In a local version of “International Apprentice,” Saint Mary’s University students formally presented their problem-solving ideas to a panel of judges.

But, unlike the television show with a similar name, there were no celebrity appearances, and nobody was fired.

Instead, in a collaboration between students in Saint Mary’s “Intercultural Communication” class and Cotter High School’s international students, everyone was a winner.

It all started with listening.

The “Intercultural Communication” class (part of Saint Mary’s new leadership minor) was asked to help Cotter High School with a real-life issue: its 86 international students often stay within their own ethnic group in their residence hall instead of interacting with others.

Last week, the clients—Cotter administrators and the group of international students—voted which presentation they liked best.

Although it was close, the winning group presented the idea of creating Living Learning Communities, based loosely on those in place at Saint Mary’s. The students suggested that Cotter students could get to know each other through common interests like outdoor activities (fishing, camping, skiing), gaming and sports, food, and movies. They suggested all Cotter students could also become involved in the fun, as well as the planning.According to senior Rachel Mohs, the team’s goal in developing living learning communities was “for students to gain perspective of others, to hear their stories, to interact with one another, and hopefully start to break down any unknown fears that either subconsciously or consciously happen in our ever changing and interconnected world.”

Another Saint Mary’s group suggested Cotter’s international students use facilities at Saint Mary’s to build community through scheduled activities like open gyms, pool time, yoga, and skiing. They suggested students “unplug” from the internet during interactive time and swap online gaming for board games and other activities.

The third Saint Mary’s group suggested breaking Cotter students into groups to work on an academic-based presentation/performance about countries other than their own. Each group, they suggested, could choose a country to highlight through poems, dances, plays, and visual arts. Through an interactive performance, participants could introduce the audience to each country’s flags, currency, music, historical figures, food, movies, athletics, and dance. The event, they said, could bring the entire school together, and families and community members could also be invited.

Sister Judith Schaefer, president of Cotter Schools, said she knew her students appreciated that someone was truly listening to them and helping them come up with creative ideas.

“Some of what the students suggested are things we do,” she said. “We have an international week and a night where they cook together, but we are always looking for ideas to build into our curriculum—and things we can implement with our current living structure to connect our students. This was very useful and really fun.”

According to Saint Mary’s professor Dr. Lori Charron, “A basic skillset for leaders includes the abilities to listen, understand, and respond. This problem-based learning assignment asks my students to do just that within the community. By interacting with students from diverse cultures, our student leaders learn to understand—and appreciate—multiple perceptions of an issue, find workable solutions, and present them in a manner that entices the audience.

“Besides that, our students are having fun getting to know some amazing Cotter students from around the world. It’s a win-win for our students and Cotter High School.”

Photo caption: Rachel Mohs and her team present during “International Apprentice.”


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