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A heart for diversity

Rachel Dallmann in Kenya / Courtesy photo

Two years ago, graduating ASU student Rachel Dallmann taught English at the Tumaini Miles of Smiles School and Orphanage in Western Kenya. It changed her perspective. “This is where I had my first ‘aha’ moment,” she said.

May 03, 2017

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of profiles for spring 2017 commencement. See more graduates here.

Graduating Arizona State University master’s student Rachel Dallmann has always found joy in helping others. She is especially gratified when she finds a way to connect, to communicate across real or perceived barriers.

“Ever since I was little, I've had an interest in other cultures and languages,” she said.

Growing up in Racine, Wisconsin, Dallmann sought experiences with those who were not like her, wanting to better understand their worlds. Later, she did church volunteer work with Phoenix area refugee populations, helping newcomers adjust. Two years ago she taught at an orphanage in Western Kenya.

For an internship in her Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (MTESOL) program at ASU, she combined the hours in Kenya with time spent working closer to home — at the Somali American United Council (SAUC) in Phoenix, which provides services to refugees. Dallmann tutored Somali children there, assisting them with homework and with English skills, and taught English to adults at the center as well.

“Walking alongside refugees helps me to put a face and story behind this population,” Dallmann said. “Phoenix has a huge population of refugees, and unfortunately, most of us have no idea. I had no idea, until I realized I didn't have to go half way around the globe to find someone who wasn't like me. They are right in my backyard.”

To address the growing need for English teachers all over the world, the Department of English is launching an online MTESOL program which is currently enrolling students — in their own “backyards” — to begin this fall. The degree prepares individuals like Dallmann for the international field of English language teaching.

We asked Dallman some questions about her educational journey and her next steps.

Question: What was your "aha" moment, when you realized you wanted to study in your field? 

Answer: Had you asked me if I had any desire to be a teacher two years ago, I would have said, "zero." While working at an orphanage in Western Kenya nearly two summers ago, I was told I was needed to teach at an elementary school in a rural area. I wasn't thrilled about it. I did it because that's where I was needed. That was my first "aha" moment. I discovered a passion for seeing light bulbs turn on as students grasped new concepts. I enjoyed how the classroom allowed me to tap into my creative side as I was constantly needing to improvise and adjust while trying to keep it fun for the students. I never thought of teaching as a creative challenge before this experience!

My second "aha" moment occurred while teaching adult refugees and immigrants locally during my internship. As much as I love children, I prefer teaching adults. The students I work with are often desperate to learn the language so they can survive in their new home country. They are eager to work and understand what is going on at their children's schools and all around them. Knowing that I have an opportunity to be an advocate to help welcome them to their new country is humbling and an honor.

Q: What's something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?

A: I've really learned to value the gift of diversity in the classroom as well as on campus. Our university brings together people from all over the globe. I think in my undergraduate program, I really took this for granted. I'm often in awe as I walk on campus and listen to the number of different languages that are being spoken. There are not many places (outside of universities) that provide an opportunity to have rich, insightful conversation and discussions with people from around the world. What a gift! As the final days of my semester wind down, I am a little sad that this will no longer be a regular part of my life.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I moved from Wisconsin to Arizona to attend ASU for my undergraduate degree [a BS in marketing from the W. P. Carey School of Business]. I've stayed in metro Phoenix since, so coming back for my master's degree was a natural and obvious choice. Once a Sun Devil always a Sun Devil!

Q: What's the best piece of advice you'd give to those still in school?

A: You got this! What has always helped me is reflecting back to the previous semester (or another difficult time in my life). I recall how it seemed overwhelming, impossible, or beyond stressful in the moment. Then I recall how I pressed on and got through it. It's temporary, and soon it will all be behind you. Press on and crush those goals!

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?

A: When it's not blazing hot outside, I like finding the hidden places on campus that are quiet. I grab a coffee and my laptop to enjoy the beautiful AZ landscape, filled with flowers, cacti or greenery while studying, catching up on life or just taking a moment to breathe.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: I plan to teach English and yoga in Africa this summer and then in Mexico in the fall.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would put it towards helping orphaned and abandoned children. By preventing them from becoming the poorest members of society, child soldiers, trafficked and many of other horrible situations that these children are often vulnerable to, we could prevent many other world problems.

The Department of English is an academic unit of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at ASU.

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