It is no secret that technology has become essential in each of our daily lives. From Zoom meetings to virtual classes, we are spending the majority of our waking hours behind the screens of our laptops, tablets, and cell phones. As a student, I know I cannot go a day (let alone an hour) without my laptop, as it is the key to accomplishing ultimately everything I do throughout my day. For many students entering college just three months ago, the beginning of their first year at Illinois State was filled with ambiguity and many unanswered questions. What will online classes be like? How will I live in a dorm in the midst of a pandemic? How will I make friends while still social distancing?

The importance of Illinois State University’s Mary F. English Technology Award has been felt even more by deserving student recipients during the COVID-19 pandemic. This award provides various tools to incoming Illinois State students, such as vital technology needed to succeed in an in-person or virtual classroom. The award was originally founded in 2001 by Mary F. English ’68 and Robert J. English ’66, MBA ’67, and its legacy has endured and flourished ever since. Since its founding, the award has provided countless pieces of technology, academic support, educational resources, and a sense of community to future teachers in the College of Education.

Each recipient of the Mary F. English Technology Award is given a choice of electronic devices and accessories to ensure that they are well equipped to prosper in a competitive higher education setting. More than that, each student is welcomed into the English Scholar Program, which supports each student as they begin their journey at Illinois State University. For first year students, this includes helping them acclimate to the curriculum of higher education and the independence of living away from home, supporting them to best utilize their new technology, and providing mentorship to guide them through their first year. For second year students, this means supporting them as they begin major-focused classes, organizing professional workshops and technology development, and facilitating connections with other future and current educators.

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Since the beginning of the school year, the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has forced the English Scholar Program to be creative in finding alternative ways of supporting students. Although in-person monthly meetings have not been possible, the program has continued meeting through Zoom. For first-year students, these meetings have consisted of icebreaker activities and have served as a safe space to ask questions. For second-year students, these meetings have consisted of team building activities and continued fostering of peer relationships that were built upon last year. In early September, the second-year students participated in a virtual escape room to help get their critical thinking skills flowing! The goals of these monthly meetings have been to promote the sense of community that is shared between the scholars and to create a support network with peers and professionals that volunteer their time in the program.

In addition to monthly meetings, English Scholars have had the opportunity to attend workshops held through the university, such as the Teaching in the 21st Century Conference.  This year’s virtual event was held in early October and focused on engaging current and future educators on the use of technology in the classroom. Students have also been able to participate in a workshop hosted by University College, focusing on topics like time management during online learning. We are thrilled to announce that there are already plans for a professional development session hosted by a technology expert for all students in spring 2021.

English Scholar Recipients would like to express their gratitude to the English family, for without them, none of this would be possible. With their generous donations through the years, hundreds of students have been given valuable tools to succeeding at Illinois State University and to become highly effective teachers using instructional technology. They have built a truly impressive legacy filled with the accomplishments of current and future educators that participated in the program.

Student and co-coordinator quotes

“So far, this program has given me such amazing opportunities and resources. I am so thankful for all the people that have helped me with just my first semester as a college student. It’s been difficult with the pandemic but knowing I have people to talk to and to direct me has been so amazing.”—Lissette Tapia, Freshman English Scholar recipient

“The technology I received is so helpful with my schoolwork and I cannot imagine how I would do my classes without it. I also get so much help from the advisors and other students, and it makes me so hopeful for my future in this program!”—Madison Cantu, Freshman English Scholar recipient

“The technology that this program has provided for me has helped me a lot as we transitioned to online classes. I would not be as successful in my first or second year without it. As a second-year student mentor, I hope I can be as helpful as my mentors in the program were with me in my first year. The English Scholars program has helped me find my crowd and I’ve made some lifetime friends for sure. I will forever be grateful of the opportunity I got to be a part of The English Scholars program. “—Wendy Romero, Sophomore English Scholar recipient

“This program gives students the tools to become amazing educators who will engage learners through technology. The students also form a strong support network. I really enjoy getting to know them and seeing them blossom through their experiences at ISU.”—Kelli Appel, College of Education Director of Enrollment and Transition Services, Co-Director of English Scholar Program

Although the English Scholar Program focuses on providing technology to the Scholars, it actually provides them with so much more. I have seen friendships forged, as well as networks developed to support students’ academic success. I’ve spent hours knocking down bowling pins, playing board games, and weaving through corn mazes with students, which allows me to develop closer relationships with students than just teaching them in a classroom.”—Robyn Seglem, Professor, School of Teaching and Learning, Co-Director of English Scholar Program