Faculty collaborate to create global citizens
There are more Americans enrolled in institutions of higher education than ever before, yet the job market they are graduating into still struggles to rebound. Simultaneously, the global nature of our society is expanding, demanding that today's student be more well-rounded in order to compete. Colleges have long offered students opportunities to spend time learning in foreign countries, traditionally with semester and year-long programs. But the increased emphasis on incorporating an international experience into the college career is a relatively recent development, and one that has institutions finding new ways to give more students access to global opportunities.
At Penn State Lehigh Valley, a number of faculty from diverse academic disciplines are offering international field experiences embedded within courses so that students not only get the chance to study abroad, but also earn credits. One such opportunity is being offered during the spring semester through the collaboration of two faculty members, Michael Krajsa, instructor in business, and Dr. Nichola Gutgold, associate professor of communication arts and sciences. The partnership brings together an International Business class (IB 303) taught by Krajsa and an Organizational Communication class (CAS 352) taught by Gutgold in a way that has never been done before at the campus. Students will receive up to six credits in an accelerated, online format that will culminate with a two-week trip to study at The Capitol University of Economics and Business in Beijing, China, in May.
"It is not enough for our students to identify themselves as citizens of a particular country," says Krajsa. "They need to understand what it means to be a global citizen. Organizations are looking for individuals who have the business acumen, creativity, agility, and ability to imagine and connect the dots across cultures, along with the self-confidence and leadership skills to innovate! We help our students achieve that by providing these kinds of experiential learning opportunities."
The Penn State University Office of Global Programs has also recognized the value of this field experience by awarding Krajsa and Gutgold a $2,500 Faculty and Student Group Travel grant. Judging by the number of participants slated to make the trip, students also see the value. At press time, Krajsa and Gutgold were preparing to accompany a group of more than twenty culturally and academically diverse students not just from the Lehigh Valley campus, but also University Park and others.
Lehigh Valley student D. Samuel Greene '13, who is pursuing a degree in energy business and finance, looks forward to cultivating both skills and relationships on the trip.
"It has been a dream of mine to study abroad, and what better way to do so than with a group of motivated, creative, and energetic students," says Greene. "As time progresses and technology improves, businesses will be operating globally around the clock. I hope to learn so much through this program personally, academically, and culturally."
University Park senior Corey J. Lee believes the trip will help provide a jump start on a future career.
"This was one of the few programs that would allow me to get real world experience with international business, and the country in which I would get this experience is, in my opinion, the world's next superpower," says Lee, who is majoring in security and risk analysis. "I hope to learn to effectively communicate and conduct business with the Chinese. Additionally, I feel the cross-cultural experience I will have in China will be the most interesting and make me more marketable to employers."
Krajsa is a long-time proponent of study abroad as part of the educational experience. He coordinated a number of short-term opportunities to Peru and China before joining Penn State Lehigh Valley in 2008, and wasted no time incorporating them into his instruction at the campus. But for Krajsa, the rewards of guiding students through these experiences go beyond their grasp of the course material. It is also the chance to witness how they transform as individuals that keeps Krajsa motivated.
"For many of our students, this trip will be their first time in a foreign country. That kind of experience always brings a profound change in a person. In fact, the anticipation of the trip is already transforming them as they form new bonds and relationships with their classmates."
Dr. Gutgold sees a special benefit for Lehigh Valley students in particular.
"Especially for commuter campus students like ours, learning to live elsewhere for two weeks, without usual home comforts, will prove valuable. Life isn't always comfortable or familiar. Add to that the fact that China is a dominant world power, and that students will likely do business with China in their careers, and the insight that they are receiving as undergraduates becomes even more invaluable," says Gutgold.
Having taught communications at Penn State Lehigh Valley since 1990, Gutgold has impressed the importance of solid communication skills on hundreds of students in all fields of study. But this trip marks the first time that she is transplanting part of a course directly into a foreign culture. With her research interests focused primarily on public speaking, China provides an especially appropriate environment.
"In China, televised English-speaking contests are as popular as "American Idol" is in the U.S. Their culture places a high level of importance on communication, and I am looking forward to sharing effective public speaking skills with the Chinese students while our students expand their world view. It will be an exciting exchange of ideas."
As the students eagerly anticipate their upcoming trip, Krajsa and Gutgold have designed their courses to prepare the students as much as possible for what to expect when they reach Beijing by incorporating the technology and expertise available to them. For example, it just so happens that Penn State Lehigh Valley is home to an expert in Chinese history, Dr. Kathleen Lodwig, who will be a guest speaker in the class. Additionally, Krajsa used Elluminate Live, a web conferencing program, to bring an American currently living and working in China into the classroom to provide perspective for the students.
"To say that there are differences between American and Chinese culture would be an understatement. We cannot think of China with western thought, and I think that may surprise some of the students," says Krajsa. "But from my experience with past study abroad trips, I know that is what will make this trip so valuable. It will expand their understanding of the world and of themselves."
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