International Study: It's All About Adaptation

TomczakThe college’s commitment to global education and experiences not only extends across borders, it takes place within the walls of its classrooms and the offices of its faculty through instruction and among the diverse cultures represented within the student body.

In one particular classroom, that commitment is represented by the international MBA students who strive to adapt to the U.S. education system. An in-depth evaluation of graduate business program offerings, conducted by WMU, yielded data that provided further understanding of the needs of many international students who come to Western seeking a graduate degree in business.

“The academic culture in the U.S. is different from that in many countries,” says Dr. Satish Deshpande, interim dean. “In the U.S., we expect students to interact with professors and with one another, to ask questions and to question what they are
being taught. That is not the case in many other cultures.”

The result: BUS 6050—Academic Communication for Business, a much needed support initiative for students who earned undergraduate degrees outside the United States.

“We recruit graduate students from all over the world and have an ethical responsibility to provide the best support possible for all students to whom we offer admission,” says Barb Tomczak, director of graduate advising and admissions for the college of business, who spearheaded the initiative to offer the specialized course. “We want them to get the most from their graduate education.”

Tomczak worked with numerous stakeholders on the project, including graduate program faculty who design curriculum; communication center staff and the business librarian who provide resources; and instructors from WMU’s Center for English Language and Culture, who are expert in helping students during the transitional period. In 2015, Tomczak was singled out for a college assessment award, acknowledging that her efforts led to improvement in how the business graduate programs serve students.

Now, when new international students arrive on campus, they attend a session in which faculty evaluate their skills in communication and for participating in courses. During the session, students listen to lectures, respond to questions and meet as teams while faculty observe. Those identified as needing to improve these skills are required to take the academic communication course during their first semester in a graduate program.

"If students are not fluent in U.S. business terminology or comfortable with the American teaching culture, they do not get the maximum benefit from their education,” says Tomczak. “They are also not able to do their part with their classmates—sharing their valuable perspectives on business issues.”

Tomczak says the course’s effectiveness has not yet been established but points to student successes as an indicator of its benefits. “One of the first students to take the course later participated in our MBA Strategic Management Case Competition,” says Tomczak. “She had to present the team’s findings to a panel of local business executives helping her team secure 4th place. Months later, one of the judges offered her a job! Her stellar presentation provides a concrete example of how an international student’s success is tied to communication skills.”