After Steven Chinnavaso was selected to receive a scholarship from the English Language and Literature Department, he found an efficient way to become more involved in graduate school. He moved from his hometown of Livermore — 50 miles from campus — to San Francisco.
He’s making the most of his TESOL Legacy Fellowship, a new $4,000 award for students pursuing a Master of Arts in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. Chinnavaso is co-coordinator of Project SHINE, a community service learning initiative that places students in adult ESL classrooms to serve as coaches. Inspired by his coaching experience in his first semester at SF State, Chinnavaso stepped into the role of SHINE co-coordinator at SF State, supporting the professional growth of other coaches.
Chinnavaso also works as a tutor for the Learning Assistance Center, serves as a graduate teaching assistant in the Composition for Multilingual Students program and is co-president of the M.A. TESOL Students Association.
“Just by virtue of the fact that I can be closer allows me to invest in the community in a real way,” says Chinnavaso (B.A., Music, ’02). “Beyond the classroom, there are so many opportunities to put theory into practice. … Those aggregate experiences have only made the [M.A. TESOL] program richer, and that’s only because I’ve been able to connect with the people here who have been able to advise me.”
Unlocking potential, through language
Founded in 1964, the Master of Arts program in TESOL is one of the nation’s oldest and largest. Graduates of the program have gone on to become language teachers, teacher trainers, program directors and TESOL faculty in adult education, community-based organizations, colleges and universities.
Decades ago, Pat Porter was surprised to receive a fee waiver when applying to SF State’s graduate program in TESOL from Nebraska. The aid helped her avoid having to working during her first crucial semesters in the program. Recently, it inspired the now-retired SF State professor to establish the TESOL Legacy Fellowship with a donation of more than $104,000. She says she understands the challenges facing college students these days.
“The tuition has skyrocketed, and living expenses are outrageous. I knew that students really need money, so I thought, well, this is the good thing to do,” she says.
Porter was an SF State professor from 1981 to 2006. She says that English proficiency is as important as ever. More than 25.1 million U.S. residents — or 8 percent of the population — possess limited English proficiency, according to a 2013 survey by the Migration Policy Institute.
“We need more professional teachers everywhere,” Porter says. “People’s attitudes about non-native speakers are really terrible. People fighting for the rights of non-native speakers are quite alarmed, and it seems to be getting worse. It’s important that they at least [learn English] as a second language so they can read, so they can learn. TESOL teachers are going to be needed around the world forever.”
Inspired by Porter, Professor Emerita May Shih donated more than $14,000 to the fellowship.
“Our society is more multicultural and multilingual than ever,” she says. “English is the key to advancement in any field.”
Shih has long wanted to give back to the institution where she spent most of her career.
“I had so many gifted graduate students in my classes — a number of whom I still keep in touch with,” says Shih, who taught at SF State from 1986 to 2012. “They have had rewarding careers during which they’ve contributed a lot to students’ lives and their communities. If I can play a role in attracting applicants and keeping talented graduate students in the program, that is ideal.”
- M.A. TESOL Legacy Fellowship
- Master of Arts program, TESOL
- Celebrating 50 Years of Teaching English, Changing Lives, College of Liberal & Creative Arts news, October 30, 2014
- Grad Program in Teaching ESL Celebrates 40 Years, SF State News, September 27, 2004
Photo: Fellowship awardee Steve Chinnavaso and Professor Emerita Pat Porter. Photo by Hannah Anderson.