At a time when many area organizations and business leaders are prioritizing the importance of diversity in developing the Fox Valley region’s work force, the University of Wisconsin-Fox Valley, a UW Oshkosh campus, has seen a notable increase in the number of international students on campus. Enrollment increased from 22 students for fall semester 2017 to 76 students for fall semester 2018.
A number of factors have contributed to this increase; most significant is a strong commitment from campus partner Kings Education, an international program specializing in placements of students seeking a college education in the United States with sites around the world.
“UW-Fox Valley is a great fit for international students because of the small student-to-teacher ratio on campus,” Kings Education Center Manager Chihae Lee said. “Students are able to really build a connection with their professors.”
There are 13 different countries represented on the UW-Fox Valley campus this year. The students are from China, South Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Taiwan, India, Kazakhstan, Uganda, Venezuela, Iran, Pakistan, Panama and Peru. Almost half of the students, 35, are from China.
While on-campus resources like the Writing Pad and Math Lab are important for the success of international students, Lee says that the city of Menasha and its location in the Fox Valley are also a plus. The students are able to live in apartment-style housing just blocks from campus with other college students. “It’s a safe and friendly environment for international students who may be living away from their family for the first time. It gives parents peace of mind that their student is studying in a safe place where they can focus on their studies.”
“UWFox views its diversity as an asset, and we are committed to be a part of the multitude of diversity and inclusion work that is taking place in the Fox Cities,” UW Oshkosh Assistant Chancellor for Access Campuses Martin Rudd said. “There are some outstanding partnerships such as those hosted by Lawrence University through their ‘Community Diversity and Inclusion Discussion’ that we attended, and which helped us see that some modest goals of increased diversity in the Fox Cities through our educational environment could be realized.”
Bringing the world to the classroom
Kings Education expanded its physical presence greatly on campus over the summer to prepare for the increased number of students. They began with one administrative room and added two classrooms for their English language learners in the University Preparation Program (UPP).
“It was very important for Kings Education to have a physical space where both students, faculty and staff can go when there are questions or concerns,” Lee said. “It’s also a place for students to get support and advice if they don’t know who to reach out to on campus. Kings Education staff also reach out to UW-Fox Valley faculty and staff to create a bridge so that we can support our students and make sure they succeed and move on to a four year university or college.”
One person who serves as an important bridge for international students on campus is UW-Fox Valley International Student Coordinator Sarah Christensen. She works with both the students in the Kings Education program and the other international students enrolled on campus.
Christensen sees the presence of an increasing number of international students as a benefit to all UW-Fox Valley students and the community of learning that they find. “The world is brought to their classroom,” she said. “Study group conversation often leads to other things. They start talking about different traditions, food, games and often find commonality and friendship in things they like to do.”
Working directly with international students on the UW-Fox Valley campus since the spring of 2016, Christensen serves as their academic advisor, leads an orientation for international students, conducts workshops for faculty and is a liaison to Kings Education. She has even helped the students get to doctor’s appointments when needed. “It’s a team effort to help students. The first semester is so important.”
A key component for student success in semester one is a first year seminar class specifically for international students taught by Christensen. This class builds the communications and other skills they need to live here. In the course, students learn about U.S. holidays, traditions, customs, and plan the annual International Student event, where they share an activity, game or food from their home county with the entire campus.
“Communications is a critical growth area for these students during their first year in a new country,” Christensen said. While international students are integrated into most existing class sections, the campus is piloting the concept of offering speech class sections solely for international students this year. Workshop sessions for faculty and staff led by Christensen early in the fall semester helped everyone better understand the benefits and challenges of an increasing international student population on campus.
UW-Fox Valley Senior Lecturer Mary Diederich teaches a section of Introduction to Business where 21 of the 36 students are international. Topics covered by the course include various aspects of organizing and operating businesses, primarily in the U.S., but also to some degree internationally.
“I love hearing the unique perspective that international students bring to the classroom discussions when they describe how businesses operate in their home countries,” said Diederich who adds that quite a few of the international students voluntarily choose to participate in group activities and assignments with their U.S. based peers. “I have observed a fantastic spirit of cooperation and shared learning arising from these groups. International students truly care about their performance, and consistently strive for excellence. I find them respectful and genuinely enthusiastic about the learning process – a great addition to our campus.
Choosing UW-Fox Valley; experiencing campus life
Students from other countries start their college education here at UW-Fox Valley for a variety of reasons. My Vu from Vietnam decided to pursue her degree in the U.S. because of the quality of the education available here. She specifically chose UW-Fox Valley because of the affordable tuition and scholarship she received. She’s also gotten involved in student activities on the campus.
“The best and most fun thing I’ve done here is working in the UW-Fox theater,” Vu said. “I love construction and technical stuff, which is why I enjoy working backstage so much. Another fun experience that I have is being in the FoxBytes comp-sci (computer science) club. We teach each other and learn a lot from each other.”
Zheyuan Feng from China was also drawn to the UW-Fox Valley campus because of the affordable tuition and transfer opportunities. Feng has been involved in Business Club and helps plan many activities such as the club’s annual networking event with area employers. He’s had the opportunity to “make many new friends and meet with some awesome professors.”
The student experience is very important according to Lee. Through social media, they share many of the unique experiences students are having and their accomplishments.
“Kings Education works hard to advocate for our students as well as build a connection with our partner school in the community the students are studying and living in,” said Lee. “The reputation of Wisconsin higher education is very much valued and very well known internationally, so students are very excited to study at universities in Wisconsin.”
Bottom right photo courtesy of Kings Education
Top two photos: UW Oshkosh, Michael Van Vonderen