A worldwide education
Exploring UW-Marshfield/Wood County’s international program
By Kris Leonhardt
MARSHFIELD — Ginger Sternweis’ road to postsecondary education was a unique journey.
“I graduated from Marshfield High School, and I came for a semester and a half right after high school, but I did not do very well, so I decided not to continue at that point in time,” she said.
Sternweis took a position in Saint Joseph’s Hospital in Food and Nutrition, where she remained for a while before taking a child care position at the Tiny Tigers Intergenerational Center.
“I needed, of course, the training that went with, so as I was hired, I completed the training certification to become an assistant child care teacher,” added Sternweis.
While Sternweis enjoyed working with children, she longed for a career with more secure compensation and headed back to school at the University of Wisconsin-Marshfield/Wood County.
“I started back in spring of 2014,” explained Sternweis. “I came back and went into my associate degree program and graduated in May of 2015. Then I transitioned into the Bachelor of Applied Arts & Sciences (BAAS) degree and have been working on that since.”
The international program
“Here on this campus it started the summer of 2015,” stated Marta Rusten, interim international program coordinator. “We did have two international students prior to that, but we didn’t have an international coordinator. I believe they came the fall of 2014.”
Emery Bork was hired as the first international coordinator at the school.
“She was the coordinator at the UW-Richland — because they have a pretty big program,” explained Rusten, who is filling in for Bork while she is on maternity leave. “She was hired to come (to Marshfield) because she has expertise in ESL, English as a second language, and we have a pretty large ESL program here. That is our big program.
“What we do is we basically get these students that their English isn’t quite ready to be in academic classes yet, so they start with us, and they work on their English. Once they get through that, they go into our academic program.
“The good thing about them being here is that they can do both. So a lot of times if they’ve passed their oral communication and they’ve passed their grammar class but maybe they have one more reading and writing class, we’ll put them in a couple of academic classes just to kind of get their feet wet and transition them.”
The UW international program currently consists of 46 students with approximately 15 of them in ESL. The original two students that started the program are now enrolled at UW-Madison, which Rusten said is the goal for most of the international students who come to Marshfield.
“The UW has a guaranteed transfer program,” added Rusten. “So if our students maintain a certain GPA and they complete certain courses and credits, they are guaranteed admission into Madison.
“Most of our students are from China. Then we have about seven students from South Korea and one student from Vietnam.”
The road to the United States
“I think that (students) study in the Chinese university for one year to improve their language. Then they come here, but for me I took an English test, … and then I came here without any program,” said Muen Chen, whose American name is Alice. “I know some of my friends, they earned some credits in China. Then they take 14 credits here so they can accumulate and keep studying.”
“So we have a combination,” added Rusten. “We have some that have already done a little bit of college. We have some that have done some high school in the United States. We have some that are actually high school students in China, and to forego taking this massive test in China that they make students take, they come here instead to finish up for high school.”
Students, like Chen, are recruited to the UW system through agents at their universities.
Chen’s interest in pursuing a career in international business led her to UW-Marshfield/Wood County.
“I know how that GPA (to get into the Madison program) is very high, like almost 3.8-4.0,” Chen said. “Last semester my GPA is 3.57, but I think that if I cannot (get in), maybe I’ll decide my major to agriculture applied economics.”
A preview of things to come
“Part of my (capstone) project is creating an International Student Preview Day, so students that are interested can come here and experience what we have to offer at UW-Marshfield/Wood County as well as just to get an overall picture of what college life is like in America,” said Sternweis.
“Part of what we do on International Student Preview Day is we will have sample classes — both ESL classes and academic classes — that they can attend. We also have Marta talking about admission requirements. I have current international students like Alice coming, so they can talk to our international students, as well as tours of the campus and student housing,” she added.
The International Student Preview will be held on the UW-Marshfield/Wood County campus on April 22 from 2-5 p.m. For more information visit marshfield.uwc.edu/academics/international-program or call 715-389-6530.