Masters Theses

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts



Major Professor

Tanita Saenkhum

Committee Members

Jessi Grieser, Thorsten Huth


This thesis reports the results of a qualitative case study of adult ESL learners at Centro Hispano, an immigrant advocacy nonprofit organization, in Knoxville, Tennessee. The study seeks to understand how these learners perceive their own identity in and outside of the ESL classroom, how they invest in learning English, what factors hurt or help their investment, and how they perceive and respond to power relations in the nonprofit and in the greater Knoxville community. Primary collection methods are semi-structured interviews with four adult ESL learners, three volunteer classroom instructors, and the program director. Additional data collection includes surveys, diary entries, and classroom observations. Drawing from student participants’ experiences learning and using English, the study provides pedagogical suggestions for Centro Hispano and other nonprofits about how to best meet their students’ needs. The study also presents recommendations for future research on issues of identity, investment, and power relations for this understudied and valuable population of learners.

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