A university can be an intimidating place. Upon entrance students are required to learn a whole new way of life: new books, classes, schedules, friends. Now imagine having to do this in a new language.

Every school year, approximately 1,200 students from around the globe enter Washington State University and encounter this situation. With the help of the Intensive American Language Center (IALC) and Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories (SEL), some of these students have at least one solution to the problem.

Over the past two years, SEL has and continues to provide funding for design, advertising, implementation and scholarships for a 16-week course in which international students may not only improve their English skills, but learn more about their field of study. The course, designed to accelerate the English base of international engineering and business majors, is for those who want to more rapidly and successfully participate in their department courses.

“Schweitzer really deserves recognition for what they’ve done,” said Pam Duran, director of the IALC. “The students who take the class are really positive about it.”

Funding boosts enrollment
Planning for the program began three years ago, when WSU international graduate student Yukio Iwaki realized a need for a special-interest English as a Second Language course for international students. His idea, to create a class in which international students could learn more about terminology in their chosen field, set the ball rolling, said Marsha Royer of SEL.

“His idea was intriguing, and made a lot of sense. We spoke about how that might look, and I talked to Dr. (Ed) Schweitzer about funding it,” said Royer. “He agreed that a course of that nature could be helpful for WSU students, other students and SEL employees needing support in English language skills.”

The cost of the initial plan stifled enrollment. However, in 2004, SEL began offering Yukio Iwaki/ Schweitzer Scholarships, giving priority to engineering students selected by the IALC Scholarship Committee. As a result, registration for the class soared from five to 30 students.

“Two sections of 12 to 15 students were going last fall, and we had one in the following spring,” Duran said. “Now we have one section and aim for 10 to 12 students to maintain a personal atmosphere.”

A proposal is in the works to award WSU credit for the class.

Building relationships
While enrolled, students are presented with a core theme, around which they learn presentation skills, vocabulary and speech. Previous themes have included: analyzing the company Airbus from engineering and business aspects; and the 10 worst engineering disasters of the world — for example, the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

The course instructor corresponds with students’ departments on how they are progressing.

“The relationship (between WSU and SEL) has been really positive,” said Robert Olsen, associate dean for the College of Engineering and Architecture. “No hiccups in the program that I am aware of.”

The collaboration between WSU and one of its community neighbors is seen as a great success story and model for the future.

“Schweitzer’s steadfast allegiance validates WSU’s quality programs and creates numerous opportunities to ensure excellence in all that we do,” said WSU President V. Lane Rawlins in a letter to SEL. “Your tireless advocacy supports and impacts WSU at the highest level, paving a path to a bright future for the university and the community it serves.”