“Every class is the beginning of a voyage towards a destination, but also a journey of discovery. And I want to make that journey an enriching—and enjoyable—experience for my students. My teaching philosophy is always evolving as I engage with my students as individuals who bring their own diverse backgrounds and knowledge and perspectives to our work together.”
Dr. Vassiliki Kourbani arrived at Hellenic American University in the early years of its operations, as the institution was preparing to enroll its first undergraduate class. She was recruited by the president of the University himself and tasked with the responsibility of setting up the institution’s undergraduate writing program.
She was well-suited to the challenge. Her academic background was in applied and theoretical linguistics—she earned master’s degrees in the fields from the Universities of Illinois and Chicago, respectively—and she had experience in teaching writing to undergraduates elsewhere. She was also keenly interested in writing instruction as a field of research and application (she would later earn her Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics from Hellenic American University with a dissertation in precisely this area).
Months after her arrival, she had put together the framework for the University’s writing program, especially the two freshman-year writing courses that all undergraduates take. Under her guidance, the writing program has continued to evolve in response to changing needs and the portfolio of University’s degree programs.
Not surprisingly, her advocacy of writing instruction is reflected in her own research. Recent projects include work on investigating how non-native speakers of English plan and revise their writing and how online peer response groups can be used to support writing instruction for EFL students. At the University, she is co-leading a four-year longitudinal study that will measure the progress that students make in their writing skills throughout the course of their studies. Now, along with the Dean of Digital Learning and Education Innovation, she is preparing to address the new challenges and opportunities that AI-enabled technology is bringing to writing instruction and assessment.
Vassiliki was also one of the driving forces in the creation of the University’s Writing Center and has served as its director since it was founded in 2006. The idea of a center where students can receive individualized help and feedback from writing tutors on their research papers and other written assignments was not new. Writing centers can be found at many US colleges and universities. However, the idea of creating one for the Athens campus—and indeed, one that offered online assistance in addition to onsite appointments—was a bold and innovative step.
When the University’s degree programs in Applied Linguistics (MAAL) and English Language and Literature (BAELL) were launched 2006, Vassiliki was invited to teach applied linguistics courses in both. “I love teaching,” she says, “Every class is the beginning of a voyage towards a destination, but also a journey of discovery. And I want to make that journey an enriching—and enjoyable—experience for my students.”
But teaching has also been a journey of discovery for herself as well, she says. “My teaching philosophy is always evolving as I engage with my students as individuals who bring their own diverse backgrounds and knowledge and perspectives to our work together.”
Vassiliki now serves as the Director of the BAELL program, a position she has held since 2015 during which time she has mentored over 100 students, a responsibility that comes with many challenges but also its share of rewards. Alluding to Cavafy’s poem Ithaka, she says the satisfaction comes when she sees her students reach the destination they set out for, equipped with the greater self-awareness of themselves as individuals, writers, and teachers that they have gained along the way.