Bob Bruhn has been an OCC English as a Second Language (ESL) faculty member for 15 years. He travels to Mexico to teach English to students and teachers in Oaxaca, with whom OCC has had a partnership for more than 20 years. He has been a part of several global committees, spreading OCC’s work to other countries. We spent some time talking with Bob recently to learn more about him.
Bob Bruhn, bottom left, colleague Sarah Lemelin, far right, pose with English teachers in Oaxaca in July 2014.
What is your job at OCC?
When I first came to OCC 15 years ago, I was the coordinator for ESL at the Auburn Hills Campus, which is where I am now. Over the years, I have also been involved with the global education committee. It is a longstanding committee involved in exchanges we have had in Oaxaca, Mexico; Salzburg, Austria; and India. One of the committee’s missions has been to look at how we can help those countries with community college concepts and look for ways OCC students could benefit from exchanges.
Tell us about the work you did overseas this summer.
This past year, the Oaxaca community asked OCC for help training English teachers to use more communicative activities in the classroom. The training took place this summer and was effective and well received. For 2015 (July 5-12), we have come up with a program we are calling “Getting a GRIP on English” (GRIP: Guided Reverse Immersion Program). We would like to take native English speakers from here to live with Oaxacan English teachers there. Teachers will have the benefit of using English in a meaningful way with us, and those of us who go there will experience Oaxaca, the people, the food and culture. It’s a win-win situation. The school in Oaxaca paid for tickets and covered costs while we were down there this summer and the rest we covered from our own pockets. Future participants will fund their own trips with some help from the group in Oaxaca.
How did you get started teaching ESL?
Teaching ESL started when I was about to graduate from college. I went to Spring Arbor University and a counselor of mine taught in China for year. I thought it would be a great program for me to get involved in. I decided to spend a year teaching English in China. I studied philosophy and religion as an undergraduate. I also earned a graduate degree in T.E.S.O.L. (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages). We have several ESL courses here, and they are very popular. This semester, I’m teaching six classes. Sometimes I teach more, sometimes less. It depends on the number of available adjuncts. In the past I worked at Eastern Michigan University and taught at Wayne State and Washtenaw Community College.
What do you like about teaching ESL?
I love the variety and quality of students we get, and I love seeing the students interact and improve their abilities. For many semesters, we have matched up some of the native speaker students with international students as conversation partners to talk back and forth, learn about each other, and then do presentations about it. This is great for all the students. International students are fabulous to work with. They are interesting, hardworking, and have a lot going on as far as the commitment that they have to be successful. Many of the students who come here to learn English already have degrees.
You are also involved in subjects that go beyond ESL. Tell us more about that.
I am very interested in things beyond my disciplines. I am interested in alternative energy technologies and apply things in my own home. During the winter I have a passive solar system that helps my home stay at 60-70 degrees without a heat source. It amplifies the heat of the sun. I also like to practice other ideas that help the environment – that’s why we bought a home close to campus when we moved from Ann Arbor and I walk or ride my bike for class almost every day. My wife and children (all three “scarred” adults now) might tell you that I go a little overboard with some of my ideas, but they still love me.
I understand you have an interest in historical buildings.
My wife and I purchased a registered historic home in Rochester hills. It’s the oldest and most historic home in the area according to the Van Hoosen Museum. It’s a brick Greek revival building with no wood studding, which is very unusual in Michigan. It was built in 1840. Our idea was to restore it and open it as a tearoom restaurant, but we haven’t been able to do that. However, we have been able to do special events, and every semester we have a party with my students to give them a chance to get together with friends and interact with native speakers there. It’s been fun restoring it.