Meeting needs of domestic and foreign students

The Gazette Opinion Staff
Published: July 31 2013 | 10:32 am - Updated: 28 March 2014 | 6:26 pm in

By Iowa City Press-Citizen

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As an Editorial Board, we’re usually skeptical any time University of Iowa administrators start taking their primary focus off of the Iowa students they are supposed to serve and start focusing more and more attention on the growing number of out-of-state students and out-of-country students — students who pay significantly more tuition than their in-state counterparts. And we’re always trying to be vigilant for signs that UI officials — in striving to make UI into a “destination university” — are shortchanging Iowa students in any way.

But even we are impressed with how officials in UI’s Tippie College of Business not only are trying to attract more tuition dollars but also are finding ways to incorporate the growing population of international students as a key part of the curriculum being offered.

“What are you doing to prepare students for a virtual global environment?”

That’s the question that has been preoccupying Sarah Gardial since shortly after she began last year as dean of the business college.

As she explained in a meeting of the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council earlier this month, Gardial didn’t have a ready answer when that question was first asked of her by an alumna.

“We all understand the global piece,” she said, “that there’s no such thing as a local company anymore.” And for the past decade, the college has been expanding its global reach through efforts like its MBA program in Hong Kong.

But, Gardial said, the “virtual” component now means that — just as there are no longer any hard geographic boundaries for businesses — so there are no longer any hard chronological boundaries.

Companies are looking for employees who not only can work well with the people in the next office or cubicle, but who also can work well with other employees, contractors and consultants in different time zones around the globe. And those virtual global connections are being used for everyday business affairs as well as for the big, creative, all-hands-on deck projects.

The skills necessary to succeed in such an environment — especially the ability to work well with people who are not at all like you — are not skills that can be learned from a book.

That’s why, in addition to working to increase the number of short-term study-abroad opportunities, the business college has been trying to make the most of the opportunities that come with having more international students on campus.

With one out of every four of the college’s 2,000 undergraduates coming from outside U.S. borders — and with one out of every five coming from China — the college doesn’t have to send its students away to create such opportunities. Educators and administrators can highlight such international diversity and training as part of the classroom curriculum and general college experience.

But faculty members have found that American students don’t automatically go out of their way to be inclusive of the international students — especially of those students whose English proficiency is not quite up to conversational level.

That’s why Gardial says college faculty and staff members have to learn to be pro-active in creating educational environment that encourages such a mindset to sink in. They also require opportunities to learn more about how to teach effectively in internationally diverse classrooms.

We still worry the challenges that come with being a destination university too often outweigh the benefits at UI — especially considering the widespread concerns about validity of exams and applications that are administered in China. And we worry that, as state and federal funding continues to dry up, universities are likely to become overly dependent on attracting such high-flying, well-paying international students.

But we’re encouraged to see the business college finding a way to make this arrangement work for the mutual benefit of foreign and domestic students alike. And we hope the other colleges, schools and departments are being as explicit as they try adapt their curriculum to ensure they are meeting the needs of all their students.

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