COURSE PROMOTES UNDERSTANDING OF CULTURE DIFFERENCES IN THE CLASSROOM
Undergraduate life at universities around the world bears many similarities. But for international teaching assistants (ITAs), cultural differences can make it difficult to relate to American students. Stories of college parties may leave some ITAs with the impression that undergraduates are not serious about their work. Meanwhile, a recent campus survey showed that some undergraduates were uncomfortable being taught by ITAs.
To help ITAs and undergraduates better understand one another, the Graduate School is revamping English Conversation, a non-credit course that focuses on informal language skills and dialogue. The school requires ITAs who need help in these areas to take the course after completing English 610, which reinforces basic skills.
Through a grant from the University’s Vision Fund, which supports innovative teaching projects, the school recently brought together six undergraduates and six ITAs for a six-week pilot version of English Conversation. “We want each of the ITAs to find out what it’s like to be an undergraduate here,” says Margo Sampson, language coordinator for the English to Speakers of Other Languages Program. In turn, Sampson and Derina Samuel, associate director of the Teaching Assistant (TA) Program, want undergraduates to realize that ITAs arrive here with a wealth of knowledge in their fields.
Ken Sagendorf, an exercise science doctoral student who taught both versions of English Conversation, says the new format helps ITAs develop conversational skills by discussing current events, playing games, and reading aloud. “It gets them talking,” Sagendorf says.
Changes in the course were prompted last fall, when undergraduates expressed concern about ITA training and evaluation processes during the Chancellor’s Forum, an annual meeting sponsored by the student group Undergraduates for a Better Education. “It seemed like a language issue,” Samuel says. “However, when asked to compare international TAs and American TAs, students said the ITAs’ language skills were sufficient for what was needed, but they still preferred American TAs. It seemed it was their perceptions of the ITAs rather than their actual experiences.”
Samuel says ITAs undergo thorough screening before entering the classroom. They take exams, and interview with faculty members and students. Only those with appropriate language skills are selected to work directly with students. “Undergraduates need to know what an ITA evaluation involves,” Samuel says. “We hope that the undergraduates who participated in the class will disseminate information about it.”
Kai Wang, a biology doctoral student from China, took English Conversation this summer. “It’s not only an English course,” he says. “I learned to debate, discuss, and express my ideas to American students. Before I took the course, I thought American undergraduates only liked to play, but during the course I found they also study very hard.”
INTERIOR DESIGN GROUP CONNECTS STUDENTS CAREERS, PROFESSIONALS
For students majoring in environmental design/interiors (EDI), membership in the SU chapter of the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) provides a valuable link to the professional world. “ASID gives us a sense of what the career entails after graduation,” says EDI major Denis Kovalich ’01, chapter treasurer. “We meet people in the profession and have connections when we graduate.”
Through ASID, student members can explore the array of career options available to them. Some may work at interior design or architecture firms. Others may design exhibitions, arrange store or museum displays, or design such products as furniture, lighting fixtures, or office systems. “Many of us dream of running our own interior design or architecture firms,” says Julie Palmer ’00, who served as ASID president during the last academic year and is now a Columbia University graduate student studying historic preservation.
EDI professor Lara Turney, who advises ASID, wants members to develop an understanding of their future role in the profession. To meet that goal, ASID began a mentorship program last semester that pairs students with professionals from nearby cities. “It’s a wonderful experience for the students,” Turney says. “They’ll have someone they can speak with on a regular basis.”
In April, the local ASID professional chapter, in conjunction with SU’s two interior design programs, sponsored a career day at SU with portfolio and resume workshops, speakers from design firms, and an information session about the interior design professionals’ certification exam. The SU chapter also attended a design exposition sponsored by the professional chapter of ASID in New York City. Along with those events, SU ASID members took field trips to see how their studies come into play in the real world. Last semester, for instance, the group toured Syracuse’s Landmark Theatre, studying the historic structure’s ornate architecture.
Stephanie Tomayko ’01, the group’s field trip chair, says her ASID involvement keeps her in touch with people in the industry. “It’s a wonderful opportunity to be involved with a professional organization,” says Tomayko, who also enjoys socializing with ASID members because of their similar interests. “It gives us a time when we’re doing more than class work. We discuss what we’re doing and where we’re going in our lives.”
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