The University of Iowa

In the news: Benjamin Hassman, lecturer of rhetoric, wins International Teaching Engagement Award

May 10th, 2021

College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

It goes without saying that many international students at the University of Iowa struggle with two big barriers to full inclusion in the life of the university—language and finding a social group.

Benjamin Hassman is doing something about both, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and UI International Programs have recognized his excellent work by jointly awarding him the International Teaching Engagement Award.

Hassman, a lecturer in the University of Iowa Department of Rhetoric, has dedicated much of his time at Iowa to developing the UI's Conversation Center, which is housed in Rhetoric. The center is a service-learning program that trains about 30 confident English-speaking students each semester to serve as conversation partners who host English conversations with international students and scholars. The center provides student-staff the tools to both have conversations and to learn from them, incorporating international perspectives into their professional skillset. 

One student, a native English speaker who was trained in the Conversation Practicum (co-taught by Hassman) to work in the Conversation Center has found the center to be an important part of their own UI experience, returning subsequent semesters as a Peer Leader who mentors other new undegrads and serves on the center leadership team.  

"I have worked with Dr. Hassman and the Conversation Center for about two years and have appreciated each semester," the student explained. "As a student in the Conversation Practicum, the introductory class to working in the Conversation Center, I remember how well Dr. Hassman connected with each student and created a sense of community within our classroom. This environment fostered the honesty and openness needed to effectively develop cultural competency as we explored the international student experience and reflected on our own identities. Rather than view our Conversation Center experiences through a purely academic lens, Dr. Hassman encouraged us to go deeper and forge something more heartfelt. Throughout the course, he made it clear that he was here to support us in any way that we could and urged us to take ownership of our experience by completing weekly reflections and exploring outside of our comfort zone."