Dr. Janie Rees-Miller has spent the last two decades working tirelessly to help international students during their academic journeys to become more proficient in speaking and understanding the English language.
It’s impossible to measure the impact she has had on the lives of students from Africa, Asia, Europe and South America as they pursued a quality liberal arts education in America, but it’s clear that her contributions created a strong English as a Second Language (ESL) program that will serve countless generations of international students well into the future.
This spring, Rees-Miller retired from Marietta College as Professor Emerita of Linguistics. Dr. Richmond Dzekoe, who will be new to Marietta, will serve as the Director of the ESL program.
During the Employee Recognition Ceremony in May, ESL instructor Leanne Price gave a moving tribute to Rees-Miller.
“When I first met you, I was admittedly impressed because I knew you had written ‘The Handbook for Linguistics,’ among other numerous publications,” Price says. “Of course, your published work is something to be recognized, it is something for you and MC to be immensely proud of, but it is not among the things I admire most about you today. The sorts of things that I admire most about you now are the connections you have made between students and their subject matter, the connections you have made with students as their mentor, and the connections you have forged among those of us who have been so privileged to work closely with you.”
Rees-Miller first arrived in Marietta in the mid-1990s to interview for a job in the English Department, which is where the ESL program was based before moving to the Department of Modern Languages. She noticed that the College had a well-established pool of faculty who had spent their entire careers at Marietta.
“Because they had spent their professional lives here, many of them really didn’t have much experience with non-native speakers of English, and there was a concern by the faculty that the new international students didn’t know how to speak English,” she says. “And I’m thinking, ‘Well I know how to fix this!’ I had been on some job interviews before where I wanted a job. I wanted a full-time job, but I wasn’t crazy about those jobs. I came back from the interview for this job and I wanted this job because I knew that they needed somebody with a certain skillset. I have that skillset.”
“I’ve been here and I’ve done what I can do. We need someone new, fresh, with fresh ideas who will start with what we’ve got and do his own thing and take it in energetic, new directions. I am confident that that is what will happen.”
In 1996, Dr. Rees-Miller began working at Marietta after having taught in Beirut, Cambridge (U.K.) and Stony Brook in Long Island, while she completed master’s degrees and earned her doctorate.
“My mindset about the work there was to do at Marietta was that this is a really cool and interesting challenge, and I can do it. Once I got here, I also created the TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Certificate because I did want to have the opportunity to teach some linguistics.”
The campus was in the process of internationalizing — drawing in more international students and encouraging more American students to have international experiences — which is why Rees-Miller sought to create the ESL counterpart through addition of the TEFL certificate.
“The TEFL certificate is a great foundation for graduate work, work abroad, for Peace Corps,” Rees-Miller says.
As she packs up her home in Marietta and more than 20 years of work life from her office in Thomas Hall to move to the family farm in Missouri, she feels her department is also ready for change.
“What I am hoping —and I feel very comfortable with Richmond, my successor — is that he’s not me,” she says. “I’ve been here and I’ve done what I can do. We need someone new, fresh, with fresh ideas who will start with what we’ve got and do his own thing and take it in energetic, new directions. I am confident that that is what will happen.”
- Gi Smith