Steven D. Ward, M.P.A.

Foreign Assistant Professor of Political Science, Chosun University

A Case Study in Improving Student Engagement

In 2004 I was a graduate student at the University of Missouri, and I started working with a program called English Proficiency and Internship (EPI). It involved students from Asia coming to MU for a 6-week intensive educational experience.

When I started working with the program as a Graduate Assistant, the two most time-consuming jobs were:

  1. Securing job shadow opportunities for the participants.
  2. Finding trustworthy mentors from the MU student population to make friends with the Korean students and give them a taste of what college life is like for students in the heart of America.

The job shadowing was fairly straightforward. Luckily we had existing relationships with local businesses and government agencies and we could secure a spot with just a phone call. I felt like there just HAD to be a way to systematize the recruiting of the mentors, though, and I thought about it for a long time.

Finally, one day I was out walking on campus and I saw an advertisement for a leadership class where you take a “ropes” course. This is where you learn leadership and team building by climbing up rock walls, rappelling down, and crossing rope bridges and things.

The thing that stuck with me about that ad was the word “course.” It was actually a credit-earning course. Now it was only like one credit hour or something like that, but I was intrigued enough to investigate. It turned out that it was run by the Office of Service Learning, and that was not the only experiential course on offer. Students could get credit through various travel programs and volunteering. That caught my attention.

We ended up going through the Office of Service Learning to create a course, complete with a curriculum that included an orientation session and reflective essay assignments, and we made it available to students in the Honors College.

By the end of the first EPI program, we had actually started hearing complaints from the regular international students because some of them had been on campus for years and were not getting to see what they called the “real” college experience.

If you look at the EPI website now, you can see that the Collegiate Ambassadors program is still going strong.

But what would I do different, now? 

My biggest mistake with EPI and the Collegiate Ambassadors was trying to micromanage. I wish I would have trusted the ambassadors, and the participating students themselves more and even delegated more responsibilities to them.

I would also love to have the opportunity to try a similar program again now that we have smartphones and apps like Slack that would make coordinating the team of volunteers SO much easier.