CFANS students take cultural survey

The college wants to see how cultural attitudes change in four years.

Anne Millerbernd

The College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences is surveying its freshman class to better understand how students engage with different cultures in the college and elsewhere.

This semester, all incoming freshmen took the Intercultural Development Inventory to measure how they think and feel about cultural difference. They’ll take the inventory again senior year, and CFANS will analyze the results to help modify curricula and better prepare students for a diverse workforce.

Mike White, head of the Department of Animal Science, said understanding different cultures is important for students.

“If you are able to talk across difference — if you’re able to work with someone who is different than you, you will be better at almost anything you do,” he said.

Some students said the potential improvement is beneficial because students can always be more culturally aware.

“I think it’s something that could definitely benefit students,” agriculture and food business management junior Dylan Barth said.

White said he became curious about ways to measure students’ experiences with different cultures when he took his students on a month-long study abroad class in 2009.

He used the survey before and after the time abroad to gauge how students’ cultural perspectives changed.

Because the surveys were effective for study abroad students, CFANS officials wanted to bring them to University classrooms.

White said CFANS could work more to improve its students’ cultural literacy. The survey’s results could help the college improve this, he said.

“The reason people go abroad is to experience difference, but we don’t give them … the tools to deal with that difference,” White said. “We’re not doing our students a service by just sending them abroad.”

CFANS began using the Intercultural Development Inventory four years ago, and some classes have added to their curricula based on findings from the previous surveys.

Agronomy and plant genetics professor Paul Porter said he started using the earlier findings in his agroecosystems last year. He said these methods were “amazingly successful” in boosting students’ cultural literacy.

Karl Lorenz, director of CFANS’ Office for Diversity and Inclusion, said officials from the Carlson School of Management will look at results of the CFANS surveys and consider using similar tools at CSOM in the future.