University of Wisconsin–Madison

Get to Know Cultural Linguistic Services (CLS)–The ELL Team

Cultural Linguistic Services (CLS) is a department under the umbrella of Talent Management in the Office of Human Resources (OHR). Our team is comprised of two sub-teams, the Interpreters, Translators, and Trainers (ITT) Team and the Workplace English Language Learning (ELL) Team.

In this article, we are focusing on the Workplace English Language Learning (ELL) Program Team.

The ELL team provides services within two primary categories: workplace English instruction and inclusive and effective communication training, including Plain Language consulting and training. The team has also developed consultation and training tools on Best Practices for Assessment (e.g., hiring for English-proficient positions).

Meet the ELL Team Members of CLS

Elizabeth GaytanElizabeth Gaytan

I graduated from UW–Madison with a BA in English and a TESOL (Teaching English as a Second or Other Language) certificate. My favorite classes were those in the TESOL department.

During my senior year, I began an internship at Literacy Network, just down South Park Street. After graduating, I was hired as a staff member, and for the next 12 years, I held a variety of positions there, all supporting programs that focused on helping adults improve basic literacy skills to achieve employment, family, health, financial, and civics goals.

When a position in my field became available at Cultural Linguistic Services (CLS), I applied. I knew people who worked here and really liked it, and I was excited for an opportunity to use the skills and experiences I’d gained in a new environment.

I appreciate our unit, CLS. Our focus is to help employees feel more included, more empowered, and more confident at work.

My position brings something different everyday—different projects, training cohorts, and partners. Most of my time is dedicated to plain language training and consultation. We also partner with departments with larger numbers of non-native English-speaking employees. ​I really enjoy working with people from such diverse backgrounds, skills, and positions within the UW.

For fun, my two sons have a good deal of energy, so I’m often found on the sideline of a soccer field, outskirts of a local skatepark, or in winter, at the bottom of snowy hill.

Jacy WhiteheadJacy Whitehead

Before joining UW–Madison in 2016, I worked at Wisconsin English as a Second Language Institute (WESLI) for 10 years. While there, I created and implemented a Workplace English program for the Concourse Hotel staff. That experience stood out to me as the kind of work I was meant to do.

I am a life-long teacher, and was ready for a change when my current position with CLS became available.  The position fits me in other ways too. The unusual, 2nd/3rd shift schedule works well for me and my night owl partner.  Additionally, having free daytime hours accommodates my coveted WorkShare farming role with Sprouting Acres.  A living wage?  Icing on the cake!

My primary role is to teach a variety of language-based professional development to ELL employees:  dayshift classes two times a week, nightshift classes one time a week, and more-advanced two times a week. A typical day involves reviewing departments’ needs and students’ class work to identify competencies, planning lessons, creating materials, and facilitating each of those classes. In this virtual work environment, I am researching, creating, editing, and sharing learning videos.

Communicating with partners in Housing, FP&M, Athletics, and BRMS is common.  I often reach out to supervisors to collaborate.  For example, I might inquire about the top five most common problems reported by their employees. I also write weekly coursework summaries for our partner departments to encourage transfer of class learning to the job site.  Supervisors are truly a big part of our programming, and I enjoy working with them.

In 2018, I was tasked with expanding our programming to include Advanced Workplace English.  That included needs assessment interviews, job shadows, and position description analysis work. I piloted courses with small groups of employees using assessments, realia, lessons, and daily student surveys to identify the level and scope of language that these employees need.  I was proud to roll it out in 2019.

My career has been focused on diverse learning settings. I completed Cultural Studies graduate credits in the 1990’s while student-teaching middle school on the Navajo Reservation, and my work at WESLI was profoundly varied, both in content and students. It shaped my ELL teaching.  I also taught at Yazigi (language school) in Matto Grosso, Brazil and tutored Korean professionals in the Madison area.

Students are my inspiration. Their tireless work ethic, questions, the spontaneous cultural learning among one another, and their successful English conversations motivate me.  I stay inspired knowing that what we teach in Workplace English is practical and can be applied immediately to improve people’s quality of life.

For fun, I enjoy flora, fauna, and all things nature. I enjoy music outlets. I DJ for the comedic improvisors, Yes Ma’am.  I volunteer every year at Girls Rock Camp. I’m a closeted rock star.  I’m also a part of a book club that actually talks about books!

Jen SellJen Sell

I was born at Meriter Hospital back when it sported the vaguely soap operatic name “Madison General,” so my Badger State roots run deep. My first job at UW was teaching German 101 as a grad student. As part of a master’s degree in German Literature, I earned a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certification. Language fascinates me, and I discovered then that I love helping other people learn about it. I still remember the moment, many years and adventures later, when I saw the CLS job posting. Even though I’d loved my 10+ years at local non-profit Literacy Network, I jumped at the chance to return to this campus that feels like home.

At Literacy Network, I built a Workplace Literacy program from scratch by developing partnerships with businesses, conducting job analyses, assessing language needs, creating customized materials, hiring instructors, and reporting outcomes. My favorite activity was teaching at intriguing locales, such as the noisy breakroom in a candy factory—delicious fringe benefits! Before that, I taught English to college students as a Fulbright Teaching Assistant in Vienna; to business execs in Spain; and to international students at Wisconsin ESL Institute in Madison. All these experiences prepared me for my current role as instructor and team leader for the CLS Workplace English program.

Pinning down a “typical” workday is hard, but that’s what I like so much—the chance to develop in new directions to meet campus needs. I research, plan, and communicate with terrific team members and program partners to identify training goals and arrange logistics. I create materials and teach English classes to employees on day and night shifts. I introduce, create, and deliver trainings on effective communication topics such as “Plain Language.” I consult on Plain Language edits and translations for campus communications. (My long-ago stint as a proofreader comes in handy fer for that.)

When I was 18, I spent a year in Switzerland learning firsthand how hard it can be to thrive until you get a solid handle on the local language. This gave me a glimpse into the challenges that some of our colleagues face. Every one of our students is incredibly accomplished in their own way. They take English classes to enhance their success at work and life in the US…and they work hard! That inspires me enormously. I’m grateful to join everyone in the HR community working to make an impact on people’s lives.

In my free time? I mostly work my “other job,” which is being mom to my 13-year old son. Currently, that means snowball fights, hanging strings of LED lights, and tense negotiations over screen time. I remind myself of the huge joy motherhood brings while trying to maintain eye contact through his tightly drawn hoodie. Reflecting on CLS service and memorable mom moments…I have the two best jobs in the world!

Karen ParilloKaren Parillo

Before I came to UW–Madison, I spent more than 30 years teaching English as a Second Language to immigrants and refugees in various community-based organizations in Chicago. I first learned about the Workplace English Program at Cultural Linguistics Services when I moved to Madison in 2018. I was teaching at the Literacy Network of Dane County, and saw the position I currently occupy posted on the Literacy Network website. I am still amazed that I was able to join this unique program where I get to work on a beautiful campus alongside such talented, creative co-workers!

During a typical day before COVID, I was involved in planning and teaching Workplace English classes primarily to custodial and food service employees during both day and night shifts. These classes drew 15 to 35 learners, all speaking different languages, including Spanish, Chinese, Hmong, Nepali, Tibetan, Amharic, Farsi.

We practiced the English they needed to understand, speak, read, and write at work, including safety topics such as “Give Warnings” and HR topics such as “Understand Your Earnings Statement.” I also held a weekly drop-in “Employee Learning Center” which was generally attended by visiting international research scholars who wanted to practice English conversation and learn more about life in Madison. In addition, I conducted some of the Plain Language workshop series and other presentations.

After COVID hit in March of 2020 and we were no longer able to meet in person, my typical day shifted to working remotely. Now, I create and distribute weekly English Learning Newsletters to our students, and help create Workplace English videos for the OHR YouTube channel. I also hold regular English Conversation sessions on Zoom. I’ve helped to get the CLS Online Workplace Learning website organized with all of our virtual offerings.

The English learners who persist in studying and practicing, even during these difficult times, continue to inspire me! English is not an easy language to learn, and the learners’ humility, dedication, and enthusiasm is what keeps me motivated. I also really enjoy learning about their languages and cultures.

For indoor fun, I love to read, listen to world music, and watch public television. Outdoors, I like to hike in county, state, and national parks—and in warmer weather. enjoy bicycling, camping, and kayaking.