WMU News

Colombian business students gain unique experience at WMU

Dec. 10, 2002

KALAMAZOO -- Many students will end the fall semester at Western Michigan University with a trek to Miller Auditorium on Dec. 14 for commencement. But six graduating international students will have to journey all the way to South America before they can pick up their diplomas.

The students, undergraduate business majors enrolled at the Universidad Externado de Colombia in Bogota, Colombia, have been on campus this fall participating in a unique educational experience offered through a partnership between WMU's Career English Language Center for International Students and six Kalamazoo employers.

CELCIS joined forces with the local organizations to tailor an English language program for the Colombians that would specifically help the students use English more effectively in business situations.

Laura Latulippe, CELCIS director, says WMU customized its regular English language course work by replacing two CELCIS courses with business-oriented speaking and writing courses, then added a hands-on work experience where the students could learn the ins and outs of business administration.

"Combining 16 hours a week of practical career training in the American work place with 20 hours a week of English study through CELCIS will greatly improve these students' use of English," Latulippe says. "At the same time, the employers we're partnering with will gain some highly motivated temporary workers."

Colleagues International, an affiliate of the Council of International Programs USA, placed the six UEC students with Humphrey Products, the Kalamazoo County Chamber of Commerce, Michigan Works Employment Services, Raymond James Financial Services Inc., Southwest Michigan First, and the West Michigan Cancer Center & Institute for Blood Disorders.

The internship-like arrangement, which called for the Colombian students to serve as unpaid executive assistants, proved to be beneficial for the participating employers as well as the students, says Madelyn Pinder, community and investor relations specialist with Southwest Michigan First.

Pinder and her regional economic development organization were teamed up with Carlos Andres Torres Sepulveda, a 26-year-old with prior business consulting experience hoping to obtain extra English career training in the areas of marketing, human resources and logistics.

"Carlos is very friendly, receptive and responsible. He's helped us in our mission and done a wonderful job with all the research and projects we've asked him to do," says Pinder. "All of us interact closely with Carlos. He's become one of the office team, and we're going to miss him."

Torres Sepulveda and most of the other Colombian business students will officially wrap up their studies on Tuesday, Dec. 10, then head home to receive their diplomas from UEC.

Latulippe says one of the students will stay on a few weeks to finish her work experience, which got off to a delayed start, and several others are considering remaining in Kalamazoo at least long enough to attend the traditional reception CELCIS throws at the end of each academic term.

"The reception is a time for our students to get their progress reports, grades, and special certificates and to say good-bye and take a lot of photos," Latulippe says. "It really would be wonderful if all the UEC students could attend-they made our special English career training partnership program a success. So successful, in fact, that we'll be offering it again in January for the spring semester, with some modifications the student have suggested, and already have three new students signed up."

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, 269 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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