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Off-the-charts empathy a superpower for this new ASU graduate

Graduating ASU student Alisa Bozich smiling at her camera from inside a car.

A busy mom of three teenagers, Alisa Bozich uses her "off-the-charts" empathy to assist immigrants and refugees who are learning English.

December 01, 2022

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable fall 2022 graduates.

Feeling like an outsider is no fun — to put it mildly — and language skills are key to a sense of belonging. An experience living abroad gave one Arizona State University student an appreciation for being able to speak the “local” language.

Alisa Bozich feels led to help those new to the U.S. find their footing. Her new Master of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages – which she is earning this fall through ASU Online — will make doing just that a bit easier.

Bozich got hands-on practice in her own community as part of the MTESOL program. She completed a graduate-level internship through the Department of English in which she taught English to high school children of immigrant and refugee families in the Virginia Beach City Public School district.

“She's a mom of three teenagers, which is her secret superpower,” said ASU English Internships Director Ruby Macksoud. “She understands what motivates kids and the challenges they can feel. Plus, there's a comforting reassurance in her teaching that high schoolers pick up on.”

Macksoud shared a story hinting at the precarity that some of Bozich’s students have experienced in their young lives: “After her first day of teaching, one of her students smiled and asked, ‘Will you be here tomorrow?’ Many of Alisa's students are multilingual, with English not always being spoken at home, and that's something else that she understands given her own language learning experiences while living in Germany with her family. So, her empathy for these students is off the charts.

“One of the standout observations from our conversations this semester is her approach to working with her students as whole individuals,” continued Macksoud. “That includes working as a linguistic and cultural bridge with their families as needed. For example, when a question came up for one of her Spanish-speaking students, the school's administration trusted her to communicate with the family. What makes Alisa tick? A genuine desire to help new Americans feel comfortable in their new homes and to thrive in their new communities.”

We sat down with Bozich to find out more about how she developed her supercharged empathy and what she plans to do with it next.

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

Answer: My family and I lived in Germany for three years — from 2017 until 2020. My children went to German schools, and none of us could speak German at all at first! I couldn't understand the letters that came home or help them with their homework. I had a hard time making a new life there because I couldn't understand the language. Finally, I took German classes and received my B1 CELT German certification. All of a sudden, my life in Germany bloomed. When we came back to the United States, I knew that I wanted to give that same opportunity of a full and vibrant life to people living in the United States who didn't yet know English.

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

A: I think something that changed my perspective at ASU was the opportunity to be in the online classroom with other people who are around the world, in different time zones and circumstances, who are pursuing the MTESOL degree online. I think it's helped me to consider possible careers and to have more respect for all that an MTESOL degree can do to help people achieve their goals. The global perspective was a really exciting part of the ASU Online experience, and the professors were very understanding and receptive to the differences of each student and their circumstances.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I decided to pursue my MTESOL with ASU Online because the program is so well respected and thorough, and it allowed me to continue to raise my teenagers while pursuing a degree helping people who were just like us. The online program is also so well built out. Many colleges say they have an online school, but it's not as robust as ASU.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: (Faculty Associate in English) Lupco Spasovski was a very challenging teacher in the LIN 510 English for Specific Purposes elective. Despite the fact that it was an online course, he took the time to communicate directly and specifically with me about my work. I think the most important lesson that he taught me was that a good assessment of students' and organizational needs can help set the groundwork for an English course that accomplishes the specific goals it sets forth. It also broadened my outlook; ESL isn't only to learn English to communicate, but sometimes simply to be able to discuss a specific subject matter, as in an ESP course for a company or organization. I'm not sure that without this course I would feel confident creating courses that look outside of traditional ESL curriculum to achieve desired results. Professor Spasovski was very encouraging and thorough, and I greatly enjoyed his course.

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

A: There is no substitute for experience. When pursuing a practicumIn this story, "practicum" is sometimes used interchangeably with “internship.”, I highly advise students to do everything possible to have a practicum in an area similar to what they think they might want to pursue after graduation. The opportunity to apply theory to practice really helps to drive the material from classes home and gives a great opportunity to test out which methods work best for you as a professor. It is intimidating to ask for help in finding a practicum, but it's a much better plan than just taking the easy road and doing something that doesn't involve the actual work you're hoping to do.

Q: What was your favorite spot for power studying?

A: My favorite spot for power studying has to be in my armchair in my bedroom. I have three teenage children, and often I will begin to study alone. Then, as my children come in and find me at work in my "study chair," they will grab a book or their own homework and come study near me. They know not to bother me if I'm working on school, but they know they can always get their work done near me too since we're all students right now!

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: After graduation, I hope to set up my own English courses to teach the spouses of the international military (NATO) members that live in our area. Additionally, I'd like to continue my work with lower-cost or free classes through the city of Virginia Beach and the public library system. These classes serve the immigrant and refugee communities in our area and are a new initiative partnership through my church and the Virginia Beach Public Library System.

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

A: $40 million could solve many problems, but maybe one of the most pressing is waste. I don't quite know how to solve it, but maybe that's what the money is for — to give to people who have a better chance of initiating some changes that make a difference, specifically in reducing the use of plastic.

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