Sandra Arfa

The English Department mourns the loss of former ESL director Sandra (‘Sandy’) Marion Arfa, who passed away on May 5, 2022. Sandy earned her undergraduate degree at University of Wisconsin in Madison and pursued graduate studies at UCLA and Harvard University.  She was a full-time staff member of the English as a Second Program since 1980 and its director for 15 years, until her retirement in 2021. She is survived by her husband, David Arfa, with whom she traveled the world extensively, and their two children and their families.

Under Sandy’s leadership the ESL program grew in size and scope to serve the entire university, providing English language instruction for undergraduate and graduate students, and training for future ESL teachers through the TESOL certificate program and the master’s program in Applied English Linguistics.  In addition to leading the core mission of the ESL program, Sandy oversaw and built many successful collaborations with foreign universities and international organizations. She played an integral role in the University’s collaboration with Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, helped build an English language preparatory school program for Antalya International University in Turkey, and designed a large-scale teacher training project with the Gyeonggi-do Institute for Foreign Language Education in South Korea. She created and oversaw teacher training and English language programs on five different continents, directing or participating in English language and teacher training programs in Italy, China, Thailand, Bolivia, and Uruguay.  Her leadership and service to the University of Wisconsin-Madison were recognized with the Judith Craig Distinguished Service Award in 2013-14.

Sandy will be remembered as an incredibly intelligent, kind, and compassionate colleague. She lived a life on her terms and with a constant sense of wonderment and spirit of adventure.  Joe Nosek, her former student and current interim director of ESL, attests that Sandy “lived a rich and meaningful life and visited more places and had more adventures than anyone I’ve ever met.” We are profoundly grateful for Ms. Arfa’s contribution to the educational mission of the university and to her dedication to the international student community.