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Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Farewell to Gabriela Sweet

Few people at the university have had as much direct impact on language students as Gabriela Sweet. Over eight years working at the Language Center, she has led several highly collaborative, grant-funded projects that ultimately served hundreds of language students each year. The most notable of these many projects are probably the Collaborative Language Proficiency Exam (LPE) Development Initiative and the BOSSA self-assessment protocol.

The LPE development project of 2010-2011 brought together a diverse team of instructors from Chinese, Italian, Japanese, Russian, and Spanish to develop LPE tests for reading, listening and writing. Gabriela coordinated this large group of language instructors and shepherded the development, piloting, refinement and implementation of these tests, working with multiple stakeholders, and training and guiding new developers. Today, all of these LPEs are approved and taken by hundreds of students each year. In addition, Gabriela later coordinated or assisted with the development of LPEs for Arabic, Finnish, Korean, Somali, and German. Thanks in large part to Gabriela's leadership, LPEs are now available for most of the languages taught at the University of Minnesota. Gabriela also was part of the team that developed the innovative Individualized Language Assessments, allowing students to fulfil the CLA second language requirement in a language not offered at the University of Minnesota.

In 2013, Gabriela turned her focus from traditional summative assessment to the more student-focused self assessment. She helped create the new Certificate of Advanced Proficiency in Spanish by developing self-assessment instruments for four modalities to allow students to gauge their own level of language proficiency. These instruments served as an integral part in the development of the BOSSA (Basic Outcomes Student Self-Assessment) protocol, which involves students in the assessment of their growing language competence. The protocol aims at engaging students in the development of their language capabilities and cultural awareness as they progress throughout the language curriculum. She was part of a cohesive team of five original developers, which expanded to more than 50 language instructors and Language Center staff, all engaged to one degree or another in developing this protocol. The self assessments developed by Gabriela and others eventually became an essential part of the PACE project, and BOSSA is now integrated into the curriculum for many languages and levels.

The LPEs and self-assessment instruments that Gabriela developed have reached students at the macro level, but perhaps Gabriela's greatest contribution to language education at the University of Minnesota is her direct work with students. The Language Center employs about 25 undergraduate staff per year. Over eight years, Gabriela has developed a relationship with nearly all of them. She gets to know their strengths and interests, and she finds a way to involve them in larger projects. She finds out what language they study or speak at home, and communicates with them in that language. Many student employees have stated that working with Gabriela was the highlight of their time at the Language Center, and their faces light up when they talk about her.

Gabriela's work with self assessment and students eventually led her to the CLA Career Readiness Project, where she has been bringing the development of learner agency to a larger student population. Beginning this week, Gabriela is moving to Johnston Hall, where she will focus exclusively on this important project. Gabriela's collaborative spirit, her generosity, and her desire to guide every student will always be remembered at the Language Center.

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