View of European education helps grad students develop leadership skills

July 29, 2010

 

Leadership took on a new meaning when Michael Krieger was asked to lead a group of fellow students around Zurich, Switzerland, for a day.

His father's parents are from Germany, and he studied German, the language spoken in Zurich, for two years in junior high school. This was enough for him to be the designated leader for the day.

"The whole day was guided by me, from researching the train route and times to take to the walking route we took to get to the University [of Zurich]," said Krieger, a second-year graduate student in Indiana State University's student affairs and higher education program. "This was a great experience that gave me the confidence to be able to lead groups in different capacities. It was very rewarding to know that at the end of the day, I was able to create a successful day, let alone being in a different country."

 

Krieger, together with 14 student affairs and higher education graduate students, traveled with professors Charlie Potts and Denise Collins to Switzerland to study higher education in Europe.

"You can only learn so much in the classroom and in a textbook. If you are trying to learn about international higher education, you have to go that extra step and really put yourself in the experience," Krieger said.

 

During the 17-day trip, the group stayed at Webster University in Geneva, Switzerland, an American institution with campuses overseas. There, the students met administrators from various European institutions.

"The trip itself was very helpful for the students to expand their notion of student affairs, said Collins, an associate professor of educational leadership, administration and foundations. "Student affairs is primarily a U.S. phenomenon."

In the United States, universities focus on developing the student academically, emotionally and socially. Those who work in student affairs are responsible for the students' out-of-classroom learning.

 

In Europe, universities focus primarily on students' academic success. This becomes an issue when students from the United States study abroad with certain expectations from the universities, or when students from other countries study in the United States.

 

"We [in the United States] care to engage with our students outside of the classroom," said Potts, an affiliate faculty in the Bayh College of Education and an administrator in academic affairs.

This is uncommon in Europe.

"There are no student affairs jobs overseas. Many of the people who attend college are very smart due to them tracking their students at an early age," said Aaron Slocum of Milwaukee, Wis., a second-year graduate student in student affairs and higher education. "The difference between education here and education there is that here in the States all students have the opportunity to go to college no matter where they test into or how much money they have. Overseas, only the best of the best get to attend post-secondary education, and if you're not very educated you have to learn a trade."

Stephanee Squires of Connersville realized the importance of understanding how students' higher education culture affects their learning.

"Webster University is extremely diverse, so the question is ‘How do you meet the needs of so many different people?' It's just a very different environment," Squires said.

Squires now understands that foreign exchange students will have different expectations from American universities, and that those expectations will carry over into their learning and overall adjustment. In her future career, she wants to work with students from a variety of cultures.

Not only did the students learn about European higher education, but they also learned firsthand what it means to be in an unfamiliar country with different customs and languages.

"Being submerged in a different culture for this trip has really opened up my eyes. In some instances when going out to dinner, I really struggled with the language barrier," Krieger said. "Having this experience allowed me to better understand the feelings that some foreign exchange students have. Moving forward I am more aware of this and will be more empathetic for the students and become an ambassador to the importance of this kind of experience."

Slocum agreed with Krieger.

"Being on the trip has helped me realize what individuals that are not from our country go through when coming to the States," he said.

 

Some of the students' eyes were opened by what they experienced while in Geneva.

 

"Identifying and respecting those differences as not being right or wrong but as just being different was challenging," Squires said.

For Emma Mentley of Hartland, Mich., the trip to Geneva taught her "to really value why we're here. The purpose of my career is student development. Student development is more than academic work."

For Mentley, student development means hosting programs for students to interact with other students and become fully involved on campus.

On the trip, Mentley, a second-year student affairs and higher education graduate student, learned that education has different meanings in different places.

"It's pretty common to know a university's purpose is to educate, but we all have a different opinion about what that means," she said. "My field has a stance of developing the whole student as the greatest education you can provide."

Collins led the capstone portion of the trip, in which the students reflected on and discussed their experiences in order to receive credit for the study abroad practicum experience.

 

"The students learned how to interact more constructively, more helpfully with those international students," Collins said. "We're really anxious to see how having this experience enriches the curriculum. As a professor, it was very meaningful for me to be with them in this experience and then be able to talk about it with them, to see it firsthand and then ask, ‘What does this mean for our curriculum, for student affairs and higher education?'"

 

Squires knows she will be able to use what she learned overseas.

"The university is providing unique opportunities to learn about and practice having access to global education," Squires said. "Subsequently, when we come back to campus we are able to take that information and apply it to our work at ISU."

 

Photos: http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/948389225_G6yZB-L.jpg
Jules Arthur, Anne Marie Werthmann, Sara Yusko, Amanda Bremmer, Ryan Podolak, Emma Mentley and Kara Brant are among 15 Indiana State University graduate students who traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to study European higher education.
http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/948388681_pWEwL-L.jpg
Indiana State University graduate student Michael Krieger points out the United Nations sign in Geneva, Switzerland. http://isuphoto.smugmug.com/photos/948390723_bsnkx-L.jpg
Amanda Bremmer, Aaron Slocum, Lia Pirro and Kara Brant, Indiana State University graduate students, stand in front of the Eifel Tower on their study abroad trip to Europe.

 

Contact: Charlie Potts, affiliate faculty in the Bayh College of Education, Indiana State University, 812-237-8046 or Charlie.potts@indstate.edu; Denise Collins, associate professor of educational leadership, administration and foundations, Indiana State University, 812-237-2868 or denise.collins@indstate.edu

Writer: Lana Schrock, media relations assistant, Office of Communications and Marketing, Indiana State University Communications and Marketing, 812-237-3773 or lschrock1@indstate.edu