Chinese students part of growing diversity that benefits all students
Friday, June 28, 2013

Tippie students in Pappajohn Business Building

Four Tippie College of Business students in the Pappajohn Business Building. Photo by Ed Kempf/Impact Photo.

Walk the halls of the University of Iowa'sPappajohn Business Building, and you’ll find yourself among a mix of U.S. and international undergraduates. That’s quite a change from 2005, when there were 34 undergraduate international students. Today there are 497, the majority of whom are from China.

Those numbers are reflected at the UI and nationally. At the university, total international enrollment is 11.4 percent of the student body (up from 7.1 percent in 2005). And, according to the Institute of International Education, the total undergraduate international student enrollment in the United States hit a record high in 2011-12.

“The UI Tippie Collegeof Business, like business in general, is becoming increasingly internationalized,” says Lon Moeller, associate dean of undergraduate programs.

The Tippie College of Business learning environment is changing in several ways to meet the unique educational needs of its students and to prepare them for the changing world of business.

The benefits of a more global student body are many, he says.

“I have talked with people from many different countries and their message is the same— learning about other cultures is important for people in business,” Moeller says. “My recent experiences teaching abroad in London and Italy reinforce how important it is for students to gain a global perspective.”

Undergraduates are learning to work with diverse groups of people

Study abroad is only one way students learn about other cultures and perspectives and prepare to contribute to today’s multicultural workplace. While enrolled in the college, undergraduates are learning firsthand how to work with diverse groups people. The learning environment here is changing in several ways to meet the unique educational needs of its students and to prepare them for the changing world of business.

The college has developed several programs in the Judith R. Frank Business Communications Center to help international students communicate effectively at home or here in the United States. In spring 2011, the center initiated English Language Learners’ Discussion Circles to promote conversation and connections between native English-speaking students and international students. With the hiring last year of Lisa Leech, assistant director of the center who has English as a Second Language training, the center revitalized the circles. Each week a specific topic is chosen and students from across campus are welcome to attend.

The English Pronunciation in Conversation series targets different sounds in the English language that are difficult for international students to pronounce. Students practice these and can then read from scripted dialogs about business situations. Students appreciate learning correct pronunciation of words and phrases used during the interview process, Leech says.

Group projects are frequent in the Business Communication and Protocol (BCaP) course, and in the past, students would choose their teammates, preferring to work with friends, says Pam Bourjaily, director of the Frank Center, which coordinates the course curriculum.

“Teams in the BCaP course are no longer ‘self-selected’ so instructors can ensure equal distribution among domestic and international students,” Bourjaily says. “Plus, the team paper is a combination of individual and team writing. Certain sections are written and credited to specific individuals yet each member is required to submit an executive summary to demonstrate awareness of the entire document.”

"Whether our graduates build their futures in Iowa or abroad, they will be citizens of a global society; the UI must provide students with more opportunities for firsthand experience with international living and understanding."
—UI President Sally Mason

Learning from each other

Participating in a multicultural team “can be difficult,” says Arabella Franze-Soeln, a finance, economics, and Chinese major.

“There’s a language barrier, miscommunication, or grammar mistakes. But this isn’t the first nor the last time I’m going to work with a group of diverse people, so the more I can learn from working in groups with people of different backgrounds now, the better prepared I’ll be when I start my first job,” Franze-Soeln says.

Franze-Soeln, who is Austrian, lived half the time in Austria and half the time in Eagle, Neb., and had the opportunity to study in Taiwan and China while attending Phillips Exeter Academy, an East Coast boarding school.

“I was placed with a Chinese family in the Henan Province city of Zhengzhou, and they took me in as one of their own,” she says. “My brother and sister have also studied there and lived with the same family. My Chinese mom likes to say she has four kids, not just one. It’s definitely a relationship that continues to this day.

“I love the fact that we have so many international students here. The more Chinese students we have, the more people I have to talk with and learn from,” she says.

Up until recruiting new members this past semester, Franze-Soeln was the only domestic student to join the Greater China Business Association (GCBA), and she served as treasurer this year. Meetings were often held in Chinese.

The GCBA provides a hub for Tippie students interested in China. Founded by domestic students in 2002, the organization was created to help the students learn more about China and Taiwan. Over time, participation swung the other direction, with membership being predominantly Chinese students.

Current GCBA president Jiazi Zhou felt this was an issue.

“It was a big problem for the future development of the organization because it strays away from the original mission, which is to help both U.S. and Chinese students to understand each other and to share and learn more about international business,” says Zhou, a finance and accounting major from Jinan in Shandong Province.

“When it was mostly Chinese students, domestic students would come to one of our events and they’d feel uncomfortable being in the minority,” she says. “It can be the same for international students, too. We have to learn to break out of our comfort zones, which is challenging for everyone.”

Lee Henely, a senior economics major from Lake City, Iowa, developed his interest in China after enrolling in a summer international politics class at Harvard and becoming fast friends with several Chinese-American students there. He also worked in the Iowa governor’s office where he attended several Chinese cultural events, networking with members of the Chinese Association of Iowa and with the head of the Iowa Legislature’s Foreign Relations Committee.

“I decided to also study Chinese because of those opportunities,” he says. “I have at least two or three Chinese students in any UI class I’ve taken, and being able to talk with my classmates in their language and have that personal interaction has been a great learning experience.

“Many students like myself who have studied Chinese, really want to work in China,” Henely says. “But we find the ideal candidate that a Chinese company wants is the Chinese student who came to the United States, graduated, got U.S. work experience, and wants to return to China,” he says. “They know the language and culture better than I ever will, so I hope my studies, work experience, and networks get me in the door.”

For the past two summers, Henely has interned at an investment bank in San Francisco, helping technology companies raise private and public equity, and although he had a full-time offer, he decided to intern with Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s investment banking division in Silicon Valley this summer. At the end of summer, he returns to China to pursue a year of graduate studies in international affairs conducted in Chinese at the Johns Hopkins University-Nanjing University Center.

“I hope to use these experiences to build up my network and develop a successful career in China longer-term.”

International students would like to get their foot in the door of U.S. businesses, too. Almost two years ago, the Pomerantz Career Center hired Amanda Wilson to serve as an international student career advisor. Last year more than 500 international students attended workshops to learn about U.S.-style resumes and cover letters, job/internship search strategies, and considerations when pursuing employment post-graduation. In addition, the center is gathering information on international student employment to get a better picture of where they land after graduation.

“It will also assist current international students to learn which U.S. companies are hiring UI international students,” Wilson says.

Wilson hopes to soon have a website completed that offers international students employment resources and tips.

Task force surveys students, researches best practices at other institutions

The college also has created an International Student Task Force, chaired by Terry Boles, associate professor of management and organizations and the director of Tippie’s Institute for International Business. The task force has been surveying best practices at peer institutions, Boles says, “many of whom face similar international student enrollment increases and issues.”

The task force also created two surveys that were sent to both domestic and international students at the end of the academic year. Boles hopes the survey data will help advisors and faculty see the challenges that international students face in the college and better understand how domestic students feel about their international counterparts.

“We plan to follow up with programming and workshops to address the issues students raise, in the hopes of creating a more inclusive environment for all Tippie students,” Boles says.

In addition, Tippie’s Undergraduate Program Office (UPO) coordinates an interactive, five-hour Leadership for Diversity & Inclusion workshop, developed by the National Coalition Building Institute affiliate on campus.

“We have all been socialized to think and act as members of a racial, gender, or other identity groups,” says UPO’s Brooke Paulsen, assistant director of student success, who coordinates undergraduate diversity initiatives. “Without realizing it, we may hold stereotypes about groups other than our own. Students learn the leadership skills for bridging those differences. They increase their cultural competency and develop pride in their own identities, listen to each other’s stories and experiences, and practice responding to hurtful comments, jokes, and slurs.”

Lon Moeller, associate dean of undergraduate programs, says attending events like this can set students up for success in the job-search process as they learn about cultures different from their own and how to work through such cultural differences. It helps students “stand out from the crowd and be the candidate employers want.”

Support for faculty and staff available

In all this, the Tippie faculty and staff members have not been forgotten. There may be issues facing them as they now teach and meet with an increasing number of international students. The Frank Business Communications Center is working with the Institute for International Business to create a faculty workshop to discuss such issues as group projects and grading group work.

"I have talked with people from many different countries and their message is the same— learning about other cultures is important for people in business. My recent experiences teaching abroad in London and Italy reinforce how important it is for students to gain a global perspective."
—Lon Moeller, associate dean of undergraduate programs

The college also held a Chinese pronunciation workshop this past spring to explain how to pronounce Chinese names correctly. Although the workshops were intended to be only a very brief introduction to Mandarin pronunciation, it was one small step to help Chinese students feel more welcome in the Tippie College.

“The language barrier is frustrating for our faculty who want to connect with students,” Moeller says. “The best thing you can do to build a strong relationship with another person is learn their name and then pronounce it correctly, and many of us aren’t doing that.”

Through various new programs, the college continues to support domestic and international students as they broaden their world views, gain business skills and knowledge to work in an increasingly diverse world, and to value the increasing international diversity among its students.

How can you be involved?

Many international students seek to gain experience in the workplace in the United States, either by working as interns during their college years, or by seeking full-time employment upon graduation. Because of their cultural experiences and special abilities, international students can be ideally suited for employment within the U.S. workforce.

The Tippie College of Business and the Pomerantz Career Center encourage prospective employers to consider them carefully when recruiting. Tippie College alumni can help. If your company offers internships and jobs to international or domestic students, if you are willing to help students prepare for job interviews by conducting a mock interview, or if you would like to visit campus to speak about your international work experiences, we’d love to hear from you. Contact Courtney Blind, director of alumni relations,, 319-335-2769.