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Cheryl Ernst is the new director of UD’s English Language Institute (ELI), which offers intensive English programs for degree-seeking students, business and legal professionals, English language teachers and general English language learners.
Cheryl Ernst is the new director of UD’s English Language Institute (ELI), which offers intensive English programs for degree-seeking students, business and legal professionals, English language teachers and general English language learners.

Expanding international education

Photo by Evan Krape

Cheryl Ernst seeks to expand UD’s English Language Institute while maintaining its beloved quirkiness

Cheryl Ernst is the new director of the University of Delaware’s English Language Institute (ELI), but, having taught at the ELI previously, she is no stranger to UD. 

Ernst brings a breadth of international education and English as a Second Language experience to her position; she came to UD from the University of Oregon, where she served as the executive director of the American English Institute for eight years. Prior to that, she garnered extensive experience as an instructor and administrator in positions at the University of Alaska, the University of Findlay (Ohio) and Harvard University, as well as overseas in Japan and Finland. 

Ernst joined UD in January and has quickly become a part of the ELI family; she recently hosted one of the ELI’s graduation ceremonies, which are beloved among students for their quirky nature, for the first time.

UDaily talked with Ernst to learn about what inspired her to become a Blue Hen, what drives her passion for international education, and where the ELI is headed under her leadership.

What attracted you to UD?

Ernst: It was the idea of being somewhere where international students, non-native speaking students, or anybody that comes with a global mindset can come to the University, be supported, be successful and know that we, as an institution, are contributing to the greater good: to soft diplomacy. The University of Delaware is very committed to this population, and they're committed to student success. 

International education is soft diplomacy. We build those bridges. We forge those person-to-person relationships that make things easier and better for everybody in the long run, whether it's working in a global corporation, public service or running for government office. 

What has impressed you about the program now that you are here?

Ernst: One is the institutional commitment to our student population. I continue to be impressed with how we're all really working toward a rich student experience. It’s not just a mission, a vision or a strategic plan on paper. A program like the ELI is 100% dependent on collaboration. It is because of our partnerships that we can accomplish all that we do, and to deliver the variety of programs and serve the students that we serve. It's more than international students; we serve U.S. citizens, we serve community members, we serve green card holders. All of our faculty, staff and student employees are just so committed to that population and seeing them succeed. 

What makes student relationships unique in a program like this?

Ernst: We get to know our students incredibly well because we're with them so much. We put the intensive in Intensive English Programs, as we're with our students 18 to 26 hours a week. We become family, we become friends, we become mentors, counselors and confidants. We know our students so much better than many, many folks on campus who only get to see their students twice a week, for example. 

What are your priorities? Where do you want to go from here?

Ernst: Given the phenomenal reach and structure that we have in place, we can do "ELI &” (ELI and). We can expand the Intensive English Program by expanding our partner network or our agent network. We can enhance our academic track offerings by offering our Accelerate-UD (A-UD) program to all international students. A-UD is our program for students who are fully admitted to UD, but just need a little bit of time to adjust to campus in a soft-landing environment. There's huge potential in occupational English; we know that there are ways that we can tap into the various communities, the businesses, and the corporate world that's local here. We know that there's still ample opportunity for teacher training.

I'd like to see us do more with corporate partners, international trade and executives. We occasionally get students who are here for professional English, and we know that's a need, so I'd love to find a way to market and build some longer-term relationships with a telecom company, for example, in Colombia or companies that we've worked with from Japan. 

I'd also like to see us increase community engagement with our students by volunteering or participating in local community events with them. They want to do something with us or with their friends, but nobody wants to be the first to say, "Hey, let's go see that lecture or that concert." If we can facilitate that, then once they've taken that step, they'll be more comfortable.  

Why is it important for UD to have a program like the ELI?

Ernst: As a Tier 1 research university, we aren’t limited by our U.S. borders. We have to prepare our graduates for working in the global economy. Having a program like this on campus makes it real; ELI students can interact with UD students through clubs, and domestic students can participate in the American Host Partner Program. Our Japanese students can attend a Japanese class, for example, and enjoy a language/culture exchange with students studying Japanese. These experiences make the world a little bit smaller and reduce the fear of those who are different.

What's your favorite thing about the program?

Ernst: I love the quirkiness of this program. I haven't quite figured out how I'm going to be able to maintain the level of fun and performative nature that the ELI is famous for. Belonging is really important, and that's a big part of belonging. I'm hoping that that's an ELI group value that we can continue crafting.

I just love what we do. I never get tired of it. Trying to shape the next generation to value international education and carry that same banner: become host families, to support their children to study abroad, to encourage their friends to study abroad, to work for global companies, and to build those relationship bridges. Hopefully we've given people these tools and more.

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