Honouring imported excellence

By Emily Senger

A day when English isn’t Canada’s first language? As difficult as it is to imagine for native anglophones, Canada’s increasing dependence on immigration as the main means of population growth means the number of non-native English speakers in Canada is rapidly increasing.

University of Calgary education professor Dr. Hetty Roessingh knows this first hand.

As an immigrant from the Netherlands, Dr. Roessingh was honoured to receive the Immigrant of Distinction Award in the professional category Fri., Mar. 26. The award was presented by the Calgary Immigration Aid Society for Dr. Roessingh’s life-long dedication to immigrant children as an educator and advocate of English as a second language programs.

"I knew that I was being nominated but I was very surprised and touched when I heard [that I won the award]," said a modest Dr. Roessingh. "I feel so humbled by all of this that it’s a lot to take in."

Dr. Roessingh immigrated to Canada with her family when she was four years old. Before joining the Faculty of Education in 2000, she taught high school for 29 years.

"When I first started teaching in 1971 my first job was teaching French," said Dr. Roesseingh. "[I realized] that there were much broader opportunities in ESL.

"ESL is connected to who we are as Canadians, the only source of growth in Canada is immigration. English is diminishing as the first language spoken."

As much as she loved teaching at the high school level, Dr. Roessingh decided to move to a university setting to increase the impact that she could make on ESL programs.

"I wanted to effect change," she said. "The [ESL program] teachers who I prepare, even in 10 years, will touch over a million kids."

Dr. Roessingh was nominated by Consul of the Netherlands for Southern Alberta by Irene Bakker.

"I’m very impressed with what she’s doing for all immigrants here," said Bakker. "She is a very modest person, she has very good qualities. I took the initiative to nominate her but she had lots of [other] support."

Bakker noted the extent of Dr. Roessingh’s selfless work with all immigrant children, not just Dutch immigrants, that made her an ideal can- didate for the award.

"She was a great teacher to children before [moving to] the university," praised Bakker.

The Immigrant of Distinction Award has been in place in Calgary since 1997 to honour first-generation Canadians who have made notable and successful contributions to Canadian society. The Distinguished Professional Award is given to an immigrant who has made outstanding achievements in a career.

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