Beyond the classroom

Adding international opportunities will better prepare Chico State students for the global job market

KUNST CULTURE <br>Chico State art students have the opportunity to study in Mainz, Germany, and open their eyes to the world.

Chico State art students have the opportunity to study in Mainz, Germany, and open their eyes to the world.

Photo By Michael Bishop

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Susan Place and Phyllis Fernlund want Chico State University students to excel. And not just in the classroom. The women, both deans at Chico State—Place is the dean for the School of Graduate, International and Interdisciplinary Studies, while Fernlund heads the College of Communication and Education—are casting their sights on the global economy and preparing students to work in it.

“My feeling is that we are educating students to succeed as both citizens and professionals in a global environment,” said Place, who, with Fernlund, just returned from a trip to China to explore international educational opportunities with universities there. Students “will interact internationally, even if they never leave California. Our students need to be able to succeed in [an international] environment.”

Indeed, the numbers add up. According to a 2006 report by the Public Policy Institute of California, 93.1 percent of California’s exports, led by high technology, were destined for foreign lands. The top five export countries were Mexico, Japan, Canada, China and South Korea. Moreover, 628,600 Californians worked for foreign-owned companies in 2003, according to the report.

Locally, Fernlund points to almond orchards that export their crops, rice farmers who ship to Japan and the immigrants who call the North State home.

“The North State is in fact embedded in a web of international relationships,” Place said. “We’ve become an international place without people even realizing.”

To compete in a global marketplace students will need to develop a global perspective, Fernlund said. That means understanding other cultures, world affairs and language. The college ranked No. 4 in international education exchange for mid-sized campuses, according to Open Doors 2007, an annual report on foreign students in the United States and vice-versa. About 100 students studied abroad for a school year; another 174 did so for a semester.

To help on-campus students compete, Chico State is expanding its language offerings. In the fall, for instance, the university will offer Chinese-language instruction, with an exchange of a professor from Zhejiang University City College in Hangzhou, China. Also, a Fulbright graduate student will offer language classes in Arabic, Place said.

Meanwhile, exchange programs with other universities have added an international flavor to the Chico State campus while enriching the lives of students who have traveled abroad. Michael Bishop, sculpture professor and chairman of the Art Department, has engaged in a student exchange for seven years. The art exchange is with the University of Mainz, Germany. Students exchange for a school year.

In Germany, students participate in rigorous studies that are set up in a different environment. They learn self discipline and have the opportunity to travel and explore Europe, and its museums.

“I think the global view is incredibly important for students,” Bishop said. “I’m a strong believer in being on the road as a young student and adding that learning experience to your educational experience.”

Those students bring back, and share, the experience with their peers. Meanwhile, German students, accustomed to a different set of academic rigors, work alongside their classmates in Chico and enrich that experience.

“When the German students come here, they set a standard for our students,” Bishop said.

The students also ask—and answer—questions that increase cultural awareness. Bishop offers guns as an example. Perceptions of Americans gleaned from a John Wayne movie might sound funny to Americans who live, work and study in the United States. But some wonder if all Americans wear and have guns. Answering those questions, Bishop said, not only helps to foster cross-cultural awareness, but also helps American students more fully understand their cultural values.

Janelle Gardner, a nursing professor, takes her students to Oaxaca, Mexico, to deliver health care to impoverished peoples. The experience shows students that there are other ways of seeing health care, the world and themselves.

“It helps them become more culturally competent,” Gardner said.

Meanwhile, Place said Chico students can start preparing now for competition in the global economy. Classes in world geography, world economics and language will go a long way to help them. And in the future, the professors agreed, they’re hoping to bring even more foreign university instructors to Chico State, which will help prepare students for a flattened and more competitive global marketplace.