By Steven Krolak
(NEW ALBANY, Ind.)—Ryan Taylor Cannon ’15 is a finalist for a Fulbright English Teacher Assistantship (ETA) grant, becoming the second IU Southeast student, after Jazmin Trejo Oliver, to enjoy the distinction this academic year.
Cannon will use the grant to travel to French-speaking Senegal in West Africa, where he will work alongside Senegalese English professors, functioning as a native speaker reference and assistant teacher.
A native of Louisville, Ky., Cannon graduated from IU Southeast in 2015 with a bachelor’s degree in French and international studies.
He is currently teaching English in Lille, France after having been accepted last year into Teaching Assistants in France (TAPIF), a highly competitive French government-sponsored program.
Cannon’s duties are both challenging and fulfilling. He teaches at both a collège (middle) and lycée (high) school, with classes ranging from fifth grade through senior year.
Full classes and varying levels of ability make for hard but rewarding work devising weekly lesson plans and making sure all students have something to engage and inspire them.
“I feel the magic of language learning is that it acts as a key to opening a door to a new culture, a new way of viewing the world,” Cannon said.
While his teaching duties are substantial, Cannon has found time to sample art, immerse himself in history and travel to Switzerland, Denmark, Portugal, Belgium and England. He enjoys contact with people of different cultures, and numbers people from Australia, Morocco, Kenya and many other countries among his friends.
For Charles Pooser, professor of French at IU Southeast, Cannon’s success is no surprise, given his personality and his performance as an undergraduate.
“Ryan was such an inquisitive and outgoing student, with seemingly boundless energy and enthusiasm,” Pooser said.
Arriving at IU Southeast with some French skills, Cannon was humbled by the task ahead of him, but not utterly daunted. He initially struggled, he said, but hired a tutor, stayed after class to pepper Pooser with questions and generally refused to give up.
“Ryan realized early on that if he was to achieve a high level of fluency in French it would serve him well to seek out opportunities outside of class that would support and strengthen his language development,” Pooser said.
Cannon volunteered with the Sister Cities Exchange Program, welcoming and chaperoning French exchange students from Louisville’s sister city, Montepelier, and worked with Kentucky Refugee Ministries as an ESL teacher as well as an intern in the legal services department, where he translated for francophone clients from all over the world during legal meetings.
“He truly projected the image of a student who was supremely more interested in improving his skills and knowledge than working simply toward a grade,” Pooser said.
Cannon’s work ethic combined with his innate curiosity to shape an undergraduate career that both he and faculty remember fondly.
Mindy Badia, professor of Spanish and international studies, was Cannon’s capstone supervisor. She considers him a model student with a consuming interest in “everything” and an unrelenting desire to know and do more than was expected. She believes that teaching is the ideal outlet for Cannon’s approach to life..
“I feel I grew at IU Southeast thanks to the faculty, who encouraged me to stick with it even when the going got tough, and always seemed willing to match any level of effort I myself was willing to put forth,” Cannon said.
The Fulbright grant will allow Cannon to live and teach in Senegal, in West Africa, a location that has long held a fascination for him as the “capital of francophone Africa.” His first French tutor was Senegalese, sparking an initial interest that deepened through studies in Senegalese literature with Pooser. He gained insights into the country’s geography through coursework with Dr. Peter Galvin, professor of geosciences.
“When it came time to apply for a Fulbright, I knew I wanted to choose a location that would challenge me, as well as a place in which I had a long-standing interest,” Cannon said.
Badia believes this is the perfect opportunity for Cannon to inspire others with his curiosity, passion and optimism.
“Ryan wanted to learn everything he could about the world in order to make it a better place, and teaching will allow him to do that,” she said.
Recently, one of Cannon’s students was so inspired by the story of his path to France that she scheduled her own language immersion in a foreign country for the upcoming summer.
“Travel and language learning have changed my life for the better, so the chance to impart that gift unto others is a great privilege,” Cannon said.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries. The primary source of funding for the Fulbright Program is an annual appropriation made by the U.S. Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Participating governments, host institutions, corporations, and foundations in foreign countries and in the United States also provide direct and indirect support. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential in their fields. The Program operates in over 160 countries worldwide.
Photos courtesy of Ryan Taylor Cannon.