After spending the majority of his career in higher education, Joe Gilbert joined the International Institute of New England as the Education Program Manager in our Manchester office last year. In our latest employee profile, Joe shares how the ESOL program and his team have evolved, the many hats he gets to wear in his role, and where you are most likely to find the native New Hampshirite on a day off.
What brought you to the International Institute of New England?
I had been teaching at the University of New Hampshire in their ESOL Program for a couple of years and was preparing to wrap up my time there. Then, during my last semester, the pandemic hit. So, that changed my plans entirely. I became a stay-at-home dad for the next two years. Once the world started to become a little safer and my kids returned to school in person, I started the job hunt.
I wasn’t sure where I wanted to be. I knew that staying in higher education might require moving, which wasn’t appealing, and I was also eager to work with a different population. Many of the students in higher education ESOL programs tend to come from wealthy international families who can afford to pay full tuition out of pocket. While there were enjoyable aspects of teaching in that environment, I wanted to help people who were more vulnerable and people who were coming to New Hampshire with the intent of staying and building a life here. I started researching opportunities to work with immigrants and refugees and that put the International Institute of New England on the map for me.
Initially, I had been looking for a teaching job since that was the majority of my prior experience, but then the Education Program Manager position in Manchester opened up. It felt like a bit of a stretch because of the administrative and management aspects, but it was an exciting opportunity to join an organization whose mission I really connected with.
Yesterday marked your one-year workiversary! How has your role and team grown since you started?
Joe speaks with students during an English Class Orientation
We have welcomed quite a few new faces! We have also been able to expand our team’s capacity by making a number of part-time positions full-time. We are currently hiring additional teachers, too (you can view job openings here).
When I first joined, the program had recently grown from four ESOL classes to six. We have three levels, and morning and evening sessions for each. We have also expanded our community partnerships. Through a contract with Network for Health, we now teach a healthcare-focused English class onsite for employees at two hospitals in Manchester.
We are working on starting up afternoon English classes next month in a partnership with the new Meelia Center for Community Engagement. Those will be onsite at St. Raphael’s Parish on the West Side of Manchester, where many clients live who have a harder time getting across town to our Brookside Church classrooms. We are also exploring a partnership with Manchester Community Schools, where our teachers would teach our curriculum to parents and students onsite at schools after hours
So, our program has grown quite a bit. At the same time, my role has shifted too. When I started, I was teaching a class myself, and all of our classes were held virtually on Zoom. Then, as our classes and partnerships began to grow, and as we looked to transition to in-person and hybrid classes, I shifted my focus to oversee those initiatives. A big part of my job has been getting our classes and technology up and running, training teachers and students on how to have hybrid classes, and strategizing on how to get students to our classes when they don’t have reliable transportation as our new in-person location, the Brookside Church, is not directly downtown.
What does your day to day look like?
It could be 20 different things! This week, in particular, is our first week of classes for the fall semester, so I have been attending orientations for all of our students. I want to be present so students know who I am and recognize me as a familiar face.
To give you a broader sense though, on any given day, I might be:
- Checking in with my team members, who range from teachers to administrative support to data entry specialists.
- Attending a weekly Department of Education meeting, where we cover topics ranging from student intake and assessment to curriculum development, data management, and volunteer coordination.
- Meeting with our office’s Senior Program and Contract Manager Kayla Rossmeissl to discuss budgets, personnel, and any updates that need to be shared across all Manchester staff who work with our refugee and immigrant clients
- Touching base with other service providers in the state who serve similar populations to share ideas and advice.
- Meeting with my counterparts at our Boston and Lowell offices, Kristan Fitah and Sherry Spaulding, so we can share innovations and help brainstorm solutions to any challenges. It’s always helpful to pick each other’s brains – and it’s a good opportunity to share our resources and insights so we can try to avoid any duplication of efforts.
- Meeting with other departments at IINE, whether it be IT to discuss setting up new tech for our classrooms, HR to discuss staffing, or Marketing (as I am for this interview!) to share ideas on how to promote our ESOL program, etc.
- Updating performance trackers and preparing quarterly reports for the DOE
- And of course, troubleshooting and responding to any situation that may arise! That might mean substitute teaching for a class, helping order new textbooks for students, conducting student tests, helping with new student intakes, giving students a ride home, organizing donations, etc. So, I get to wear many hats.
What do you enjoy most about your role?
Seeing the impact that we make in people’s lives is by far the most rewarding aspect. By learning English, our students are learning self-sufficiency: how to fill out forms to access services, how to communicate during a doctor’s appointment or with their children’s teacher, and how to navigate a grocery store. We’re able to help people gain the skills and confidence to take charge of their own education and career goals. Some of our students come to us with no formal education in any language, at all – to see them gain survival English is huge. And then we have our more advanced students who have gone on to enroll in community colleges or UNH!
Being at a nonprofit and being able to deliver direct humanitarian aid, it’s something I really value. I can give our students dignity; for example, by providing shopping vouchers for the thrift shop onsite at Brookside so they can get a bag of winter clothing for their kids.
What advice would you share with someone who is interested in joining IINE?
Joe and his family on vacation in Tennessee, including a stop at the Bush’s Baked Bean Museum!
Be prepared for the unexpected. It’s often an all-hands-on-deck effort here. If you have a skill or interest that you don’t think would necessarily be an asset, it probably will be – and we’ll put it to good use! Everyone here helps each other.
How do you enjoy spending your time outside of the office?
I have a little bit of a homestead at home. I have fruit trees, blackberry bushes, and ducks and geese. My geese are noisy, and this is a feature, not a bug. They’re very effective at alerting against predators. On my days off, you’ll often find me splitting firewood. That’s what I consider self-care – and doesn’t hurt that it keeps our house warm for cheap!