Mary Shepard Wong, Professor and Director of the TESOL Azusa Pacific University


Mary Shepard Wong, Professor and Director of the TESOL Field-based Program at Azusa Pacific University, joins us today to discuss Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL).

1. Can you tell us about the Masters in TESOL (MATESOL) programs offered at Azusa Pacific University?

The Azusa Pacific University TESOL programs offer three distinct program formats: campus, online, and field-based in which students can complete a 6 or 18-unit certificate, or a full 36-unit Masters degree. The traditional campus program draws both local and international students who value the face-to-face campus experience. Our flexible online format allows students from anywhere around the world to complete their degree online in a supportive cohort model. Finally, the unique field-based program is designed for teachers who value the face-to-face interaction and who are working abroad. We meet face-to-face in an intensive format twice a year: each July at the APU campus in Southern California and each January in beautiful Chiang Mai, Thailand. Over the following five months, students upload their projects online while teaching fulltime abroad.

2. How long does a typical MATESOL program take at Azusa Pacific University? What is the maximum and minimum time of completion?

Students can complete their MATESOL at Azusa Pacific University in just over a year and half to two years, depending on the program. More specifically, the campus and online programs can be completed in 18 months, and the field-based in two years. Of course students can go at a slower pace if they choose and or need to, taking twice as long in each program, or they can request an extension if needed.

3. What do you think makes Azusa Pacific University’s MATESOL stand out from other similar programs?

I like this question! I’ll limit myself to three things that set APU’s TESOL programs apart expressed in one statement: APU's TESOL programs combine compassionate Christian service with strong academic and practical preparation for language teaching. This means we are committed to providing a rigorous education from a Christian worldview that prepares our students to serve others. Although the professors come form a Christian perspective, we have students from all faith beliefs in our program who we enjoy learning from about how their faith traditions impact their teaching and learning. We get comments from alum who state they were not, nor are they now Christians, but the process of reflecting on the spiritual aspects of TESOL in our program was something they valued, as well as how well the program prepared them to face the realities of the classroom.

4. How important would you say accreditation is when choosing a MATESOL program?

Accreditation is very important since the field of TESOL does not yet have a process of certifying programs or credentials per se, so the only form of formal outside assessment of TESOL degrees is accreditation. Prospective students need to be aware of which programs are accredited and which are not as it could affect their future employment or whether they are eligible to apply to a doctoral program. Anyone could offer a TEFL certificate online, so you don’t always know what you are getting. But the programs that offer graduate credit from an accredited university have undergone a rigorous evaluation. For example, Azusa Pacific University receives accreditation from the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC) and continues to be recognized annually among the nation’s best colleges, landing in the most prestigious category of U.S.News & World Report’s America’s Best Colleges 2014 rankings (Tier One, No. 173), and being named 1 of 124 institutions in The Princeton Review’s Best Western Colleges 2014.

5. There is some debate as to whether or not Online MATESOL degrees are as worthwhile as traditional MATESOL degrees. What steps does Azusa Pacific University take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

All three of our programs (including the online program) have undergone accreditation, as mentioned above, and are subject to internal periodic program review, such as the one we successfully completed in 2014. Also, our fulltime faculty members teach in all three programs, using equivalent presentations, lectures, tests, and assignments, so that provides consistency across formats. We use the same textbooks, offer equivalent number of contact hours, and require the same level of assessment in all three programs. All of this ensures consistency of quality. The final portfolio review system is used in both the online and campus programs, ensuring students have acquired the 14 program learning outcomes regardless of the format they engaged in to complete their work.

6. What are the advantages to earning a MATESOL degree in general?

Doing one’s work well is always of value. I saw a recent APU ad that said “APU: We help you help others,” and I thought, yes, that really says it well. More specifically, our program helps students acquire the competencies and perspectives needed to teach English in a manner marked by professional excellence, intercultural sensitivity, integrity, and compassion. I guess you would expect me to say that a MA in TESOL helps you get a job, and it does, but there is more to life than just that. I got the degree because I wanted to interact with international students all around the world as well as right here in my back yard of Los Angeles. I can’t think of anything more fascinating than language and culture, and to be paid to explore, research, and teach about language and culture learning is quite a privilege, and an MA in TESOL allows you to do that.

7. Does Azusa Pacific University offer job placement for students who graduate in MATESOL?

APU has a Career Services Center that helps students prepare and engage for a job search, but the process starts well before they graduate when students attend conferences, engage in their practicum, and discover career options as they interact with peers who are already in the field. Networking is key to getting good positions, and APU TESOL has an active alum base and annual newsletter that keeps track of where our graduates are working and teaching and what vacancies are available. To be specific, we have hundreds of alum who are teaching, or who have taught in 42 different countries! We keep an active updated list of positions that our alum and others send us and we make this available to our students and alum on a goggle site.

8. What type of financial aid packages are available for students in TESOL? Are there any fellowships, grants and scholarships available?

Several types of financial aid, ranging from federal loans and state grants, to fellowships and scholarships, are available and posted on our website. We also have a small competitive scholarship in TESOL we offer annually that students can apply for and a travel grant for students presenting at conferences. The cost of the program is quite competitive, with the base cost for tuition and books in the online and campus programs just over $20,000 and for the field-based program (which offers a discounted tuition rate) $14,200.

9. Do you have any advice for students enrolling in a MATESOL program for the first time?

C.S. Lewis said, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.” A Masters degree will make demands on your life and family, so be aware of that, but don’t let it stop you. My second piece of advice is to make the most the opportunities that your graduate program provides. I found the journey of acquiring advanced degrees difficult but worthwhile and engaging, and I could never have anticipated all that it would lead to! So I would advise students to find out about the specific opportunities in the programs they choose, and take full advantage of them, making the most of their precious time as a graduate student. Here are a few examples: at APU we offer faculty-led TESOL teaching trips (study abroad) in Myanmar and Thailand where students can complete their practicum in the summer teaching abroad with faculty members. We also invite students to teach in a community-based ESL program that serves Hispanics in Azusa, providing our students with ongoing opportunities for mentoring. Students are also invited to present with faculty and other students at international conferences, becoming eligible for a $500 travel award. Don’t miss out on these opportunities, as they can lead to many others. Your Masters experience should include much more that just completing a set of courses, so dive in and make the most of it.

10. What do you enjoy most about your position at Azusa Pacific University?

I enjoy that my position at APU allows me to conduct research, to interact with graduate students, to engage with colleagues, to travel to Thailand each year for the last 14 years, to get a Fulbright Research Award, to help students get Fulbright Teaching Awards, to take teams of students on study abroad trips, to write and edit books, to engage in archival research of missionaries at Harvard and Yale (as I did this summer!), to apply for grants, to develop new courses and programs, to present at three international conferences a year, and, yes, to teach, there is the teaching, which I enjoy as it gives all the rest meaning when I can pass along my passion to others.

For more information on the MATESOL programs offered at Azusa Pacific University, visit them online at

Thank you Mary Shepard Wong, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!