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School of Education partners with Law School to provide language instruction to international law students

Through a new partnership with William & Mary Law School, two doctoral students from the School of Education’s Holmes Scholars program are developing and teaching an English language preparatory course for newly-arrived international students in the university’s LL.M. program. Jingjing Liu, Ph.D. student in higher education, and Paola Mendizábal, a Ph.D. student in curriculum and learning design, will teach Legal English during the upcoming spring and summer semesters.

Jingjing Liu, Ph.D. student in higher educationThe Holmes Scholars Program is a national initiative sponsored by the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (AACTE) that aims to support high-achieving students from traditionally under-represented backgrounds pursuing doctoral degrees in education. As Holmes Scholars, Liu and Mendizábal benefit from mentorship and professional development opportunities, as well as a close-knit network of peer scholars.

The W&M branch of the Holmes Scholars Program is directed by Stephanie Blackmon, associate professor of higher education. Under her supervision, the two students are bringing their own unique experiences and expertise to the task of helping international law students prepare for rigorous legal study at William & Mary. 

Paola Mendizabal, Ph.D. student in curriculum and learning designTypically taught by adjunct faculty, Legal English is a course for international students who need additional support in English language study. The Law School’s LL.M. program is a two- or three-semester program that draws students and attorneys from across the world who wish to learn about the American legal system. At William & Mary, LL.M. students take courses alongside their J.D. counterparts, allowing them to understand U.S. law and legal practice while developing their cross-cultural communication skills.

"All of our LL.M. students have significant legal training in their home countries, so their analytic skills are already good,” says Jennifer Stevenson, who directs the program and serves as associate dean for graduate programs in the Law School. “However, some struggle to communicate their ideas orally and in writing. Thus, this program is very important to their success at William & Mary Law School and in future legal endeavors.”

The LL.M. program at the W&M Law School draws attorneys and scholars from across the country to study.For Liu and Mendizábal, the opportunity to teach fellow international students and help them become comfortable in their new context is a rewarding one.

“Because of the transition from their home countries to the U.S., these students can face challenges in adjusting to the higher education setting and finding ways to succeed academically and socially,” says Liu. “As an international student and a member of the International Student Advisory Board at William & Mary, my personal and professional experiences equip me to help students navigate transitions, become accustomed to a culture of teaching and learning in higher education, and connect them to resources on campus.”

Liu and Mendizábal have worked closely with Blackmon to develop their syllabi and reflect on their own teaching styles in order to best support the law students.

“These students come from very diverse backgrounds, but all need to acquire the language and expand their content knowledge about the U.S. legal system so that they can practice law here and internationally,” says Mendizábal. “As a former ESL teacher, I know the importance of collaboration and facilitating a safe environment in which we are all learning together.”

The collaboration was initiated in Spring 2020 by Blackmon and Stevenson with the support of Iria Giuffrida, who is a professor of the practice of law, visiting faculty for business law in the Raymond A. Mason School of Business, and the deputy director of the Center for Legal & Court Technology. Delayed by the pandemic, the course will launch this spring for incoming LL.M. students.

“Not only does the partnership provide law students with valuable classroom time with highly-skilled instructors, it also allows doctoral students in the Holmes Scholars Program to gain valuable teaching and mentoring experience,” says Blackmon. “This cooperative effort is immensely beneficial for all involved, and we’re excited to see it continue in the future.”