Reflections from Lisa Mommsen GS '95

Lisa Mommsen shares her reflection on how her experience at SUA influenced her career as an ESL instructor.

As I reflect on my time and education at Soka University of America (SUA) from 1994 to 1995, I have realized that not only have there been many changes in my life but in society as well. In fact, in his message at the opening of the graduate school,  founder, Daisaku Ikeda, stated that “it can be said with some certainty that change, in all its scope and richness, will be the one constant…” However, with all that has changed, my time at SUA still seems like it was just yesterday as it was a pivotal experience in my life.

September 1994 was such a thrilling time to be able to have the opportunity to start my graduate career in a brand new graduate program with new professors and new classmates. At that time, the Internet was just beginning to become somewhat “surfable.” Although there was really no one to send email messages to, having access to email was cutting edge. The SUA library was also in its infancy. In fact, my first on-campus job was there among the bare shelves in the library where I would file the cards of new books into the wooden drawers of the card catalog.

Although I cannot retrieve my student work as they are mostly on colorful floppy diskettes, I have treasured memories of lessons that opened my eyes to thinking outside of the box as an educator. One such assignment consisted of merely finding a spot on campus and sitting alone for an hour while observing my surroundings. At first, I was a bit puzzled by this simple task, but the reflections that came from that hour of observation led to amazingly unexpected insight and creativity. Lessons like this along with the rigors of learning such subjects as grammar trees and creating fair assessments shaped a strong foundation for my now 25-year career in English language education.

However, the memories that I cherish the most are of the people that supported me while at SUA. Daisaku Ikeda also affirmed in the above-mentioned message that “the mission of Soka University of America is to foster a steady stream of global citizens committed to living a contributive life.” Because of the support that I experienced from the faculty, staff, and my classmates while at SUA, I recognize that it takes a team to empower students so that the knowledge and/or skills gained from classes is instrumental in the progress of their lives and the attainment of their goals.

As a university lecturer in an Intensive English Program, I strive to vary my methods of instruction within the classroom to expose students to what they may encounter at the university while showing students their own English progress. One project that a colleague and I co-created has students work in small groups for a month with the goal of creating a video. Their month-long collaboration has them fully communicating in English in addition to engaging in life skills such as time management
and leadership. In their final reflection of the project, students are much more confident about their language abilities and life skills as they can see the improvements over the journey of the project. They also comment on the bonds of friendship that they create while working together.

Collaborating on class activities and thinking of projects that surprise students like I experienced so many years ago is definitely due to the education that I received at SUA.