Innovation Studio helps international students learn English, technical skills

David Martin, director of Nebraska Innovation Studios, explains screen printing to students in the Intensive English Program on March 1, 2018, at Nebraska Innovation Campus in Lincoln, Nebraska.

While the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Innovation Studio has been home to many 3D printing creations, ceramics and handcrafted wood sculptures, its purpose is not limited to physical creations. Every Monday at 3 p.m., 20 students from around the globe gather in the workshop to build their English skills.

The UNL Intensive English Program provides a variety of classes to help international students learn English. One of those classes, IEP 85 English for Science and Engineering, takes place at the Nebraska Innovation Studio.

Innovation studio shop manager Jerry Reif said the class is designed to help international students learn English in a hands-on environment.

“This class helps students learn to speak English in a practical setting,” Reif said. “Since most of them are going into engineering or some sort of science, they use various computer programs to learn technical English terms.”

Freshman Zakariya Al Zadjali, a mechanical engineering major from Oman, has lived in the United States for a month and half. Al Zadjali said with the help of the IEP program, both his English and technical skills improved.

“When I came here, I had no idea how to make a PowerPoint,” he said. “But in this class I have learned how to use Piktochart, Word, PowerPoint and Dropbox.”

Students in the IEP don’t take major-specific classes until they complete their English training. Still, IEP 85 is designed to introduce different scientific terms and concepts to students. Freshman architecture major Wijdan Bader, also from Oman, said the class has helped her learn new things about architecture.

“While I am focused on language now, I have also built a foundation for my major,” Bader said. “I have learned many major-specific terms in this class.”

As the students learn technical skills and new, applicable terms, they also gain exposure to the different resources provided with $15 per month memberships at the Innovation Studio.

Freshman Zhihao “Ziggy” Gong, an agricultural engineering major from China, said he plans on returning to the studio after he has finished the class to work on projects related to his major.

“I will come back and use this in the future,” Gong said. “There are so many interesting and fun skills to learn here.”

Al Zadjali also said English skills weren't the only thing he had taken away from the class. He said that being in the Innovation Studio sparked his curiosity.

“I would like to use this facility in the future,” Al Zadjali said. “It contained much more than I expected it to. There’s nothing like it in my home country. I want to spend hours and hours here.”

Learning a new language is a tough process. Al Zadjali said despite previous English education in Oman, he struggled with the language barrier when he first came to Nebraska. He said that IEP classes have helped him progress as an English speaker.

“There was no one to practice English with in my home country,” Azajali said. “When I first came to America, I couldn’t order food at a restaurant. Through many conversations and my classes in IEP, my English has gotten much better.”