Helping International Students Transition and Succeed – II

In this post, written for my department blog, I share a number of specific teaching tips for helping international students academically transition and succeed better/faster.

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Part II: Specific Suggestions

In the first part of this post, I highlighted some general difficulties that international students face during their academic transition, focusing on the challenge of understanding/embracing new ideas, assumptions, and approaches about learning and teaching in a new academic system/culture. In this follow up entry, I list some specific suggestions for helping int’l students with their academic transition and success.

Encouraging International Students to Learn about the Big Picture  Continue reading

Helping International Students Transition and Succeed – I

This is a reblog of a post that I wrote for RhetComp@StonyBrook, a blog that I started and facilitated for a year (2013-14) for the Program in Writing in Rhetoric at my university.

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Part I: The Big Picture

Moving from one academic context into another, including in the case of academic disciplines and even levels, can be challenging for any student. But transitioning from the educational culture of one country to that of another altogether can add a whole new set of difficulties. In this post, I would like to highlight how significantly difference in educational practices affect international students’ academic transition and success. Continue reading

Soft Skills for International Graduate Students

International graduate students accepted in US universities are arguably the best products of the academic systems in their home countries. However, when it comes to translating their prior academic success, these students still face an uphill battle.

Especially for students in the STEM fields, academic transition can be challenging because their academic disciplines and programs cannot afford the time and priority toward helping the students develop a broad enough range of academic and professional “soft” skills.

In this blog entry, I highlight some of the causes and consequences of academic and professional skills gap among international graduate students especially in STEM. Let me try to do so by using my personal experience of academic transition and my professional experience of working to support other international students navigate and succeed in the US academy. Continue reading

Sputnik Moment 2.0: Blind Spots and Bottle Necks in STEM Graduate Education

Our real problem, then, is not our strength today; it is rather the vital necessity of action today to ensure our strength tomorrow. – President Dwight Eisenhower, State of the Union Address,1958 [1]

. . .after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation. . . . This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.  – Present Barack Obama, State of the Union Address, 2011 [2]

“STEM” is perhaps the most popular academic buzzword of our time, as well as perhaps the most popular academic term in US politics and policy. But in the debate about the shortage of engineers and scientists in the US, primary attention is given to the issue of demand and supply, and (unfortunately) a more critical issue is often left out. The issue of the quality of education received by our future scientists and engineers is overshadowed by the discussion of their quantity. The undue emphasis on numbers has created the worst blind spot in the discourse of STEM crisis from a global perspective: we’re competing to produce “more” scientists while forgetting to ask if we’re producing the best scientists. This question of quality has to do with academic success, professional development, transfer of skills from academe to the professions outside, and adaptability to changing and increasingly globalized workforce.

In order to produce well-rounded scientists and engineers who are locally successful and globally competitive, US universities must address the bottle necks, blind spots, and speed bumps along the path of academic and professional development for STEM students. And in light of the fact that “foreign-born” students outnumber their local US counterparts in the STEM fields, they must also pay attention to the challenges faced by this majority–especially at the graduate level.

Return of the Term: The term “Sputnik Moment” came back to currency when President Obama used it for suggesting that the US is facing a similar challenge from rapidly advancing countries against staying ahead in science and technology. But while the metaphor helped to draw tremendous attention–leading to a number of Congressional hearings, a flurry of media reports, and conversations within universities–the conversation did not reach far enough into issues of education. Personally, I found return of the metaphor fascinating because I was finishing up my dissertation on engineering writing, focusing on the academic and professional development gap among engineering students. Continue reading

“Who? Me?”–International Students, Pedagogically Undefined

“How many of you are ‘international’ students?” I asked one of my college writing classes the first day of semester some time ago.

About a third of the twenty or so students raised their hands, including some that were half-raised, so I paused to ask what that meant.

One student responded: “I was born here in the US but studied in Korea, and my English is not good.” Her father had been a scientist working in the US but the family decided to live back home after some time, eventually sending their daughter back for higher education. A second student had migrated to the US from the Caribbean while he was in middle school but he said he still had concerns about language fluency in general. Yet another student had come to the US more recently but was fluent in speech; instead he was worried about his writing skills. None of these students were on student visa status to the US.

At this point, two additional students decided to join the conversation, and one of them said, “I am NOT an international student but a lot of people think I am, because I ‘look like’ one.” Continue reading

Bad Writers are Welcome!

Karla raised her hand during the first class in an upper division research and writing course I taught last semester: “I have written eleven pages of my thesis already!” She was very proud about being a “good writer” (in her own words).

Tamal, another bright student in that class, had done so much research on the topic he’d chosen that he surprised me when he came for the first one-on-one conference to my office. He seemed to know everything about the ongoing Eurozone financial crisis.

But in the same class, there was another fairly talented student, Yin, who was so scared of a “writing” class that she went to my colleague who was teaching a co-requisite course to share her anxiety. Continue reading