Compass Member Spotlight: Blaise Nicklas

By: Dawn B

Editor: Jessica Schrader

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Where are you from?

I am originally from St. Marys, PA, about 120 miles northeast of Pittsburgh.

What’s your Alma Mater?

I am a 2010 graduate of Edinboro University of Pennsylvania.

Can you tell us where you serve, and what your role there is?

I am serving at Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania in Lawrenceville.  I am primarily an ESL instructor and my responsibilities include beginner and intermediate level ESL courses as well as one-on-one citizenship tutoring to prepare students for the naturalization test. I’m very fortunate to have Program Coordinator Michael Johnson as my supervisor, helping me find appropriate material for classes and familiarizing me with Goodwill’s mission and practices.

What led you to AmeriCorps and the Compass program?

I had been interested in ESL for about a year when I first read about the Compass program on the AmeriCorps website.  During undergrad, I volunteered at Edinboro’s campus Writing Center, assisting students with proofreading and developing written assignments.  I always found this work very fulfilling and it gave me an opportunity to use a strength of mine to assist others.  I applied to Compass because I hoped to have a similar experience, this time through ESL instruction.

What did you do before you started your service year?

I spent my summer in Vermont studying at Middlebury College’s Davis School of Russian.  It was an amazing experience and I would definitely consider applying again someday for another summer.  Middlebury’s Summer Language Schools require signing the Language Pledge, stating that students will only speak their respective language of study for the duration of the eight-week program.  It sounds really overwhelming and it was on occasion, but for a language nerd, it was an incredible opportunity to improve fluency.

What are some of your future goals?

I plan to eventually work in the field of translation/interpretation.  At the moment, I’m trying to build my fluency in Russian as much as possible in order to eventually teach ESL in Russia.  I also try to read and learn as much about the language services field as I can. I find myself constantly translating words and phrases in my head and I think that the work translators and interpreters do is incredibly fascinating, so the field is more or less a natural fit for me.  The obvious linguistic and cultural components of the program are another factor that drew me to Compass.

Where can we find you on a weekend in Pittsburgh?

That really depends a lot on the weekend in question.  Some weekends I’m working at my part-time job, hosting at the Church Brew Works.  On weekends when I have a night off, I like to go out with my friends and have dinner.  I have been known to frequent some of Lawrenceville and Bloomfield’s watering holes, too.  Lately I’m trying to see some of the sites and neighborhoods in Pittsburgh that I didn’t get to visit during my first year living here.

What have you taken away from your experience in Compass so far?

I’ve really been struck by the resilience of our students at Goodwill, especially the beginner level students who live every day in an overwhelmingly English-speaking society, at the local level at least.  I’m also very fascinated by the differences in learning patterns among students of various language backgrounds.  In my classes, I try to be as cognizant as possible of the native languages of the students and I’ve read articles about the varying difficulties and common stumbling blocks for learners of specific language backgrounds.

Can you tell us about a successful moment you have had with a student?

If you happen to know even a little of a student’s native language, it’s a tremendous asset to help put them at ease in the classroom.  I have absolutely found this to be the case with one student in particular in my beginner ESL class.  My experience teaching this student has been especially rewarding.  Even if you’ve never studied a student’s native language, it’s still worth it to familiarize yourself with its basic structure in order to frame the way you present English more effectively.

Thank you Blaise for taking the time to share a little about yourself with us!

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