by Mariah Kennedy - July 20, 2012
When Tara Braun was a student at Ferris, in the late 1980s, it was rare to see an international student around campus.
“I had no idea there were formal programs to study abroad or that welcomed international students to campus,” said Braun, who became international exchange manager in the Office of International Education in March. “There have been big changes since then, with international aspects integrated into the classroom, growth in the number of international students on campus and growth in the number of Study Abroad options.
“The changes are obvious as you stroll through campus now, with more international faces, events, programming and awareness.”
Braun was just 2 when her family moved to Big Rapids and her father, Larry Wagner, began teaching at Ferris. She was introduced to international education when he was granted a sabbatical to go to Malaysia.
“That was my first exposure,” said Braun, who worked for seven years with Ferris’ Study Abroad program before moving to her current position.
Now, Braun is responsible for assisting international students through the application process in addition to evaluating immigration documents, foreign transcripts and other documents necessary for admission. She strives to make the admission process as simple as possible.
“It is important to have patience and understanding with international students’ needs, because they may not be familiar with the American and Ferris processes of admission,” Braun said. “International students spend a lot of time and money preparing to study in America; the VISA process can be costly and complicated, so whatever we can do to make the admission process simple for them is important.”
Ferris provides international students with an opportunity to experience a large university within the safety and comfort of a small town.
“Ferris is appealing to international students not only because of the vast and specialized programs we offer, but because of the individualized attention they can receive in the low faculty-to-student ratio classrooms,” Braun said. “They are surprised by the welcoming nature of both the campus and community once they arrive.”
Ferris offers free academic support services, such as tutoring, writing and study skills assistance, an Intensive English Program, and several student organizations for international students. An extensive orientation is designed to create a welcoming and supportive atmosphere.
Braun sees the impact that her work with international students and students studying abroad has, and finds it rewarding when alumni acknowledge that their international experience helped them get a job.
“The impact we make on students’ lives may not be apparent until after they have graduated and started their careers, but it is so rewarding to hear how we have made an impression on their lives,” she said.
Braun believes that studying abroad is a very important aspect of learning that all students should consider because of the life-changing experience, both personally and academically. Ferris offers multiple Study Abroad options for students, including a semester abroad, a faculty short-term program and internships.
“Making sure your education includes an appreciation of other cultures, languages and the problems and contributions of other countries will ensure that you are prepared for the global economy and workforce,” Braun said. “It is not uncommon for someone on the job to have to coordinate with another country or culture, so it’s important that we prepare students to cope with these constant changes which will create a strong background for career choices.”
Braun, who earned a master’s in Education in 2011, will pursue a doctorate in Education at Western Michigan University next spring.
Braun hopes to increase international education opportunities through additional Study Abroad programs and different ways to help students, financially. She also is trying new recruitment tools to attract more international students to Ferris.
“It’s exciting to know you are helping make a difference in someone else’s life by making it better, and influencing them in ways they wouldn’t have been influenced had they stayed in their own country,” Braun said.
Mariah Kennedy is a News Services student writer in University Advancement and Marketing.