Beyond Vassar

Crossing Cultures

By Amy Boggs ’07

Every year during Black History month, Ileana Porges-West ’74 teaches her students about the poems of Langston Hughes, beginning a month’s worth of classes dedicated to learning African-American history.

Porges-West teaches reading, writing, and speaking English as a second language at Miami Dade College. Her students are recent immigrants and tend to be older women, the majority of whom are the first in their families to attend college. They come from a variety of different countries and circumstances, some having to take classes on and off due to health, family, and job issues.

Porges-West came to be a second-language professor after re-evaluating her life and contributions to the world. Interested in comparative cultures, she strove to promote cultural awareness and acceptance during her 25 years of work in corporate America, most of which she spent traveling to and from the Caribbean and Latin America. As she neared 50, however, she decided to turn her attention to a career where she could make a difference. She found that career at Miami Dade College’s English Academic Program (EAP), which extends beyond student proficiency in English as a second language.

“My educational philosophy is holistic and goes far beyond teaching EAP competencies,” Porges-West says. “One attraction of the EAP discipline is that in the course of teaching English I can include multidisciplinary and multicultural content from the arts, history, literature, science, and business to develop a global consciousness among my students.” She teaches informational and technical literacy as well, seeking to offer students as many opportunities as possible. “Central to the mission of the ESL and foreign languages department is that opportunity changes everything,” she says.

In her classroom Porges-West aims to teach her students about diverse cultures, including global and historical perspectives. She brings in outside experts and speakers to broaden her students’ worldview and aspirations, and help them formulate their goals. She uses celebrations as a way to teach, such as focusing on Caribbean writers and culture around Columbus Day.

“As a faculty member it is a challenge to prepare those students who have academic degrees from their own countries alongside those who have a weak educational background or are not very motivated,” she says. “However, the lives that I have touched and the students for whom I have made the American Dream a possibility make me excited to go to work every day, and I am fulfilled in what I’m doing.”