A biweekly publication for faculty and staff

Creating a Climate for Language-Learning Success

October 7, 2014

Six years ago, Belinda Braunstein joined the campus hoping to make a difference.

“I wanted to be a part of a university still in the process of creating itself,” Braunstein said. “There was an irresistible culture of collaboration and ‘if you don’t see it, you can create it’ here, among the students in terms of clubs, and staff in terms of programs and resources.”

As assistant director for the Center for Research on Teaching Excellence and coordinator of the English Language Institute (ELI), Braunstein is fulfilling her desire to positively affect the campus. She is also influencing local English as a Second Language high school students by organizing campus visits through a program coined “University for a Day."  The students benefit greatly from the outings by learning about admissions requirements, financial aid and campus life.

Before joining UC Merced in 2008, Braunstein spent 11 years as academic coordinator of the English Language Program at UC Santa Barbara, Extension.

“I loved that job too, but I felt I could have more of an impact on students’ lives here,” she said.

There is more to Braunstein than meets the eye.

Please describe your job and what it entails.

I get to wear many hats as ELI coordinator. The main ones are supporting international students, faculty and staff members with their language needs; evaluating the English fluency of teaching assistants; and helping first-generation freshmen and English learners adjust to university expectations through the Summer Bridge Program. That support takes the form of weekly workshops, one-on-one meetings with undergraduate and graduate students, providing conversation partners for our international campus community members and collaborating with staff members from the three schools to evaluate language needs.

What are some of the most rewarding things about your job?

So much of it is rewarding. I love observing that moment of understanding when I’m working one-on-one with undergraduates on their grammar and writing skills. I love learning about the great research that goes on here while checking professors’ grant proposals for grammatical accuracy. I love receiving emails from conversation partners telling me they are enjoying meeting with their partners. And I love getting to have a say in what happens on campus in committees like Graduate Research and Orientation Week (GROW). (Yes, committee participation is something I enjoy.)

What new initiatives/projects/plans are you looking forward to in the upcoming year?

In the mid-term and longer term, I envision support for international TAs in the form of a short program during the summer before their first semesters of graduate study here. I would like to establish something similar for international undergraduate students, because our campus is working on increasing that number over the next several years.

What are some of the challenges you face?

Time management is probably the most challenging aspect of my job because of the variety of what I do. It is also challenging to stay ahead of the curve, trying to predict language needs and possible issues before they become problems. I’m sure staff members in other units can relate to the tough job of addressing planning for the future while working on what’s important in this moment, and finding balance between the two.

Tell us something about you that people on campus might not know.

Quite a few people know I play Taiko drums with our student group, but most probably don’t know I have also practiced Aikido (a martial art) for 12 years and enjoy throwing people around — in self-defense training only, of course!

I also play badminton at Merced College on Friday nights. A few other UC Merced faculty and staff members also play there. There’s room for more, so consider this a challenge to join us!