Dana Poole, Ph.D., the Division Director of English and Humanities at Hagerstown Community College, was an English Language Fellow in Israel, 2008-2009. For her primary duties at her host institution, Al Qasemi Academy, Dana taught English speaking and writing courses, worked on program design and administration, and served as a mentor for pre-service teachers. For her secondary projects, Dana presented communicative English language lessons to K-12 students, conducted intensive teacher training workshops, and facilitated community outreach projects. During her time as a Fellow, Dana was also supported closely by the Public Diplomacy section of the U.S. Embassy, which gave her many opportunities to participate in initiatives and promote scholarship opportunities.
Dana credits both the range of her responsibilities and the diversity of the people she collaborated with for making her fellowship such a transformative experience. “Israel is a wonderfully multi-ethnic, multi-religious place, where English language learning has a rich history of development,” Dana says. “My fellowship offered me access to the culturally and economically diverse communities who live within Israel.” The vast learning and cultural exchange Dana experienced with her new friends and colleagues broadened her perspectives and sparked new interests in food, music, hobbies, and life goals.
The Right Challenge at the Right Time
The opportunity to participate in the English Language Fellow program came at a point in Dana’s life when she found herself at a professional crossroads. After completing a master’s degree in TESOL from the School for International Training, Dana felt restless and understood that with her current credentials opportunities within the U.S. would be limited. She also began to realize that she was passionate about working with and empowering college-age students and wanted to take a step in that direction. When she was offered a fellowship project teaching at a small college in Israel, it felt like a perfect match for her personal and professional interests.
In Israel, Dana relished her new roles. Having the chance to create community outreach activities and services enabled her to hone new skills as an organizer and administrator. For one of her favorite projects, supporting students on the application process for the Middle Eastern Partnership Initiative (MEPI), Dana had a moment of great cultural learning. “All of the applicants I worked with were women and I began to understand the many pressures and cultural constraints placed on them,” Dana explains. “I learned a lot about what specific things would be helpful for them in terms of resume writing and interview practice.” While working on MEPI, Dana also had the chance to talk with parents and extended family members about the program. Through this process she cultivated her ability to make culturally informed decisions and to ask thoughtful questions. “It was difficult at times,” Dana says, “but learning how to navigate this process in a different culture gave me great confidence as a professional, and ultimately it helped me grow as an administrator too.”
Learning to Listen with Lifelong Friends In A Welcoming Culture
Beyond her professional breakthroughs, Dana’s fellowship was a time of personal evolution and growth. She formed many deep personal relationships with friends and colleagues. Dana states, “The kindness my new community showed in bringing me into their family gatherings for meals and long conversations made me feel at home in a new culture, and this in turn enabled me to grow as a person.” Throughout her fellowship, she spent time each week with one of her closest friends, Abeer Yehia, and Abeer’s five children, and they have kept in close touch ever since.
Dana’s personal journey also changed her approach to teaching and administration. She learned from the rich personal narratives of the people she interacted with, hearing stories of love and loss, of conflict and triumph, stories of cultural norms and family dynamics so different from what she knew in the world. “I don’t know how else to say this,” Dana reflects, “but in Israel I learned to listen in a more meaningful way. I learned how to privilege good listening as a way of being.” Dana’s new ‘listening first’ approach to teaching and life was reinforced by her friends and colleagues too. As her own ability to listen and observe grew, she began to experience how teaching with openness and compassion can foster great learning; and she continues to carry this crucial skill forward in all her work.
A New Professional Path
Directly following her fellowship, Dana pursued a Ph.D. in TESOL and Composition Studies at Indiana University of Pennsylvania for which she drew on her experiences teaching writing at Al Qasemi to inform her research interests. After completing her Ph.D., Dana served as the Director of the English Language Institute at Washington & Jefferson College (W&J), an intensive pre-academic program for which her administrative experience from her fellowship gave her the skills she needed to be successful. Dana next held the position of Director of International Student Initiatives at W&J, which required significant student support and inter-cultural communication skills. In her current role as the Division Director of English and Humanities at Hagerstown Community College (HCC), Dana applies her cultural acumen, knowledge of teaching and learning, and administrative skills to support academic programs within a diverse community. “Being prepared for this role is something that began with the professional progression of my fellowship,” Dana states.
Go Back, Give Back Contest Winner
As part of English Language Programs’ 50th Anniversary celebrations in 2019, Dana was awarded a special alumni opportunity called Fellows@50 Encore: Go Back, Give Back Contest in which she returned to Al Qasemi Academy as a visiting staff member for two weeks. Through the support of her close friend Dr. Ibtihal Assaly, Dana felt fortunate to step into the experience with the feeling that she was picking up right where she had left off. She joined Al Qasemi’s incredibly popular English Day event for the local middle schools. English Day was a highlight during Dana’s fellowship, as she loved nurturing the students’ creativity and seeing their enthusiasm for this exciting event. With this year’s theme being storybooks, the students and teachers created colorful characters and elaborate decorations.
Because of the close bonds and productive partnerships Dana formed during her time at Al Qasemi, returning to work there after all these years was a special moment for her. “My fellowship gave me a powerful shift in my professional interests. It set me on a path of leadership and program administration that I enjoy,” Dana says. “Going back to Israel to reconnect with my friends and colleagues meant the world to me, because without their support my journey would not have been possible.”
Dana Poole, Ph.D., was an English Language Fellow in Israel, 2007-2009, and a Go Back, Give Back participant in 2019. She has twenty years of experience in the TESOL field, including teaching in Asia, Europe, and the U.S. She is currently the Division Director of English and Humanities at Hagerstown Community College in Hagerstown, Maryland.