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Grossmont College ESL instructor Nancy Herzfeld-Pipkin retires

Posted on: Sep 3, 2013 3:00:00 PM
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Contact: Donald Harrison donald.harrison@gcccd.edu (619) 644-7840

 Retiring following a 37-year college career as an English and English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) faculty member, Prof. Nancy Herzfeld-Pipkin answered unhesitatingly when asked at her Grossmont College retirement party what quality ESL instructors need most.

"Compassion," she declared.

Approximately half the ESL students at Grossmont College "are immigrants from all over the world, refugees, people who are struggling, people who are here under very difficult circumstances," she said.  "They are here because they were forced to leave their country. They didn't want to leave their country but circumstances happened that they had to.  They came with almost nothing, and learning language and a new culture is not easy, so you have to have compassion."

So, Herzfeld-Pipkin said, she tried to make students feel comfortable in her classroom, while at the same time insisting upon high standards.  "There is a little bit of making sure that they are okay, but also making sure that they understand all that they will have to deal with," Herzfeld-Pipkin said during a Friday, August 30, retirement celebration on campus with faculty, staff and administrators.

Making students work hard for their ESL classroom grade prepares them to do well in academic courses that they will take in other college disciplines, she said.   If standards were to be relaxed, on the other hand, "you would not be preparing them to deal with what is coming up in the environment they chose. It would in fact be a lack of compassion because you set them up for failure."

Herzfeld-Pipkin said she is proud of the seven books she has authored for use by ESL students. When she started at Grossmont College, she recalled there was an exercise book that asked students to write about such topics as their favorite superstition, holiday, and color.

"At midterm, students were coming to me and saying 'I have to drop my history class,' and I thought 'We are not preparing them!' so I just started writing some materials based on academic themes. One was on the African American experience, starting with Frederick Douglass, the Civil War, the Jim Crow era, Civil Rights -- they need to know this.  The student reaction was incredible:  'You mean we are going to learn something from this?' I remember an Iraqi guy, a biologist, who fled because (Iraq's dictator) Saddam (Hussein) wanted him to work on chemical weapons and he wouldn't.... He told me that in his music class, they were talking about the jazz era, and the teacher said 'Jim Crow.'  The student was excited to report ‘I knew what it was, just like all the Americans, and I was so proud of myself.'

Other chapters in that book addressed different subjects in a general-education curriculum. There was “a little bit about learning styles, history, the environment, culture, health, so no matter what class they took, they would have a smattering," Herzfeld-Pipkin said.  "You focus on that vocabulary, and those ideas and the grammar that comes up most often in those disciplines."

Besides writing books geared to ESL students -- her first was about a trip she made across country from New York to California -- Herzfeld-Pipkin has participated in innumerable conferences, workshops, seminars and convocations to assist in the professional development of new ESL teachers.

"What her many admiring students are not aware of is what she has done to advocate on their behalf," said Agustin Albarran, dean of English, Behavioral and Social Sciences at Grossmont College.  "She has served on numerous committees such as Academic Senate, Student Success Committee, East County Cal-Pass EL/ESL Intersegmental Council, Chancellor's Refugee and Immigrant Planning Team, and International Student Committee." 

Furthermore, said the dean, "she has presented workshops to Grossmont College Faculty and to San Diego-Imperial Counties Community College Association (SDICCCA) interns, sharing best practices when teaching non-native speakers in their classes. She has also served our faculty on the Facilities Committee, Faculty Staffing Committee, ESL Assessment Test Writing Team for California Community Colleges and ESL Full-Time Instructor Hiring Committees... Nancy has been deeply committed to creating and developing learning communities in the ESL department."

History Prof. Sue Gonda, president of Grossmont College's Academic Senate, said she recently had a conversation with Beth Smith, the Grossmont College mathematics professor who currently is serving as president of the statewide Academic Senate for the 112 California community colleges, about Herzfeld-Pipkin's retirement.  She said they agreed that Herzfeld-Pipkin could be counted upon in every academic forum to always "bring back into the conversation the big picture, student success, which is what we are here for."    

Nancy Herzfeld-Pipkin

ESL Prof. Nancy Herzfeld-Pipkin at her retirement party (Photo by Barbara Loveless)

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