate, says her experience in and out of the classroom primed her for her 10-month stint in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. While abroad, she held workshops and professional development trainings for students who planned to teach English language education.

Her confidence in her own professional skills solidified overseas, she says. “Being in another country where you don’t know anyone or speak the language and you’re thrown all these disparate requests for workshops — I grew confident in the resources I had as an ELF and as a TESOL graduate,” she added. “If they wanted a workshop on how to teach English pronunciation or how to create lesson plans, I could reach back to my training and provide that.”

Now an instructional designer for Academic Technology at SF State, Fridriksson helps faculty determine what type of technology will best meet their teaching goals and facilitates faculty development workshops. In her current position, she says she often draws on what she learned as an ELF.

“I’ll be asked how to engage large groups of students and keep their interest,” she said. In Cambodia, she was tasked with just that. She trained 80 language teachers who were all enthusiastic and often talked at the same time during group work. Also, they were in the same building as an elementary school, which got quite noisy during recess, she says.

“Finding strategies to make learning effective in that environment made me realize it’s possible to do that in any environment,” she said.