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Dr. Jean Casagrande, “JC”
Dr. Jean Casagrande, now a UF professor emeritus, was director of the ELI during a critical 20 year period, from 1984 to 2003, a time during which the ELI experienced significant growth, establishing the first benefitted lecturer positions, the first skills and academic coordinator positions, and a full-time staff. Dr. Casagrande was both director of the ELI and director of the Program in Linguistics (PIL) during that period. He was proud of both positions and explains how he viewed his work in his own words:
“I served these two units with delight - Linguistics because I was trained in the field that seeks to best grasp humanity’s communicative ability and the ELI because the field was new to me. The former deserved to be a department. After 35 years of service in various capacities, I was honored by having my faculty line transferred into it. It was elevated to departmental status the year after I retired. One of the strengths of linguistics at UF, program or department, was a hands-on program that taught English as a second language. I spent much time emphasizing and strengthening the benefits that one had to be joined with the other. I am grateful that to date leaders of both programs hold on to that philosophy.”
“As director of Linguistics, I was a colleague among colleagues, consulting more than leading. Academically, I was comfortable. Administratively, I tried to stay away from the fray generated by faculty having more than one allegiance. As…leader of the ELI, I toiled to share decisions by instituting a council before which all actions of the ELI were reviewed and voted on. The key goal in both units was humility within the unit and fairness with the competition.”
“When, in 1986, I was asked by the CLAS [College of Liberal Arts and Sciences] dean to lead the PIL again, I decided that I would do it only if I could lead both the ELI and the PIL. That was granted. I surrounded myself with faculty trained in ESL. These professionals in ESL were my advisors. In most instances they brought to the ELI a breadth of ideas and practices that were new to me and instruction was emphasized. I made use of non-tenured faculty lines, hiring for PIL and ELI combined, giving the appointees stature in both. That was the first step.
“I opened channels of communication with other ESL programs in the state, especially with USF at first, then with FSU, FAU, UCF, and FIU. That resulted in Florida Intensive English Consortium, which continues to meet at least once per year to support and inform the represented programs.”
Dr. Casagrande, also known as “JC”, was born in Oran, Algeria and came to the U.S. at the age of 19. His first language was French, but he quickly learned English upon arriving in the U.S., especially after serving in the U.S. Army. Following his time in the Army and his move to Florida, he did his undergraduate work at the University of South Florida in Tampa where he also met his wife, Juanita. Dr. Casagrande went on to do his graduate work at Indiana University where he specialized in French linguistics and earned his PhD.
Dr. Casagrande arrived at the University of Florida during the fall quarter of 1968 as an assistant professor in what was then the Department of Romance Languages and Literatures. He specialized in French linguistics research and in teaching language-related classes including the Structure of French and French phonology. During the ‘70s he became a leader in the development of the linguistics program at UF (building on the work of Dr. Jayne Harder, the ELI’s first director and first director of the linguistics program) and in the recruitment of graduate students to study linguistics. He became the second director of the still fledgling program in linguistics in 1976, holding that position until 1979, and then took the position again in 1986 after he had already assumed the directorship of the ELI. Among his many accomplishments in linguistics, Dr. Casagrande established the first Linguistic Symposium on Romance Languages (LSRL) in February, 1971, along with his colleague Dr. Bohdan Saciuk (deceased), a symposium which continues to meet yearly around the United States. (It has now met yearly for 42 consecutive years.) Dr. Casagrande also served as co-director of the Linguistics Society of America (LSA) summer institute in Tampa in 1975 and held visiting professorships at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the University of Surrey in the UK.
When Dr. Casagrande became director of the ELI, he took what was still a relatively small program and, building on the work of his predecessor, Dr. Harder, turned it into a much more robust program, which included the recruitment of international students from around the world. While the emphasis had been on recruitment of students from Latin America, particularly Venezuela, and Iran, Dr. Casagrande personally traveled to numerous countries in an attempt to broaden the base of the student population, attracting students from Asia, particularly South Korea, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, and elsewhere. While director of the ELI, Dr. Casagrande made it a priority to hold teachers, staff and students to the highest possible academic standards, and undertook the first efforts to have the program accredited by a national accrediting body. Since that time, the ELI has gone through a full review and been accredited by the CEA.
Under Dr. Casagrande’s leadership, the ELI not only focused its efforts on the development of the academic skills that students need to be successful in U.S. academic institutions, it also arranged to have native English speakers, UF students, involved with ELI students through a conversation partners program and started what is now the language assistants program in order to help perfect the everyday conversational skills of students outside the classroom. The language assistants program has been particularly successful at the ELI and has always been very popular with students.
Dr. Casagrande always believed that learning the languages and cultures of other countries was one of the keys to the promotion of peace in the world. He established the “Peace Scholarship” in December 2001, to emphasize this global unity after the tragic events of 9/11. Thus, it was fitting that upon his retirement from the ELI and UF in 2003, the ELI renamed the scholarship in his honor, establishing the “JC Casagrande Peace Scholarship”. This scholarship, as well as one named for the first director of the ELI, the Jayne Harder scholarship, are given to two students at the ELI each semester and provide full tuition for full-time study at the ELI for one semester. These scholarships are extremely competitive.
Beyond his work at the ELI and UF, Dr. Casagrande has been an active member of the Rotary Club of Downtown Gainesville and Rotary International, serving in various offices of the club for many years. His service included serving as President of the Club in 1998-1999, as Bulletin Editor for many years, and as the Rotary District 6970 Ambassadorial Scholarship Chair, which allowed him to help scores of young people have the opportunity to study abroad. Dr. Casagrande is also a multiple Paul Harris Fellow and was the recipient of the Rotary Club of Downtown Gainesville’s Ben Rowe Rotarian of the Year award – the highest club honor possible.