The idea for IELP began with the Provost, Lou Paradise, in early 1994. A group of Korean visitors said they could recruit students to UNO if we had an intensive English program. Paradise asked Bobby Dupont, then dean of Metropolitan College, to investigate.
At the time, I was running four different study abroad programs. When Bobby asked me to start the IELP, I said absolutely not. I couldn't imagine starting a program of this magnitude from scratch!
Bobby and the Provost wouldn’t be deterred. Days later, Bobby told me he could ask me to begin the IELP or he could tell me, but either way he wanted me to do it. I didn’t know the first thing about running a language program, but Bobby assured me we’d learn together.
With almost no budget, I sat down and started designing. I hired my first Student Worker, Donna Carter Koger. She taught me to use WordPerfect, and we created the first brochure. Since the university couldn’t offer additional money, we seeded IELP with funds from our study abroad programs.
UNO wanted us to open the program as early as possible. I insisted we take our time and create the best program we could. In the fall of 1994, we hired Georgette Ioup from the University of New Orleans English department as our curriculum consultant and we also sought advice from ESL expert Linda Blanton.
We worked diligently. We mailed brochures around the world and visited local international communities. While Donna and I were enthusiastic, privately I had doubts. Finally a Lebanese man walked into my office clutching the brochure we’d mailed. He handed me a check for his two brothers to apply to our program. Needless to say, we were ecstatic. Our hard work had paid off!
In the spring of 1995, we hired Lia Kushnir, from the UNO English department as our first academic coordinator. In the fall, Margaret Hurdlik and Chris Alfieri began as our first teachers, and Margarita Ahumada joined the team as coordinator. We’d built an English language program from no more than an idea and extremely hard work. We set out to create an IELP that challenged our students academically and encouraged learning through fun activities. We wanted our students to feel as though we were a family away from their own. In over twenty years, these foundations have not changed.
While we'd created an excellent program, our trials weren't over...
The Koreans never responded. The first two Lebanese students didn’t show up. Yet, somehow, the program was a huge success. Our first session ended in October 1995 with 18 students. We held our very first Certificate Ceremony in the Flambeau Room, a former room in the University Center. I couldn’t have been more proud.
Over the years, we've improved the quality of our program. We survived the challenges of 9/11 and devastation of Hurricane Katrina. We've adapted to the changing needs of a global community, preparing our students no matter what their goals. In 2015, UNO established an International Center, a hub for international student activity on campus. IELP students now interact with American and international students in a central, state-of-the-art building.
I've experienced many exciting moments in my career, but I will never forget the beginning of this wonderful program. Looking back, having made a difference in the lives of thousands of students over two decades is professionally and personally rewarding and, quite frankly, very humbling. I am still in touch with many former students, teachers and staff and am able to share in their lives and successes. I cherish their friendships, made possible through my remarkable journey with the IELP.
Alea M. Cot
Assistant Provost for International Education
University of New Orleans