Late-night study sessions at the library. Afternoons spent mentoring classmates at the writing center. Classroom observation with international students. Valparaiso University’s latest Fulbright Award honoree is truly a dedicated scholar. But as a graduate student at Valpo, she’s also spent much of the last two years at the Valpo Softball Complex, bouncing around energetically and leading cheers in the Crusaders’ dugout.
That may not fit the mold of many Fulbright scholars, but then again, little about Taylor Williams ’17 M.A. — who received a Fulbright Award to travel to Korea and teach English in 2017–2018 — has ever fit the mold.
After pursuing undergraduate degrees in both media studies and in women, gender, and sexuality studies from the University of Virginia, Taylor was introduced to TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) while substitute teaching for a year. She was drawn to Valpo for the opportunity to improve her coaching skills as a graduate assistant softball coach coupled with the potential of joining the TESOL master’s program.
“I’m big on agency, big on self-advocacy and being able to articulate your own story,” Taylor says. “At Valpo you have students who come from around the world, from all different backgrounds. They’re great people and students with stories to tell, and the only reason they may not be set up for success is because they don’t speak English. I wanted to help enable these students to tell their stories.”
Taylor has embraced every opportunity to hone her teaching skills outside the classroom. She worked in the University’s writing center, helping international students sharpen academic writing skills, and spent time observing teacher-student interactions at the INTERLINK Language Center, which provides language training, cultural orientation, and academic preparation to international students at Valpo.
Perhaps Taylor’s most impactful contribution came in her practicum, working with two separate groups of Study Abroad students from Namseoul University in South Korea, where she will teach as a Fulbright recipient. Her work with those groups not only helped Taylor develop her skill set in the TESOL field, but also caught the eye of faculty members.
“Taylor planned lessons with the team and co-taught classes,” says Karl Uhrig, Ph.D., assistant professor of English and director of the TESOL master’s program. “Her teaching teammates remarked that she was enthusiastic and eager to use the best possible practices and activities to create meaningful lesson plans. I have no doubt that her students in Korea will benefit immensely from her teaching, and her curiosity and insightfulness will communicate the best of our culture to them.”
Betsy Burow-Flak, Ph.D., associate professor of English and graduate program director for the English Studies and Communication M.A., also took notice of Taylor’s work and her potential and set out to convince Taylor to apply to the Fulbright Program.
“I have seen how faculty have encouraged and mentored U.S. students into this wonderful opportunity for cross-cultural teaching and research,” Professor Burow-Flak says. “Taylor has all of the qualities that add up to a positive Fulbright experience: she is an ambitious scholar and a responsive teacher, wants to live abroad, and has curiosity and respect for the culture in which she will be living. Her experience teaching high school and graduate degree in teaching English are valuable training.”
With the time she dedicated to her academic pursuits both inside and outside the classroom, Taylor still managed to serve as a graduate assistant coach for the Crusader softball program, helping to lead the program to 46 wins during the past two years and the 2016 Horizon League Championship. And even on the softball field, Taylor found ways to hone proficiencies that would apply to her TESOL work.
“One of the most important tenets of our softball program is that we don’t coach softball, we coach people who play softball,” says softball head coach Kate Stake. “You have to be able to teach the same skill different ways to different players, and Taylor’s been able to do that over the course of her time here. That’s an ability that translates into teaching anything, be it catching fly balls or English.”
Taylor departed for Korea in early July, attending orientation at Jungwon University in the North Chungcheong Province. Those who have seen Taylor work over the past two years know she’s ready to make an impact in Korea and be a great TESOL educator.
“Taylor knows the value of communicative learning – of learning by speaking languages, complete with risking making mistakes – but also respects the rigor and success of Korean education in relation to matters such as grammatical instruction,” Professor Burow-Flak said. “She will be a wonderful representative of the U.S., the Fulbright U.S. student program, and Valparaiso University.”
Taylor looks forward to her time teaching in Korea, relishing in the potential to make a difference in the lives of her students through teaching English and beyond, while simultaneously adding to her life experiences.
“I’m excited for the chance to build relationships and be an international ambassador of sorts,” Taylor says. “I’m a minority on a number of counts: race, gender, sexual orientation — there’s all these things about me that aren’t maybe how Americans are viewed in Korea. I want to represent all those aspects of who I am and use them to open cultural dialogues and to talk about these things in a very respectful and mature way. I also want to immerse myself in the Korean culture. There are so many similarities between cultures, and I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to discover those similarities.”
As Taylor moves into this next phase of her professional and personal journey, she’s secure in the fact that Valparaiso University, and the people who make up the campus community, have left her as prepared as she could be for the upcoming experience.
“The notion that culture is so important and that you need to care about the person first is something I’ll take with me from softball into the classroom,” Taylor says. “I’ve been nothing but impressed with the support of those around me. Everybody here at Valpo — whether in the TESOL program, the English department, or in Athletics — has been invested in my growth. That’s something that you don’t find everywhere, that people will so wholeheartedly invest in the success of others.”