When third year Recreation Administration student Jesus Luviano was 14, his family moved from Mexico to Fresno. He did not speak a single word of English and as a result, had feelings of fear and isolation. That all changed a few years later when he entered Fresno State’s American English Institute (AEI).

In existence since 1972, the AEI program offers English language instruction to international students who intend to enter Fresno State or another college or university within the U.S. The courses provided through the program are designed to prepare students for academic study at the college or university level. For a minimum of 20 hours per week, students are given the opportunity to improve their communication and English-speaking skills.

Photo Credit: American English Institute
Photo Credit: American English Institute

“I was in the program from three years before I was considered English proficient,” said Luviano. “Those years were really beneficial in helping me prepare for courses at Fresno State. I remember how happy I felt when there were visitors who were so engaged in what we had to say. When the professor announced that they were leaving and we would not see them again until the end of the semester, I was sad. But it made me feel happy and appreciated, and I looked forward to the day I would see them again.”

Now Luviano, along with his classmates in RA 77 (Recreation, Parks and Tourism Programming), are able to provide a similar support system for students currently in the AEI Program, which consists of students from Asia, India, and South America to name a few.

Brandon Taylor, lecturer of the course, said this collaborative effort between the Department of Recreation Administration and AEI began as a way to give AEI students a “taste of America” through recreational type activities they have not yet experienced. Combining this with the programming course was the perfect opportunity to do so.

A few years back, Taylor was approached by Cheryl Chen, director of the AEI, who was seeking a partnership and in spring 2012, the course began. The course is two-fold as it benefits both the AEI and RA students and provides a positive and fulfilling learning experience for both.

Through the Programming course, students are divided into groups of 6-7 individuals. Their goal is to design a program from start to finish, which would be implemented at the end of the semester. It is also designed as a service learning course, in which students are required to complete a minimum of 20 hours of volunteer work in the area of planning and recreational programming. Working with AEI was a natural choice, said Taylor.

“AEI is perfect as it is on campus and easy for students to locate and work with. This collaboration gives RA 77 students the opportunity to facilitate American activities for them and allows them the opportunity to work with diverse participants.”

Photo Credit: American English Institute

Over the years, the course has been taught by both Taylor and Dr. L-Jay Fine, professor of Adventure Recreation and Tourism, who each teach it once per semester. Fine taught the spring 2015 semester, as well as previous semesters, and says the students in the course come away feeling good about their work.

“Once they do it, they are just on cloud nine,” said Fine. “Working with the AEI students makes it real for the RA students. It allows them to hone their skills and learn about inclusion.”

Cora Cha and her four group mates, The Pioneers, formed their program around the All-American theme of baseball. She found that cultural and religious restrictions played a big role in deciding what to base their program on.

“Some students were not allowed to run, so we had to change from running to each base, to walking,” said Cha. “I didn’t think something like running would be such restriction. Other females are not allowed to be touched by males, so we learned there is definitely a difference from American culture. With this course, you’re really behind the scenes of how to plan a program. You have to be prepared and you have to know the ins and outs of it all.”

Luviano and his five group mates, Rec-ing Ball, formed their program around a treasure hunt, using the various statues of historical figures on campus as a way to teach AEI students about American holidays. At the start of the semester, each of the groups met with the AEI students to conduct assessments in order to gather ideas to formulate their program.

Just like with The Pioneers, the Rec-ing Ball group also faced cultural barriers in communicating with the AEI students, but Luviano says overcoming those barriers to include everyone was satisfying.

“If you can do a multicultural event where everyone is engaged and involved, then that puts me in a good position to have that fluent communication background,” says Luviano. “Learning how to put those programs together to meet everyone’s needs and allowing them to have a good experience is a great accomplishment.”

Taylor says that is precisely what this course is all about – adapting their program to meet the needs and cultural requirements of AEI students. “From this experience students are able to take the theoretical contents of the course and apply them in real life situations. Students gain experience in facilitating programming in real time and having to make the needed decisions prior to their program presentation date. Additionally, students find that even with the best planning, something is often overlooked in the planning process and students must use skills from other classes, on that day, to deliver a successful program. Lastly, students are able to work with diverse populations through this experience.”

DSC_0244AEI students were not the only population the RA students worked with. The Red Wave group actually worked with youth from fifth to eighth grade from West Park Elementary’s After School Program. Themed around “The Hunger Games”, the group of six worked with 40 kids, providing two hours of fun challenges and competitive games.

“A lot of the students in the group have never worked with kids,” said Kassandra Padilla, fifth year RA major. “So this was a good experience for them. It taught them how to instruct and build communication skills with all age groups. We wanted to create an experience that the younger students would remember and be able to take away from.”

The same sentiment was mirrored by Luviano and Cha of their experiences with the Programming course and their newfound collaboration with the AEI students.

Cha, who would like to one day open a nonprofit on global awareness issues, said through the Programming course, she’s gained more understanding of event planning and knows the skills she’s learned will play a big role in her future career goals.

Because of this course and the relationship he’s built with the AEI students, Luviano ended up going back week after week to volunteer his time, spending it with the AEI students who just simply needed someone to talk to or interact with. He came away with a great sense of gratitude.

“It was just really fun,” said Luviano of his experience. “Super fun. Nothing is better than feeling appreciated or helping others to feel that way. I looked forward to seeing them every week.”

The Red Wave group with West Park Elementary students. Because of photo restrictions, AEI students could not be photographed.

Learn more about Commerical Recreation and Event Planning at the LINK.