David Purnell retires, returns to China

Associate professor of English David Purnell recently retired from Central College to return to China and take responsibility for a program in Wenzhou.Internationalism has been at the heart and soul of David Purnell’s entire teaching and learning career—from his undergraduate days as a Mandarin Chinese language major to his post-retirement role. Even as Purnell officially retires from Central, he will return to China, a country he holds dear, in his new role as Kean University’s associate dean of humanities and social sciences, with responsibility for its program in Wenzhou, China.

Purnell’s early career involved teaching at the Beijing Second Foreign Language Institute and at Muskingum College in Ohio, where he established the English Transitions Program for international students. This role prepared him for his hiring at Central in 2002, as director of international student services, with the charge to “reinvigorate international student recruitment and rebuild the international student population,” duties now handled by the Office of Admission. He recruited students in China, Japan and Hong Kong during breaks and summers and co-founded the International Student Organizations.

As Central’s international student population changed over time, Purnell identified the need for the English-as a-Second Language (ESL) program to instead serve more domestic students in a variety of majors but primarily those seeking certification as K-12 education majors.

He helped to rebuild and rewrite the ESL curriculum for the education department’s reaccreditation, specifically to train education majors to effectively teach English to refugees in public schools, an increasingly necessary skill for educators.

“I’m proud of having strengthened ESL certification and having made contributions to Chinese students and to the China program at that time,” Purnell says.

In 2007, when Central’s program in Hangzhou, China, needed an interim director, Purnell answered the two-year call, applying his previous experience as faculty liaison to the summer ESL internship program at Zhejiang University. His on-site responsibilities in Hangzhou included day-to-day operations, student orientation and counseling, hiring English instructors, coordinating student outings, and coordinating program development and recruitment with staff from the study abroad office at Central.

For these varied and timely contributions, Purnell was awarded the Huffman Award for Outstanding Support of International Education and later, he was the recipient of a Moore Foundation faculty development grant for intensive Chinese language training at the Chinese Language Institute in Guilin, China.

He also taught beginning and intermediate Chinese on- and off-campus throughout his time at Central, in addition to his tenure-track position in English and linguistics, in which he advised ESL internships, observed student teachers, and taught such courses as The Immigrant Experience, Sociolinguistics, History of the English Language, American Language and Civilizations. His language expertise was often sought for Iowa businesses needing translators for international visitors.

“I am perhaps most proud of having enriched the majors in which I taught, to broaden the interdisciplinarity of those majors. I also helped to reshape the linguistics major to include more anthropology and psychology courses and to eventually enter the relatively new field of neurolinguistics,” Purnell says. “Our graduates have been successful in graduate programs in each of these disciplines and in teaching ESL.”

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