Talks focus on foreign students

The University’s International Student and Scholar Services began a workshop series in October to help faculty and staff better understand international students and scholars.

International students from 136 countries make up 7 percent of the graduate and undergraduate student population. In the graduate school, international students account for 22 percent of the student body, while 2 percent of undergraduates are international students, according to the University.

Barbara Kappler, program coordinator, said the workshops aim to help University employees communicate with international students and become more culturally sensitive. She said they might also help faculty and staff cross cultural barriers in meetings, classrooms and service settings.

Twenty-five people attended Wednesday’s workshop, including faculty, advisers and program directors.

Stephanie Chrismon, an academic adviser from the Martin Luther King, Jr. Program – an advising program for College of Liberal Arts minority students – said it is important for University staff to learn to work with international students.

She attended a workshop last Wednesday and said it was important for advisers to address these issues. She said sometimes cultural values differ, making it difficult for advisers to understand students.

For example, a student who is bad at math and science might choose to major in engineering because it is what his or her parents want.

In Western cultures, the decision might not make sense, but parents in other cultures play important decision-making roles in their children’s careers, Chrismon said

“People in the West always want other people to conform to their cultural values,” she said. “But when dealing with international students whose cultural values are different from ours, it is important to try to help them succeed without forcing them to conform to our cultural values.”

John Gardner, assistant academic adviser for graduate studies in the mechanical engineering department, also attended the workshop.

He said the workshop provided an opportunity to understand international students’ cultures and familiarize themselves with their environments.

He said he attended the workshop partly because 30 percent to 40 percent of mechanical engineering graduate students are international students, and he said it is important they feel welcomed.

Kay Thomas, International Student and Scholar Services director, said the University ranks 20th in international student enrollment among U.S. universities. She said the University attracts international students because it offers many benefits and opportunities.

The free workshops are held in 110 Heller Hall on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, and are scheduled to run through Dec. 10.