October 16, 2020

Faculty Spotlight: Robyn Vaccara

By Mary Ritter

We invite you to get to know one of our professors, Robyn Vaccara, who has just been named as coordinator to the English Language Institute’s Center for New Immigrant Education (CNIE). She shares her prior experience, current responsibilities, and interests with us in this interview.

Before joining NYU SPS, what were you doing?

I have been in the field of TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) since 1990, and teaching is still my joy. Before joining SPS, I was also focused on writing texts for the classroom and teacher education, training teachers first for the nonprofit EF Intercultural Foundation and then in higher education. I’m a Steinhardt alumna, so it was wonderful for me to return to NYU and join the ELI faculty in 2006. At SPS I have continued to teach ESOL and to mentor MA TESOL interns, but I have also had opportunities in both my faculty and administrative roles to focus on TESOL and ESOL program development, advocacy for international students, and language support for refugees in New York City.

What is your role at the English Language Institute’s (ELI) Center for New Immigrant Education (CNIE)?*

The CNIE offers advanced professional English language courses as well as support services to NYC asylees, asylum seekers, and resettled refugees. Housed in the ELI, the center collaborates with the Silver School of Social Work and with RIF Asylum Support - and we have interns from the Silver School. Our interns can connect students to resources such as a language partner program (which our ELI faculty participate in), a graduate student conversation program (where our students can learn more about what it’s like to study in higher education in the U.S.), and our newsletter (which informs students about NYU and NYC events and resources). This is a faculty-driven initiative, and my role has evolved over time as the center has grown. As coordinator of the CNIE, I liaise with our Silver partners, our community partners, our interns, and our advisory committee, which is made up of former CNIE students, ELI faculty, a Silver School researcher, and an educational advisor from RIF Asylum Support. I do outreach to raise awareness about the good work that we’re doing,  oversee our interns, and help plan and act on our advisory committee meetings - but really, because the center requires collaboration within the university and community, I act as a bridge for communication between all of these people who are involved in making the center successful.

What do you like best about the English Language Institute?

What I like best is that we are a true community in every sense of the word. We are dedicated to a single mission, and we collaborate to fulfill it. It is inspiring to be able to work with talented and dedicated teachers and to shape programming the way we can because we work so closely together on various initiatives to meet our students’ needs.

If someone were visiting NYC for one day only, what would you tell them they absolutely had to do before leaving?

I would tell them to book another day and see Brooklyn!  The city has so much to offer...but Brooklyn is its own treasure: we have the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, the Brooklyn Museum of Art, Grand Army Plaza, Prospect Park, and so many interesting neighborhoods. People miss out if they don’t see Brooklyn.

What’s your favorite discussion topic around the dinner table?

One of my favorite topics is modern and contemporary art; my son works with art and likes to discuss it, too. I had the opportunity to develop a course, English through Art, using art as a vehicle for teaching English. So, I will turn the topic to art and pick my son’s brain about artists and new exhibitions in the city to share with my students.

Do you have a hidden skill or talent? 

I think my hidden skill might be cooking for lots of people and making them feel at home. I’m responsible for holidays, so that’s when I make stuffed artichokes and apple pies, but our door is also always open to my son’s and daughter's friends, my nieces and all of their partners...so there are always a lot of people around the table!

If someone wanted to end up in your position, how would you tell him/her to get there?

Whether they wanted to be in my position or any other, I would say collaborate.

I think that collaboration is the single most important thing that you can do as a professional; you can always learn from others, and projects are richer with more voices.

What advice would you give your younger self?

Use your voice. Sometimes we aren’t bold enough to share ideas, but often if we do, we find that that leads to more opportunities for everyone.

Robyn Vaccara teaches Beginner through High Intermediate ESL Reading/Writing and Speaking/Listening, as well as English Through Art.

* The CNIE is now the Collaborative for New Immigrant Education.

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