As a member of the Oakland Literacy Council board, Roger Chao brings a perspective about learning English informed by his own family’s immigrant experience.
He moved to New York from China with his parents when he was five years old. “I know literacy was important because my parents were adamant about assimilating and learning the language as soon as possible,” he says. His father still fondly recalls the help he received from an English tutor at the local library. The impact of the tutor on his father’s life “resonated with me about how powerful it is to be able to read and write,” Roger says.
That realization hit home again a few years ago when his mother struggled to complete a written self-assessment for her job. “It was kind of shocking,” Roger says. “I thought my mom was literate. I saw her asking people for directions, shopping and speaking to clerks.” Indeed, she had mastered conversational English, but she had more to learn about written English, he realized. He connected her with a tutor at a literacy organization near her home.
Roger went on to earn a PhD in English from the University of Washington in Seattle, and he moved to Michigan to take a position as assistant professor at Oakland University in 2017. He is professionally interested in university-community partnerships, and he reached out to the Oakland Literacy Council last year and volunteered his expertise. He was invited to join the board.
Since then, Roger designed and led a job-related writing workshop for unemployed and underemployed residents in Pontiac on the Council’s behalf.
Currently, he is interested in developing writing workshops that the Council would offer to employees of local businesses as part of the Council’s workforce initiative. He wants to focus on helping employees write documents they must routinely use to perform their jobs. Documents such as maintenance request forms can cost businesses money if not written accurately and completely. Along with board member John Almstadt, he is in talks with three employers and expects to lead at least one workshop this coming fall.
“One thing I really like about the Council since I’ve been here is an eagerness to collaborate with other organizations,” Roger says. “That prevents us from becoming silos.”