Florida State University

When Jennifer Ervin travels to Vietnam to teach for a year as a Fulbright Scholar, she hopes her Frisbee helps her span cultures.

It's already helped her make friends in Spain and Costa Rica, where she took part in Florida State University's International Programs. And she's played on Ultimate Frisbee teams in France, Italy, the Netherlands and Scotland.

"It's a laid-back sport," Ervin said. "People are serious about playing but not intensely competitive. I go online and find teams. People are friendly whether you know the language or not. I'd like to start a team in Vietnam."

That's why she packed two of her spinning discs to take to the northeastern province of Quang Ninh about two hours from Hanoi, where she'll teach English and help her students learn about the United States.

"The cross-cultural activities will be the perfect opportunity to help students learn how to work with the English language in a comfortable and conversational setting," she said.

Ervin earned her undergraduate degree in English Literature at Florida State in 2006 and her master's degree in English Education in the College of Education in 2009. She also earned a certificate in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages. After her work in Vietnam, she plans to teach in an urban school with a diverse student population.

Associate Professor Susan Wood, program coordinator for English education, said that Ervin combines humility and compassion with her passion for teaching, especially English as a second language.

"She is intellectually curious, cheerfully hardworking, and fully respectful of all people," Wood said. "No doubt she will make the most of her Fulbright opportunity in Vietnam."

Ervin, a graduate of SAIL High School in her native Tallahassee, had little trouble deciding to go to Florida State. FSU is a family affair. Her mother graduated in 1978. Her father earned his undergraduate degree in 1979 and his law degree in 1982. Her sister, Katie, plans to graduate in 2010 with a major in creative writing, and her brother started at Florida State in the summer with a goal to graduate in 2014. He hasn't yet declared a major.

Jennifer Ervin, too, had no idea what she would select as a major when she started at Florida State. She tried sport management, creative writing, history. "I took a diverse range of classes to figure out what I really wanted to do," she said. "Florida State has incredible faculty members who spent a lot of time talking with me to help me decide my major, and they didn't have to. That meant a lot."

As a graduate assistant responsible for advising undergrads in English education, Ervin worked with about 120 students. Sometimes, they knocked on her door in tears because they couldn't get the classes they needed. The English education curriculum not only has prescribed courses, but also requires them to be taken in a specific order.

"Working through problems with my students helped me develop my skills in working with people," Ervin said. "If students got upset, I had to think fast on my feet to deal with them, even though they were my age or not much younger. Students do complain."

The experience helped her prepare for her role as a teacher, but so did the instructional methods she observed in her classes. "I learned that as a teacher, you want students to be having fun and be engaged. You can't do textbook stuff over and over again."

For example, she taught teenagers to develop characterization for short stories by having them draw characters on paper and color them with pen, ink or crayon. Then she had them design online avatars.

"The whole time, kids said, 'This is fun… Why are we doing this?'" Ervin recalled. "I explained the importance of visualizing your characters. I wasn't sure it would work, but I got great stories out of these general education students. Heartfelt stories."

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