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Project Spell

Project SPELL is not currently accepting applications. Please check back during July for Summer Session applications, and click here to subscribe to our mailing list.

About Project Spell

Project SPELL is an innovative, dynamic Alumni Center program that partners UCLA undergraduate and graduate volunteers with UCLA service employees (custodial, maintenance, and food service staff) for personalized tutoring in English as a Second Language.
Tutors provide their availability, background, and skills, and are each matched with employee language learners whose schedules and needs make a convenient and beneficial match.
Tutors work independently, meeting 1-1 with their learners at locations across campus at their assigned tutoring time and planning lessons tailored to their individual goals. Training is provided during an Orientation and weekly meetings with the Program Director and other tutors. Tutors also have the opportunity to meet 1-1 with the Program Director for more individualized assistance. Materials, training, connections with fellow tutors, and a basic structure for tutoring is provided, but tutors are free and encouraged to develop and implement their creativity to create lessons just for their respective learners.
Tutors and learners work together in a dynamic partnership that sees both parties learning, growing, and seeing themselves and each other in new ways.
Key Dates

Application Deadline: Friday of Week 1
Application Decisions: Monday of Week 2
Orientation: Week 2
Tutoring: Weeks 3-10
Tutor Training Meetings: Weeks 3-8
Quarterly Celebrations/Commencement: Friday of Week 10

Frequently Asked Questions

Who can apply?

This opportunity is open to any current UCLA undergraduate or graduate students.

Where and when does tutoring take place?

Project SPELL tutors meet their learners at their workplaces at their individual tutoring times. For example, one tutor might meet a housekeeper in a Rieber Terrace lounge on Mondays and Wednesdays from 10-11 a.m., while another tutor heads to BCaf Tuesdays and Thursdays from 6:30-7:30 p.m. to tutor a food service worker. Each tutor will have their own individual schedule with one specific learner. Tutors work independently in this way, and come together as a group during meetings, trainings, and other events.

What is the time commitment?

Tutors must commit to two hours of tutoring per week for eight weeks, plus planning for those sessions. In addition, new tutors must attend a Kick-Off event to meet their learner, an Orientation, and weekly training meetings. Tutors are also expected to meet 1-1 with the Program Director at least once per quarter. The total commitment for a new tutor is about 25 hours, while returning tutors commit about 20 hours per quarter.

Why should I apply?

Tutoring with Project SPELL is one of the most memorable and meaningful experiences you can have as a UCLA student. The experience of partnering with a member of our own campus community and working side by side in pursuit of their goals is extremely rewarding, illuminating, and unforgettable. Many tutors describe their time with their learners as the one break they get in pressure-filled days. Others characterize their learners as reminders of their own parents and family members. Whatever the exact dynamic, tutoring is an opportunity to experience something authentic, personal, and meaningful through service while gaining skills and a network that will help you navigate post-UCLA life. Read some of our testimonials from past tutors to learn more.

What other benefits are there to being a Project SPELL tutor?

Outside of the chance to give back and make a connection with a UCLA employee, tutors have access to exclusive training and professional development opportunities. Tutors will gain skills that will help them prepare for futures in a variety of fields, from communication and collaboration to leadership and creative thinking. Tutors will also engage with alumni at quarterly professional development events exploring topics such as networking, resume and cover letter writing, interview skills, and more. By engaging in these events with a tight-knit community of fellow tutors, you will be able to explore professional development in a safe, trusting space.

Do I need tutoring experience to apply?

The short answer is no. Project SPELL values all backgrounds, skills, and experiences that lend themselves to tutoring English language learners, even if you have never formally tutored someone. Personal experience as an English language learner and informal experience helping non-native English speaking family members navigate life in the U.S. can be some of the most useful preparation for tutoring with Project SPELL. Do not let inexperience as a formal tutor deter you from applying.

How will a match be made?

Tutors are matched with learners based on a variety of criteria. The weight of each criteria is different for each learner – some have rigid schedules but otherwise have few specific needs, while others have flexible schedules but a strong need for a same-native language tutor.

Overall, the Program Director considers your availability for tutoring and required events as well as your personal skills, experiences, and attributes.

Do you have any application tips?

  • The more availability, the better! Availability the same times two days a week or more is also very helpful. Please include all the times in each day that you would be willing to tutor, and update the Program Director if you have changes to your availability. Your actual tutoring schedule, if accepted, will only be one hour twice a week.
  • Don’t be afraid to be honest about who you are and where you come from. We need tutors who have gone through the experience of learning English themselves, who have struggled with a learning disability, or who wonder about their futures as undocumented students. Within Project SPELL, you will find a community of learners and tutors who find strength and companionship in these shared experiences. Sharing honestly will only make your application stronger.
  • Don’t be discouraged if you are not accepted the first time around! There are many amazing applicants we can’t offer a match to right away, usually due to availability/scheduling issues. Sometimes waitlist positions are available, and many tutors are not accepted until their second or third try. Emailing the Program Director with any increased availability is always helpful!


Growing up in a family whose first language wasn’t English made me realize how hard it could be to live in a country where you can’t understand what is going on around you. With Project SPELL, I have been able to reach out to help someone who cannot speak English to better their skills. It has enriched my life to see real-life improvement in my learner. Project SPELL not only changes the lives of the people who seek help, but also the people who help them.

Joanne Kang ‘14, Cognitive Science

Volunteering as a tutor for Project SPELL was one of the most incredible experiences of my undergraduate career. This program not only helped me solidify my interest in health education, but also allowed me to develop my tutoring skills and befriend some of the friendliest and most hard-working people I’ve ever met. It was so gratifying to see my learners gain confidence in their English skills and feel more comfortable communicating with their supervisors and peers. As someone who grew up in an immigrant household, I understand how difficult life for non-native speakers can be, and I’m happy that I was able to improve the lives of my learners in some way. I highly encourage any student who is interested in Project SPELL to apply!

Vanessa Gomez ‘15, Biology

Project SPELL has been one of the most fulfilling activities that I have been lucky enough to partake in during my time at UCLA. It has completely revolutionized the way I view volunteering. I never thought that, as a volunteer, I could help improve the livelihood of a UCLA employee through ESL tutoring – but it only takes one person to make a huge impact with this program. I would highly recommend Project SPELL to all who are interested. You will not be disappointed!

Quyen Bach ‘15, Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology

My time in Project SPELL was very rewarding. I got to help our amazing UCLA employees accomplish their goals in learning English. This program allowed me to give back directly to our UCLA community! Our learners continuously expressed how grateful they were to have us help them, but it was actually them we are grateful for, because they have not given up on learning new concepts. My learners were always eager to learn, making it very enjoyable when it came to teaching them. I even helped a learner study for and pass his citizenship exam! This program is one of the best UCLA has to offer, and I am very glad I got to be part of such an amazing program.

Ivonne Romero ‘17, Microbiology

As a Physiological Science major joining Project SPELL, I was unsure of my tutoring abilities. However, my experience in Project SPELL has strengthened my abilities to teach and communicate. This has definitely been one of the highlights of my experience at UCLA, and has broadened my perspective for what life is like as a non-native speaker.

Natalie Slama ‘15, Physiological Science

Student Committee of Project SPELL

The Student Committee of Project SPELL is responsible for promoting connections between students within Project SPELL as well as across campus. Their purpose is to create a tighter bond between tutors and to help Project SPELL develop and grow into a stronger organization. The Student Committee serves to provide a voice for the students in Project SPELL and to address the needs of the tutors. Student Committee members plan one major event per quarter for tutors in addition to completing professional development and leadership trainings with Alumni Center Staff.
Returning tutors with at least 1 quarter of tutoring experience may apply to join the Student Committee spring quarter of each year. An optional application is included with every returning tutor application. Tutors can learn more by emailing

Silvia Gomez-Estrada – President
Silvia is a fourth-year psychology major and a triple minor in education, Chicanx studies and labor and workplace studies. Silvia has volunteered for Project SPELL since the spring of 2016. She takes her experience of being a language-broker for her Spanish-speaking immigrant family and shares it with her learners. Being a part of Project SPELL has allowed her to connect with and learn from many UCLA employees. She is passionate about helping and equipping working people with the necessary English language and literacy skills to navigate their workplace and their daily lives. Through one-to-one tutoring sessions, she feels that she is giving back to some of the most hard-working people part of the UCLA community. Silvia is grateful for a program like Project SPELL because it combats the invisibility working-class people sometimes face by fostering meaningful relationships between students and employees. The hard work the project director, UCLA employees, and UCLA students exert into sustaining and improving the program inspires her to continue volunteering and giving back in any way she can.

When tutoring, Silvia likes to center each lesson on her learner’s various interests. One lesson could be about boxers, while the next could be about the rainforest. The key component is to incorporate the learner’s curiosity and engage them to improve a specific skill set.

Mirna Velasco-Alvarado – Vice President
Mirna is a fourth-year psychology major and applied developmental psychology (ADP) minor. She has been volunteering with Project SPELL since the summer of 2016 and has grown close to the Project SPELL family. Mirna strongly believes in the importance of education and giving back to her community. In SPELL, Mirna found a sense of belonging at UCLA while tutoring and helping her learners, Leticia, Gilda, Margarita and Sonia improve their English literacy skills. Her learners’ desire and effort to learn English shows Mirna how valuable and necessary the tutors and Project SPELL are. Here, Mirna has witnessed the strength of working people and their struggle to improve every day. Her learners inspire her to continue giving back to her community. In her free time, Mirna loves drawing, coloring, listening to music and dancing with Grupo Folklorico de UCLA.

Mirna recommends planning a lesson two days before a tutoring session so you are prepared with activities that meet your learner’s needs. However, even well-planned activities can take an unexpected turn, so she advises tutors to be prepared to improvise to answer your learner’s questions and keep them engaged.

Justin Yi – Secretary
Justin is a third-year pre-medical physiological science major. He has been involved with Project SPELL since the spring of 2017 and has enjoyed his time helping UCLA employees gain confidence in speaking and writing in English. Project SPELL has allowed Justin to learn about the importance of adult education and to develop skills to work around language barriers. Ultimately, he hopes to apply the language lessons learned from tutoring to his medical career helping disadvantaged patients in the community. In his free time, you can find Justin participating in medical volunteering, writing music or bird watching.

Justin’s favorite tutoring tip is to have the learner pick a news article about a current event they are interested in and read it during the lesson so they can go over the activity together. The learner is more likely to remember new vocabulary if they learn it through something they are interested in.

Dulce-Samantha Gonzalez – Materials and Training Manager
Samantha is a third-year applied linguistics major with a passion for teaching and helping others. Growing up with immigrant parents who were tongue-tied when it came to the English language, she knows the importance of having a strong support system while taking on a new language and attempts to provide this support for her Project SPELL learners. With her love of spreading knowledge and fascination with language acquisition, she aspires to teach English as a foreign language. Upon graduation, she plans on traveling across the globe to embrace unfamiliar cultures, meet unique individuals and teach English to all those that have the yearning to take on a new language.

Sam suggests always planning for a longer lesson, because you never know when an hour-long activity will only end up taking 15 minutes. Always have extra tasks and mini-lessons ready in case you have extra time to fill.

Jenny Wang – Social Media and Marketing Manager
Jenny is a second-year psychobiology major, and has been a part of Project SPELL since the fall of 2017. She is an aspiring physician, and has learned new ways to help others through tutoring and supporting her ESL learners in SPELL. By witnessing how big of a difference she can make in a person’s life with just two hours of tutoring per week, Jenny has been reminded of the miracle of human connection and has found a new appreciation for language. She first joined because she saw a chance to help UCLA employees, just as she has been helping her immigrant parents with English, but what made her stay in the program were her amazing learners. Her learners never fail to amaze her with their ambition to improve themselves, their eagerness to learn and the gratitude that they show her. Seeing the effort that her learners put in to improving their English drives Jenny to work on herself to become a better teacher and communicator. As Social Media and Marketing Manager, Jenny hopes to inspire others in the UCLA community give Project SPELL the attention and recognition it deserves.

Jenny’s tutoring tip is to check in with your learner about their goals and how they feel about your tutoring sessions throughout the quarter. Their feedback will allow you to adjust the lesson plans to fit their needs better.