New CESL Scholarship Honors Longtime Director Pialorsi

December 8th, 2022

The Center for English as a Second Language is establishing its first student scholarship, in memory of Frank Pialorsi, who built and maintained CESL’s elite global reputation over his 30 years as director.


After Pialorsi passed away in February, several donors—including former CESL instructors, family and friends—contributed to the Dr. Frank P. Pialorsi Student Scholarship Endowment Fund, which will pay out an annual award to support students.


The idea for the scholarship fund came from retired CESL instructor Gary Johnston, who was first hired by Pialorsi in 1973 and continued to work in international education, at CESL and elsewhere, until his retirement in 2015. At first, Johnston considered a memorial plaque similar to other late colleagues, but he later decided on something that would have a lasting benefit for students.


“When Frank passed away, we thought that maybe a scholarship program would be more appropriate. He was always very student oriented and quite dedicated,” Johnston said. “Some students don’t have a lot of resources to support their studies and we hope that’s what this scholarship will address.”


Pialorsi was an English instructor and graduate student in 1968 when then-University of Arizona President Richard Harvill asked him to run a summer English program for international students. When Pialorsi asked for some advice about how to develop the program, Harvill responded, “Why don't you just make this the best program in the country?” Under Pialorsi’s leadership, CESL became just that.


Over the years, the university has attracted an ever-expanding number and diversity of international students and scholars, many of whom came through CESL before their studies, or who took courses at CESL to improve their English as they worked toward a degree. After 54 years, CESL has trained more than 45,000 students, scholars and professionals from at least 128 countries and remains on the cutting edge of language instruction and teacher training, serving as a model for programs around the world.


“He had a number of innovative programs and he was very good at responding to needs at any given time,” Johnston said. “Beyond his work over 30 years to establish CESL as one of the leading intensive English centers in the world, he was personally very instrumental in my career. He served on my doctoral committee and I always had a fond spot in my heart about him, beyond him being mentor, we had a good friendship too.”


The unique nature of CESL makes the scholarship particularly important, said the center’s current director, Dr. Robert Côté. Many CESL students are sponsored by their home country’s government, but those who are not must rely on themselves or their families to pay for tuition, fees and textbooks. Because CESL students are not yet officially UA students, they are not eligible for the university’s financial aid, scholarships or loans.


The competitive scholarship will be available to non-sponsored students who are studying in CESL’s Intensive English Program, after completing their first eight-week session with a 3.0 GPA and excellent attendance.


“Funding a scholarship in Frank’s name will have profound effects on future CESL students,” Côté said. “This scholarship will allow more students to study English with us and for longer periods of time. We are very excited that CESL will now be more affordable to more students around the world who dream about coming to CESL to learn English.”


Leyla Cattan Pialorsi met Frank in Tucson after she came from Panama to learn English in 1968. They were married for 53 years and had one daughter, Pia.


“Frank loved having the students to our home, almost every weekend, to have a feast with the students from all over the world,” she said. “I’m so happy about the scholarship. It’s a wonderful honor for Frank and I know that he would be very happy to have that for the students.”