Intensive English Program celebrates first graduates

Former IEP students who graduated from WCU posed with Chancellor David Belcher after the ceremony.

Former IEP students who graduated from WCU posed with Chancellor David Belcher after the ceremony.

A program that began at Western Carolina University in 2010 to help international students learn English in order to complete college has been celebrating its first five WCU graduates – all of them from Saudi Arabia.

What the students did – becoming proficient in English enough so they could complete their degrees and graduate from WCU in December – “is much harder than any of us can imagine,” said Jana Williams, an instructor who has been with the program since its beginning.

The IEP is a full-time, non-credit academic English program that follows the university schedule, with full semesters during fall and spring, and an eight-week program in the summer.

Hilary Lindler, an admissions specialist who joined the IEP in 2013, said most of the program’s students are taking regular university courses while they complete the program. “While some students apply to the IEP only, the majority of students apply for conditional admission to WCU for an undergraduate degree, the condition being their successful completion of the IEP,” she said. “Along with language instruction, the IEP helps students learn cross-cultural skills to adjust to living and studying here.”

IEP faculty members have earned graduate degrees in linguistics or teaching English as a second language. They have many years of experience teaching in university language programs overseas and in the U.S., Lindler said.

“They work hard to help IEP students adjust to the culture here. In time, many of the students consider Cullowhee their home,” she said. “Since most of the students in the IEP remain on campus for five to six years, the program encourages them to get involved with the community.”

In 2015, IEP students were nominated for a service-learning award for their help with a Sylva Main Street clean-up. In the past, students also have volunteered at Mountain Heritage Day and the Cullowhee Community Garden, and they worked on a project to turn an old Haywood County prison into a soup kitchen, homeless shelter and halfway house.

Jill Cargile, IEP director and teacher, joined the program in 2013. She said the program serves as one of the gateways for students from outside the U.S. to enter college studies at WCU.

Housed in the Office of International Programs and Services, the IEP provides 18 hours per week of academic English study, Cargile said. International students who are non-native speakers of English may be admitted to WCU for undergraduate studies on the basis of an English proficiency test score, or they can complete the IEP successfully to demonstrate their proficiency in English. Most of the students prefer to study in the IEP to gain the academic and cultural competence they need to begin their university studies, she said.

The program currently includes four part-time and one full-time faculty members. “Our low student-to-teacher ratio provides students with many opportunities to practice and improve,” Cargile said.

Although the recent graduates and current students hail from Saudi Arabia, since its inception the program has trained students from Mexico, China, South Korea, Cambodia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina and Japan. “In coming semesters, we hope to attract more students from South America and China as well,” Cargile said. “In addition to the IEP, we are developing a non-degree certificate program for people who would like to go abroad to teach English. The GATE Program – short for ‘Go Abroad to Teach English’ – will debut in June at WCU’s instructional site at Biltmore Park in Asheville.”

Four of the five students who graduated in December were in the Emergency Medical Care Program – Yousef Alamri, Ali Alnakhli, Ali Alsiwar and Ali Alyami. Alnakhli was an Honors College student. The fifth graduate, Feras Alkhamsan, was in the marketing and finance programs.

Williams said she is proud of their achievements. “Yousef Alamri, Ali Alnakhli and Ali Alyami were on the chancellor’s list at least a few times during their years here. In the span of five to six years, they elevated their English skills to a level that would allow them to succeed in college and earned very difficult degrees.”

All five of the graduates had plans to return to Saudi Arabia to work or continue their educations, she said. “Both Yousef and Ali Alnakhli plan to go to medical school, and Yousef has been accepted.”

For more information about the IEP, contact Cargile at 828-227-7494 or by email at