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Making a Difference for International Graduate Students at University of Maryland


A native of Chile, Ron Earnest, who tutored fellow students while he was in graduate school, is a volunteer for the English Editing for International Graduate Students program. He talks about the program. “ Some years back I was looking for volunteer opportunities. I was hoping I would be able to do some high school tutoring, but my schedule didn’t really allow it," he says.

By the time I was done with work, high school was long over.
Then I discovered that the University of Maryland several programs that one could volunteer for and one of them is an editing program for graduate students whose first language is not English,” he says.

“Now many years ago I am a lawyer now, but many years ago I did graduate work and many of my friends were from other countries some of them did have some trouble with English, but they were otherwise extremely competent people. So that was a very attractive idea to me. It was also attractive because I thought by helping edit some of these papers I myself would find out what is going on in academic environment these days and so I did I signed up for it and pretty soon people were sending me PhD proposals and seminar papers which I could then edit.”

Ron says his volunteer work helps international graduate students with English grammar in their articles and dissertations. He says students from around the world have requested his assistance. “The editing program is only available for graduate students. It is not available for undergraduate. These are graduate students many of them in PhD programs, some of them in professional master programs and they come from all over the world,” he says.

“I’ve had a couple of Venezuelan students, I have had quite a few Taiwanese students, some Korean students and I turned down a student who was from Norway and his field was Musicology and frankly I know so little about that field that I just didn’t dare even try to help him, but the students really do come from all parts of the world and some of them have very good English, but sometimes their work needs just a little bit of help and some of them really do have a struggle to go through because they haven’t worked with English very much .

Some of them haven’t worked in a different academic tradition so they have to also learn not only some English, but also learn the difference between an undergraduate paper and a graduate paper.”

Papers that require only light editing are the easiest, Ron says, but most papers have more serious problems and editors themselves decide how long they will work with students. “You know they can work with the individual editor as much as the editor is willing. So I have had worked with students throughout a semester.

I’ve worked with students who have sent me a first draft of a proposal and sometimes it works better that way, I give them suggestions on how to improve the structure of the writing. Some students have a dual problem. They are not quite sure what a graduate paper is,” he says.

“So for example a student who is in the school of Education, a graduate student from Taiwan who sent me a paper which were her own personal memories of growing up as a child in Taiwan and it was not really appropriate for an academic paper. So I first had to point out to her that really she couldn’t get by on antidotes from her childhood, she had to give us a literature review and literature review is more than simply mentioning the titles and the content of books, it had to be a accredit on the analysis of the books and information contained in the book, where does the data come from. Given where the data comes from how reliable is it. What other areas of research aught to be explored,” he says.

“So with that particular student I sort of worked as kind of as a coach throughout the year and her paper did improve and then at the end we were working purely on the editing just making sure that the verbs and nouns and prepositions and indefinite and definite articles were where they belong.”

After working with the program for the last five or six years Ron says he still enjoys volunteering. “Well, I very much enjoy helping the students I also enjoy being in contact with the academic environment,” he says. “I very much enjoy picking up a chapter of a PhD thesis on History and helping somebody with it because I also learn from it and so I live a vicarious academic life so to speak by helping with this editing process and I enjoy the editing and I enjoy trying to interpret what someone says in writing and then try to help them re-write it.”

So a difference being made? Ron says “I think the program makes a difference and therefore you know those of us who participate in the program to one extend or another time permitting I think we do. I think I have certainly made a difference to many of the students who have come to me,” he says.

“Not only in the sense that I have helped them polish their paper, but as I have said before some of them come from an undergraduate environment where they didn’t seem to quite understand what was being demanded of them at the graduate level here in the United States.”

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