Students LEAP into WSU

International students will be experiencing their own type of graduation — graduation into the main Weber State University system, thanks to the LEAP Program, which enables students to submerse themselves into their mainstream classes by teaching them English and how to be a benefit to their university.

LEAP stands for Learning English for Academic Purposes. The goal of the program is to teach English to international and non-English-speaking students to prepare them for the mainstream classes they will be attending at WSU. It also aims to familiarize these students with American culture and the American university system.

This past semester, one of the unique approaches Debi Sheridan, professor for the LEAP and Venture program, took was to allow her students to explore oppression and present their findings. Sheridan came up with the idea when her ESL class was studying the novel Night by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel.

“I thought it was really important for them to know about the ways that people resisted,” Sheridan said, “and how we can resist oppression.”

David Yovere from Peru, a student in the LEAP program and a freshman majoring in pre-medicine, did his presentation on the protection of Jews in a Muslim-dominated Albania during World War II.

“It was very exciting because, between Muslims and Jewish, they have different religion. They have different opinions,” Yovere said. “But it doesn’t matter to the Muslims. The Muslims saved the Jewish because those are humans beings, and in human beings there is an inherent force, a natural force, to keep together.”

Sheridan said she was so impressed with the presentations by her students that she invited them to present to a class of Venture students, which she also teaches. This gave LEAP students an opportunity to showcase their English-speaking skills and teach other students.

“The Venture students were very impressed,” Sheridan said, “not just with what they achieved, but that they were brave enough to go and speak to a bunch of strangers.”

Venture students expressed gratitude for the presentations and asked about the international students. Many said they wanted to learn more about the international students and what they were doing at WSU.

“I thought it was also worthwhile,” Sheridan said, “the rest of the campus knowing that these international students are not just here for what they can get, but they are prepared to give back too, and they’re prepared to share their knowledge.”

Pei-I Norberg from Taiwan, another LEAP student and WSU freshman majoring in teaching education, did her presentation on Meip Gies because Gies was a fellow woman who greatly impressed her. She talked about how researching Gies led her to admire her.

“I remember she said one sentence that influenced me a lot,” she said. “‘I feel strongly that we should not wait for our official leaders to make this world a better place.’ I agree with her that we can do our part to make this world a better place.”

While all this allows the program to be utilized for the benefit of the campus, Yovere said the students who are part of the program also benefit.

“It’s very useful, because it’s going to make you feel more confident about how to speak with other people,” he said, “because it’s a different culture, and you have to intern with people from many countries, and other people speak English very well.”