Mariah Shafer

What is your current position?

My title is Outreach Director at the Refugee Development Center in East Lansing.

When did you complete your MA TESOL degree?

I completed my MA TESOL degree at MSU in 2010, not that long ago even though it may seem like it!

Tell us about a story, class, or person, from during your time in the MA TESOL program that had an impact on you or your career?

There are a couple of things, but maybe what sticks out most is how I started the program as someone who had been working in a different field for ten years and was incredibly nervous about making the shift to learning about language. I meet with Dr. Polio when I first started and she was very encouraging; she told me to keep volunteering around the community and to come to class and see if I liked it and if it would be something I was interested in. So I did those things, and ended up really discovering that it was something that interested me and something I saw myself doing as a career. I just decided, “yes, this is what I want to do”. I’m someone who usually can get through most things without problems, but when I had the first teaching methods class at MSU it really knocked me on my butt. I felt like I was terrible at this and thought, “I’m not a natural at this at all!”. So it made me do a lot of work and really push myself as hard as I have ever been pushed so that I could develop as a teacher. It was hard, but I think I grew so much as a result of that. I think about that whenever I work with new people who are just starting, or whenever I plan lessons, because it was just so powerful. No matter where you are in coming to a field, you can push yourself to get where you want. You aren’t a teacher yet, and so there is still time to practice!

How did the MA TESOL program help influence your career path?

I always knew I wanted to work with community members, and in fields concerning immigration or refugee members, which isn’t what most students wanted to go into. Most wanted to teach abroad or go into ESL teaching. What surprised me is that the MA TESOL program at MSU didn’t just view their students as machines that they would churn through but as unique individuals with their own interests. So, I was able to talk to the faculty there and have them offer me advice about how to shape my studies around those interests. Having faculty behind you who is that supportive and who cares enough to learn about what interests you can make all the difference. It certainly helped me investigate topics related to those interests and really carve out a career path for myself that I might not have been able to if the faculty didn’t spend so much time actually getting to know me and my pursuits. In my experience, other schools I have studied at did not do that and so you never really got a grasp on what you wanted to do with what you learned. That wasn’t the case at all here!

What was your favorite class in the MA TESOL program, and why?

Oh, I would have to say that my favorite would be the sociolinguistic elective class! Outside of the technical teaching methods class, which helped me develop as a teacher in meaningful ways, I thought this one would be my favorite because it spoke the most to me and related to what I would see first-hand in the community opportunities that I volunteered in. I remember they specifically focused a lot on the implications of language-based teaching in community programs, and it was just something I hadn’t actually learned about in any class I took before but experienced in my volunteer opportunities. So being able to explore language-teaching from the perspective of communities and assisting those communities was something that was very important to me and my career.

What advice do you have for current MA students?

I would just say that it is easy to feel over your head sometimes. When I went back to the MA program, I was about ten years older than all of the other students and had been working in an unrelated field for a long time. What is important to remember, despite all of that, is that you always have to advocate for yourself, ask questions, and remember that all of the professors there are there to work with you. Not only the professors, but all of the students there as well. You will be with a lot of other Master’s students and PhD students and it is important that you advocate for yourself and seek their guidance and explore things that interest you. You aren’t alone there, and don’t feel as though you have to do what everyone else is doing. There are a bunch of people there willing to work with you and help you explore things that are meaningful to you, but you really need to take the initiative and put yourself out there so that you can get the help you want.