New English language programs prepare international students for success at W&M
The new programs, offered by the Reves Center’s Office of International Students, Scholars and Programs (ISSP), are designed to give them a head start in transitioning to life at W&M by honing the students’ English language and academic skills, furthering their understanding of U.S. culture, and introducing them to campus life. International students often encounter challenges studying in a foreign language and adjusting to the different expectations of U.S. professors. Other challenges such as learning new styles of teaching in the classroom and concerns with cross-cultural communication can make the transition stressful. To address these concerns, ISSP worked to create programs that provide engaging, informative experiences for William & Mary’s international students in a small-class setting.Three School of Education doctoral students and one faculty member have been instrumental in the development and running of the new programs. Leslie Bohon, Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education EPPL program, joined Steve Sechrist, Director of ISSP, to co-lead the launching of the ESL initiative. Bohon has 20+ years of experience as an administrator, designer, and teacher of ESL programs as well as ESL teacher training experience. Ph.D. student in Gifted Education, Natalie Dudnytska, joined the ESL team this summer to serve as the Director of the International Freshmen Advantage Program and instructor of the Business Context course in the Graduate Business English Language and Culture Program. Dudnytska holds a business degree and also served as an English language instructor in her native Ukraine. Dr. Sharon Stone, Ph.D. Higher Education ’14, taught Business Language Building in the Business program. Stone drew from her experience as an English teacher in Italy and Japan while abroad in the military. School of Education faculty member, Dr. Gail McEachron, is an advisor on the 9-person ESL Initiative Committee, a committee comprised of representatives from the wider College community who have expertise or interest in ESL development.
The Graduate Business English & Culture Program, developed in cooperation with the Mason School of Business, was held from July 14 to August 8 and was directed by Bohon, an English as a Second Language (ESL) specialist. The program focused on English language, business culture, and the academic skills needed to succeed in the Mason graduate business programs.
“Many of our international students struggle with language and presentation skills as well as academic and business culture,” said Bohon. “This program is designed to help them bridge these gaps. We focus not only on language skills, but also on cultural skills and U.S. classroom skills. It is a myth that international students only need stronger English. There is a culture to learn, in and out of the classroom. This is just as much an obstacle as the language can be.”
A diverse curriculum of select business topics, English language classes, communication skills and career management provided international students with a robust foundation to begin their studies. In an approach called content integrated language learning, the Reves Center worked with the faculty and staff at the Mason School of Business to identify the key business themes that students will focus on during the first year of the MBA program and used those themes as a foundation for the program curriculum. Incorporating those themes, the program included guest lectures by Mason faculty and site visits to area businesses including the Riverside Regional Medical Center, Continental AG, Allianz Global and APCO. The site visits gave the students a valuable opportunity to practice their communication skills and hear about the theme from the perspective of an executive in the field.
“International students bring highly valued perspectives, insights, and abilities to our programs,” said Deborah Hewitt, assistant dean for MBA programs and clinical associate professor at the graduate school of business administration. “Connecting with international students has been mentioned by domestic students as one of the great take-aways from our programs. This language and cultural immersion program will enable the international students to participate more fully in academic, personal, and professional experiences while at Mason and in the global workplace.”
Students in the Graduate Business English Language & Culture Program also enjoyed excursions to local cultural sites and sporting events, a visit to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and a trip to Washington, DC.
Similarly, the International Freshmen Advantage Program (IFAP), which started on July 31, is designed to help new international undergraduate students adjust successfully to a new education system, enhance their English language, communication, and research skills, and introduce them to aspects of U.S. culture.
Because student research is a hallmark of the W&M undergraduate curriculum, the program includes a research skills course. Taught by Sharon Zuber, professor of English and director of the Writing Resources Center, the course guides the students through individually selected research projects which they complete during the course of the program. “The IFAP has transformed the Reves Center vision for student support into a reality,” said Zuber. “A result of thoughtful planning, the IFAP gives international students an opportunity to make the transition to the W&M community with confidence. It sets students up for success as they prepare for their global academic journey.” In addition to the language, research, and academic skills taught in the program, students have an early opportunity to learn about the role of internships in their liberal arts curriculum. “Internships, service learning, and student employment play an important role in a student’s education,” said Steve Sechrist, director of the ISSP office. “They enable the student to apply theories learned in the classroom to real life settings, develop soft skills such as interpersonal communication and time management, and identify academic and professional directions the student would like to pursue.” Throughout the program, students visited organizations such as AidData and the National Center for State Courts to learn about local internship opportunities and visited W&M’s Washington office to learn about the College’s program there. In their free time, the students participated in program excursions to Virginia Beach, Busch Gardens, and Jamestown and enjoyed movie and game nights. W&M is home to nearly 700 international students and 150 international scholars from 55 countries. Creating a positive environment and a smooth transition to life in the U.S. is a key component of the Reves Center’s mission. To fulfill this task, the ISSP office provides services from visa processing and immigration advising to orientation, information sessions and extracurricular activities. W&M’s ESL initiative aims to provide high-quality instruction in English language skills and cultural awareness for international students, scholars, and professionals to meet their educational, business, and professional goals.