UNCP hosts 3rd annual Second Language and Minorities Symposium


Building opportunities for “public conversations” in diverse communities was the message of keynote speaker Christopher Bierman at the 3rd annual Second Language Symposium on March 22 at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.


Members of the dance troupe Columbian Pride perform traditional dances of their nation.

In its third year, the symposium attracted nearly 200 public school teachers, administrators and English as a second language teachers (ESL) as well as UNCP education majors. Bierman, who teaches ESL at Wayne State University in Detroit, Mich., urged teachers to build bridges between cultures.

“ESL teachers can be at the forefront and start conversations that will build trust in multicultural communities,” Bierman said. “The schools must take a lead role in teaching diverse people to live successfully side-by-side.”

Bierman said Wayne State instituted several programs including a conversation partner program, a storytelling project and programs to build bridges between public schools and higher education.

Dr. Zoe Locklear, dean of the School of Education said there is a lesson for UNCP.


Members of the dance troupe Columbian Pride perform traditional dances of their nation.

“UNCP is the second most diverse University in the South, and we are only going to become more diverse in the future,” Dr. Locklear said. “This is an issue that we cannot run from.”

The “conversation” continued with a panel discussion led by four Latino students, one from UNCP. Ramon Zepeda is a junior sociology major who wants to go to law school.

“In my family, I am a pioneer in education,” Zepeda said. “I was the first to graduate from high school and attend college.”

Madea Blanco, a student at Hoke High School, said she shed many tears when she arrived in the U.S. with no English language skills.

“In the 7th grade, we did not have an ESL teacher, so it was really hard to learn English,” Blanco said. “ESL teachers have helped me a lot, and so have other teachers and counselors.”

Ivan Diaz said he repeated 4th grade because he did not know any English. He said teachers have been critical to his success.

“I have some really good teachers who have inspired me,” Diaz said. “I hope to come to Pembroke to study business.”


Student panelist at the 3nd Language Symposium - Ramon Zepeda, a UNCP student; Medea Blanco and Ivan Diaz, Hoke County High School students, and Febe Mclaughlin.

The symposium continued with 10 workshops for the 200 participants. The symposium was sponsored by the School of Education and the Office of University-School Programs in collaboration with the Languages Department and Dr. Jose Gomez.

“Almost 200 participants, including teachers, student interns and administrators, expressed their satisfaction with the quality of the individual workshops and the professionalism of the presenters,” Dr. Gomez said. “Events like this symposium help current and future teachers become more aware of the important and unique needs of minorities.

“One of the highlights of the event was the cultural celebration,” Dr. Gomez added. “A group of dancers named “Colombian Pride” performed two popular rhythms from Colombia - a cumbia and a bullerengue. Additionally, Guillermo Cortés, a teacher from Sampson County played the quena and the sanke, two wooden flutes from the highlands of South America.”

The annual 2nd Language Symposium is to promote strategies for transitioning and accommodating public school children for whom English is not their first language.

For more information, please contact Dr. Gomez at 910.521.6432 or email jose.Gomez@uncp.edu.