Graduating MSU senior selected for prestigious Japan Exchange and Teaching Program

Tennelle Venson (Photo by Beth Wynn)

Contact: Sasha Steinberg

STARKVILLE, Miss.—As she graduates this week from Mississippi State with a bachelor’s degree in foreign language, university senior Tennelle A. Venson also is preparing to embark on a new adventure made possible by the Japan Exchange and Teaching (JET) Program for U.S. citizens.

This August, the Pontotoc native will take her passion for language and culture to Japan, where she will work as an Assistant Language Teacher (ALT). ALTs are primarily assigned to local boards of education or elementary, junior high or high schools and carry out their duties under the guidance of language teachers’ consultants or Japanese teachers of English.

The Washington, D.C.-based JET Program typically receives 4,000-5,000 applications each year from American students, with 1,000-1,100 selected for participation. Learn more at

“If I were to give advice to other students considering the JET Program, I would encourage them to just be honest and say what comes from the heart,” Venson said. “The panel that interviewed me was looking for someone with good character who is determined.”

In addition to a university transcript and reference letters, Venson was required to submit an essay on how she felt the JET Program could benefit her personal and professional goals. Throughout the application process, she received support from Amie Russell, an instructor in the MSU College of Arts and Sciences’ Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures; Tommy Anderson, the college’s interim assistant dean for undergraduate academic affairs; and Fumiko Jōo, CMLL assistant professor of Asian Studies.

“I started teaching myself the Japanese alphabet in 8th grade. Then in 9th grade, I began to write and teach my friends simple words, and that was when I realized I really wanted to teach,” Venson said. “It’s been a dream of mine to get into the JET Program since my 10th grade Spanish teacher introduced me to it. I’m really interested in Asian and Japanese history and have been watching YouTube videos and reading blogs. When I researched the program, I said, ‘Yes, this is for me.’ I’ve been prepping a lot because I wanted to be the perfect candidate.”

Venson, who holds an associate of arts degree from Itawamba Community College, has enhanced her knowledge of the Japanese language through Asian Studies classes at MSU. Along with an English minor, she has earned a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) certificate. She said she aspires to be a “lifelong Japanese learner,” and one of her short-term goals is to pass the mid-level Japanese-Language Proficiency Test.

“I’ve learned how to be confident when conveying a message in another language,” Venson said of her MSU experience. “It’s OK to make mistakes. That’s part of learning a language. Being able to communicate in another language helps you to be open to different cultures, and I think English is a nice medium to connect people.”

While she is sad to be leaving her home state of Mississippi, Venson is excited to be taking fond memories from her time at MSU, including those from this today’s [May 3] commencement ceremony. Her twin sister Shuntel also graduated Thursday [May 2] with a bachelor’s degree in marketing from the College of Business.

Anderson, an English professor who also serves as the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College’s associate dean for undergraduate academic affairs and director of the Office of Prestigious External Scholarships, said he is happy about the opportunities Venson will have through the JET Program.

“As a transfer student who earned her certificate to teach English to speakers of other languages, Tennelle has a deep commitment to becoming part of her host Japanese community and to introducing students there to the English language and to American culture,” Anderson said. “Her selection as a JET fellow also is a reflection of the transformative mentorship and advising provided by her professors in the Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures. I am so excited for her.”

Learn more about the Judy and Bobby Shackouls Honors College at; College of Arts and Sciences at; Department of Classical and Modern Languages and Literatures at; and Department of English at

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