Meet Fulbright Scholar & BEACON Board Member Bill Woodard

At BEACON, we are fortunate to have a Board filled with remarkable professionals from many walks of life. Their expertise provides valuable guidance to our program, as well as noteworthy experiences that extend far beyond the board room. Bill Woodard hails from academia; he joined the BEACON board in November 2014. He recently received a prestigious Fulbright Grant. We caught up with him to learn more about his career, his grant, and his experiences on both sides of the native-speaker living equation.

A STRONG CAREER

With an undergraduate degree in Spanish, Bill Woodard earned a Master’s degree in Spanish Linguistics at Georgetown University after being awarded a full fellowship. He taught Spanish at both Louisiana State University and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia, where he served for six years as assistant professor and the Department Head for Modern Languages.

Desiring to experience education abroad, BillspentayearinWarsaw,Poland,teaching English. Although linguistically gifted, he concedes Polish was a bit challenging. Fortunately, knowledge of a foreign language is not necessary to teach EFL or ESL, and his experiences as a resident foreigner fueled his awareness of the cultural obstacles often faced by non-native people.

The following year, Bill moved to Northern Virginia where he taught as an adjunct instructor in both ESL and Spanish at Northern Virginia Community College. His duties included teaching Spanish to nurses at the Prince William County hospital through NOVA’s Continuing Education and Workforce Development Division, as well as Spanish and ESL courses for credit in the academic division of the college. After two years, he was hired as a full-time ESL instructor, a role he has enjoyed for the past 12 years, during which time he earned a master’s degree in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at Shenandoah University.

A UNIQUE GRANT

In 2015, Bill was awarded a celebrated Fulbright Grant to teach at the Catholic University of Chile in Santiago. The Fulbright program sponsors efforts between the United States and other countries to promote peace and goodwill through educational and artistic exchanges. Candidates must exhibit outstanding academic merit, leadership, and professional passion for bringing knowledge, peace and friendship into the world. The grant is highly competitive, and today it remains the largest exchange program in history.

In July, accompanied by his wife and two children, Bill arrived in Santiago, and settled his family into an apartment on the 10th floor of a 26-story high-rise in the heart of the city. Its prime location as cultural epicenter provided exceptional opportunities for his family. “We walked everywhere, went to museums every day. Even the Internet was amazing,” he recalls. Six weeks after arriving, a magnitude 8.3 earthquake rocked Santiago. Although a nerve-rattling event, not one building collapsed, thanks to strict building specifications. “We didn’t even lose power! After the quake we adopted the Chilean mindset, which only begins noting earthquakes at around magnitude 7.”

At the university, Bill taught graduate courses in Applied Linguistics to English teachers as part of a “professionalization program,” frequently spoke to academic entities about teaching English, and shared his considerable composition expertise with students writing their theses in English. “It was a great experience for me,” he shares. “Even though I have degrees in Spanish, the longest I ever lived in a Spanish-speaking country was 6 weeks at a time. Having the longer 5.5 months experience in Chile helped me to significantly better understand that culture.”

BRINGING IT HOME

In January 2016, Bill resumed teaching ESL classes at NOVA with an even broader understanding and perspective into the cultural challenges faced by his students. Reflecting on the rapidly growing immigrant population in the Northern Virginia area, Bill maintains an acute awareness of the role he plays in their potential success. His experience living and teaching abroad strongly supports his academic contributions to the immigrants on a very personal level, something not lost on his admiring students.

Culturally open and aware, Bill conducts his classes in an atmosphere of acceptance, safety, and learning. His students are adults with responsibilities that drive them to overcome obstacles rarely encountered by native-born citizens. “I look at them and think, here is a person who left their job, their country, and many times their family, and is attending college in another country and language, sometimes at an age of 40 or 70,” he says. “Their stories are always remarkable. It’s inspiring to watch them work with such commitment to learning English, keenly focused on a better life in America.”

In 2014, Bill was recruited for the Board at BEACON. Although currently not teaching within the program, he serves as a resource for higher education, and makes himself available for whatever BEACON may need with regard to ESL programming and best practices. “What they do at BEACON is outstanding,” he adds.“I find teaching students with little to no English skills challenging, but the teachers at BEACON teach students who sometimes arrive with not only no skills in English, but none in their own language as well. They have nothing to compare it to, and yet BEACON teachers tackle the challenges of literacy and language, as well as culture. They are the real heroes.”