Mendocino College Faculty in Focus: Sarah Walsh
When Sarah Walsh was hired in 2008 as the first full-time English as a Second Language faculty member at Mendocino College, she says "It felt serendipitous to come home to serve the community that had raised me, after being away for 15 years."
Born in San Francisco, Walsh moved to Ukiah at age four, when her parents, Ned and Suzanne Walsh, chose the area as a good place to raise their family. She attended Mariposa School, where, she says, she became interested in issues of social justice at a young age. She learned Spanish at Mariposa, and traveled with her class to Mexico. She credits the "wonderful teachers" at Mariposa with shaping her, as well as her career and life choices.
Walsh says it was a trip to Rome with her grandmother when she was 17 that started her lifelong interest in foreign languages and travel. "I have never been the same since!" she laughs.
After graduating from Ukiah High School, she attended U.C. Santa Cruz (UCSC); then she took a year off to study Italian at a language school in Florence, Italy. Now fluent in Italian as well as Spanish, she returned to complete a Bachelor's Degree in American Studies from UCSC, and later, a Master's degree in Education/Teaching English to Speakers of Different Languages (TESOL) from New York University (NYU).
Walsh first taught English when she tutored children in Italy to earn pocket money. She recalls that a student's grandmother once gave her a fish, wrapped in fresh rosemary and newspaper so she could take it home on the bus to cook for dinner. She says she became interested in how we learn languages at that time, and she also realized that teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) would allow her to combine work with travel. "My father always told me I should be a teacher," she says, "and now I know, he was right."
After graduating from UCSC, Walsh worked as a nanny in Australia, then returned to work as a paralegal at an environmental law firm, and interned at a magazine in San Francisco, before heading to graduate school at NYU. After earning her Master's degree, she taught English at an American University in Nicaragua. She was later hired by the U.S. State Department to teach English in Venezuela, which she describes as beautiful country to visit, with wonderful people and great beaches.
Walsh enjoys sharing her early work experiences with her students. While in high school, she was a sandwich maker at Main Street Wine and Cheese; "I tell them I learned a lot of important life skills at that job, and I'm still an excellent sandwich maker!"
Walsh recalls her excitement at landing the ESL job at MC, in her home town. "It was the perfect job for me," she says. She has focused on building an ESL Program since then, and she is proud that "we have opened up the College to a new population."
Walsh says she loves watching students change as they become more confident in English, and find new and better jobs. She also enjoys working with other faculty to enhance student learning through the Foundation Skills program at MC.
Walsh believes many people would be surprised to know that she danced in the reperatory dance company with Leslie Saxon West while she was still in high school.
In her free time, Walsh enjoys spending time with her husband, Fergus, their young daughter, Fiona, and their extended family in both San Francisco and Ukiah.