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Inside Kendall

Breaking Down Barriers in Our Classrooms

By Sapna Mangal and Deb Popely, associate professors in the School of Hospitality Management

What does it mean when someone says, “We live in a global society”? We take the subject very seriously at Kendall because we have such a large international student body. Teaching our students to think with a global outlook is part of every course—and more importantly, it is part of our approach to our work as faculty members at Kendall.

We start at an individual level. We meet with each student periodically to learn about their personal and professional goals and help them overcome any obstacles they may encounter. Sometimes it’s as simple as not knowing how to submit an assignment. These one-on-one meetings help us provide guidance that every student needs, but also allow us to customize our approach to the needs of each individual student.

A second component is regularly reassessing our own assumptions. For example, we’ve found that many students who are not originally from the U.S. may be reticent to participate in class discussions—but that doesn’t mean they aren’t absorbing the lesson or their peers’ perspectives. Instead, they may have learned elsewhere that it isn’t good behavior to share their opinions in this setting.

Recently, a student from China who was very quiet in class throughout the term reminded us why it’s premature to make assumptions. When he gave his final presentation, he was poised and provided a thoughtful assessment that was very well received. This showed that although he was quiet in class, he grasped the material and able to apply it well. We find it’s true, again and again, that each student learns differently.

It’s also critical to reinforce this lesson in class. When we assign a group project, we select the student teams to ensure each has a mix of domestic and international students. It may be a bit awkward for them at first since they represent different cultures and backgrounds, but the groups gel fairly quickly. As faculty, we intentionally create opportunities for groups to mix students in new ways without cutting them off from their peers or support groups. We’re giving them a little nudge to get to get them out of their comfort zones.

Group projects like these are also excellent reflections of their future work as professionals—you very rarely get to choose your coworkers and must instead build strong teams by getting to know your colleagues and building mutual trust. By integrating an array of worldviews on team projects, we’re helping students realize that they are not only interested in their peers’ perspectives, but they are also learning much more in each course by hearing varied perspectives.

For example, we select teams for our Capstone course, which requires students to create and pitch business concepts. In each team, we not only mix domestic and international students, we also work toward a gender balance and ensure that students from an array of programs are present (hospitality, culinary and business). Student often end up in groups they would never imagine building on their own. The projects they create, like last year’s winners, are inspiring and reflect their interests and backgrounds.

We learn from each other. Our goal is to give students the ability to appreciate cultural nuances and differences, learn from one another and launch creative ideas. That’s why the composition of our courses mirror the workplace—to prepare our students to enter a global society as young professionals.

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