Kent State Researchers Win Diplomatic Grant to Help Develop Palestinian Students’ English

Many students in the Middle East learn basic English, but applying their language skills to professional life can be challenging.

A grant from the U.S. Department of State will allow some Palestinian students to take their English to the next level with the help of Kent State University professors.

The grant, administered through the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to Al-Quds Open University in Palestine, includes a $100,000 sub-award for students at their campuses to learn business English through a program developed by Sarah Rilling, Ph.D., professor, and Ryan Miller, Ph.D., assistant professor, both in the Kent State Department of English’s Teaching English as a Second Language program in the College of Arts and Sciences.

Al-Quds is Arabic for Jerusalem. Al Quds Open University is a large university with centers across the Palestinian territories. Its main office is located at the Ramallah campus, 15 miles north of Jerusalem.

The courses that Kent State develops over the 12-month project will teach students how to write business plans and letters, communicate in terms specific to their fields and build relationships in business and industry.

“The major goal of the project is to help them develop English courses for students in business and technology fields,” Dr. Miller said. 

“There also seems to be a desire for us to help them with their English language teaching methodology courses, for students who are learning to be teachers of English at the high school level, and training for their English language faculty in updated language teaching methods,” Dr. Rilling said.

Dr. Miller and Dr. Rilling will assist in hiring faculty and personnel, make recommendations on published and open-source materials for teaching, and prepare curriculum tasks and assessments to support and evaluate the courses.

They said the project shows the value of research by putting theirs to practical use.

“This is coming from expertise we have from our years of research, and we’re applying it to their needs,” Dr. Miller said. 

His research has focused on teaching writing for areas of specific focus, while Dr. Rilling’s research has focused on teacher training and curriculum development.

They said cultural context is another important element of the program.

“There are a lot of materials out there on business English, but part of what we want to do, and I think they would like, is to have things contextualized more – for a Palestinian context and for an Arab context – so when they read a case study in their business class, it will resonate with them more,” Dr. Miller said.

They said the project will help them better understand how the processes they have developed are successfully applied in certain contexts and parts of the world, and how they can be applied elsewhere. They said they will also take experiences to use as examples in courses taught to Kent State students in the Teaching English as a Second Language program.

Dr. Miller and Dr. Rilling said they also will hire faculty members from Kent State’s College of Education, Health and Human Services as consultants for the program. 

For more information about Kent State’s Department of English, visit

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Media Contacts:
Dan Pompili,, 330-672-0731
Emily Vincent,, 330-672-8595

POSTED: Tuesday, June 4, 2019 - 11:31am
UPDATED: Wednesday, June 5, 2019 - 12:07pm
Dan Pompili