Dan Soneson to Retire this Summer

After serving as the Director of the Language Center for over a decade, Dan Soneson has decided to retire to focus on his family, travel, and his goal of mastering the mandolin. His last day is July 30, 2021.

Dan has always had strong Minnesota ties, and in the 1990s he taught German at the University of Minnesota and served as one of the original proficiency test developers. In early 2010, he left a faculty and director position at Southern Connecticut State University to return to Minnesota and join the Language Center. It was a challenging time to assume a leadership role, as the financial crisis had made innovation difficult, and the unit had been without a continuing Director for almost a year.

Dan’s tenure at the Language Center got off to a dramatic start. That year, the institute for Global Studies invited an application for funding to develop Language Proficiency Tests (LPEs) in multiple languages simultaneously. Dan and the Language Testing Program jumped at the opportunity, and this began a long focus on assessment development, particularly for less commonly taught and emerging languages, that continues to this day.

This early project demonstrated Dan’s goals as a leader: to think strategically, but aim high, collaborate broadly and openly, champion languages and language instructors, and always focus on the needs of students.

Some of the highlights of Dan’s leadership include:

  • Serving as PI of the federally funded Language Flagship Proficiency Assessment for Curricular Enhancement (PACE) project designed to maintain a culture of assessment, self-assessment, and curricular improvement in the second language learning process. This project officially ran for five years, but the research stemming from it is ongoing.
  • Collaborating with the department on a redesign of most instructional and collaborative spaces in Jones Hall, including the Multimedia Lab, four computer classrooms, and four conferencing spaces.
  • Restructuring Language Center roles to include extensive support for classroom TandemPlus exchanges, conversational Chinese support for former immersion students, and focused development of CourseShare opportunities, including resource sharing within the University of Minnesota system.
  • Serving in leadership roles in IALLT, MWALLT and other professional organizations, including a long tenure as editor of the IALLT Journal, president and treasurer of MWALLT, co-host of the 2010 MWALLT conference as well as co-designer of the multi-hub shared MWALLT conferences in 2018 and 2020 and the fully online MWALLT conference in 2021.
  • Serving a long tenure as chair of the Committee on Second Language Education (ComSLE), and chair of the 2013 CLA Second Language Acquisition (SLA) workgroup.
  • Spearheading the formation of the Language Collaboratory, a partnership for the advancement of intercollegiate dialogue on the teaching of languages and cultures, driven by language centers and institutes at five universities.

It is hard to imagine what the Language Center and language education in the college will be like without Dan. College leadership will take the first steps in determining the future of the unit, and at this point there is no interim plan in place. We can start to plan a farewell and celebration for Dan, and hope that a summer event will be at least partially in person. If you have suggestions for an event or would like to be on a planning committee, please email elsie@umn.edu.

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