Certificate program creates 'purposeful inclusion'

Certificate program creates 'purposeful inclusion'

by Michele Coffill

By taking a few extra classes before graduating, students in Grand Valleys Intercultural Training Certificate program make themselves more marketable to employers, and, more importantly, have the skills to navigate a diverse world.

For example, Raymond Yeow was among the first cohort of students to complete the ITC program in April 2012. Yeow earned a bachelors degree in cell and molecular biology and biomedical sciences, and is now enrolled in medical school.

Raymond Yeow

Yeow said he was interested in participating in ITC because he knew that someday he would be treating patients from many different cultures.

Society is becoming more globalized and theres an increase in the number of interactions among people of different cultures, Yeow said. Not that we have to accept other peoples views as our own, but we need to recognize and respect their differences.

Since I will someday be a physician, I will work with people of different cultures.

Yeow is now enrolled in the Oakland University William Beaumont School of Medicine and serves on one of the universitys diversity teams. He said earning intercultural certification, which is noted on a students transcript, played an important role while he was applying to medical schools.

It was one of the things that made me unique among all the medical school applicants,
he said.

Regina McClinton, director of the ITC program, understood that employers are seeking job candidates who possess multicultural competencies, an awareness of people who are different from them, and the ability to engage in respectful dialogue with different cultures.

McClinton joined Grand Valleys faculty in 2003 and had served as associate professor of cell and molecular biology. Her passion for learning about different cultures and ability to problem-solve led McClinton to approach Grand Valley administrators about establishing a
certificate program.

I remember talking to a student who needed an essay for graduate school about his experiences in diversity and I thought, Well, you dont have any, she said. Getting this program started was also in response to how Grand Valley and other universities were addressing the cultural expectation level of their students.

The ITC was established in 2011. Completing the certificate requires only a few extra classes, including a practicum in which students immerse themselves in a culture different from their own. The practicum experiences have included study abroad programs, military active duty tours, and common, daily experiences.

I had one student who worked at a nursing home and wanted to see what it was like to be in a wheelchair, and another who had assumptions about suburban school kids, so she spent a lot of time in a suburban elementary school, she said.

photo by Amanda Pitts Regina McClinton, left, listens to Samantha Vangilder during a capstone course for the Intercultural Training Certificate program.

Students, too, are recognizing the importance of cultural certification. McClinton said there are now five sections of the introductory ITC course. This fall, a new section will be available for nursing and health professions majors.

ITC courses are discussion oriented. McClinton and other faculty members facilitate discussions about privilege, race, gender, orientation, ability and culture. Through the program, participants will learn to move beyond common assumptions and stereotypes and learn to develop authentic relationships, McClinton said.

When you understand what goes on in peoples lives, what their background is and what their lives are like, you are better off interacting with them, she said.

McClinton plans to launch a version of ITC for the business community in the fall. The Institute for Intercultural Training and Learning (IITL) will provide cross-cultural education and training for West Michigan businesses and nonprofit organizations.

One company was on board before IITL officially opened to the community. Leaders at Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids learned about the program at the same time the nonprofit was making internal changes to be a more inclusive and welcoming workplace. Sending an employee to earn certification made perfect sense, according to Corey Thomas, director of human resources.

Colin Smith works with Thomas in the human resources department for Goodwill. She graduated from Grand Valley in 2006 with a bachelors degree in business administration, and returned in 2011 to be in the first ITC cohort.

It was ideal for me to be able to continue my education and, by doing so, we were able to create an internal expert in intercultural training, Smith said.

Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids has more than 600 employees, while many work in Goodwills retail stores, others are involved in workforce training.

People who work for Goodwill have great hearts and they work for us because they want to help people, Thomas said. We saw this ITC program as an incredible opportunity to take people who have a good hearts and use their open-mindedness to look carefully at the types of lives others live.

Since earning the certification, Smith has helped make changes to Goodwills employee orientation program and created an inclusive practices manual. She also led efforts to have Goodwill certified as a full partner among the Partners for a Racism-Free Community, an initiative of West Michigan businesses and organizations.

Thomas also listed a seemingly simple change that likely means a lot to a certain population. He said Goodwill changed its job application to be more inclusive of applicants who have criminal backgrounds. We explain that we are supportive of hiring people with criminal backgrounds; however, we still have to ask as some positions cannot be held by individuals with particular convictions due to funding we receive, he said.

Thomas said Goodwills efforts, along with Smiths intercultural certification have made the organization purposely inclusive. If all you do is talk about inclusion, but theres no actual change, it feels like lip service, he said.

McClinton agreed and said the launch of the IITL comes at the right time for West Michigan businesses and organizations.

The demographics in Grand Rapids have changed, she said. People need to stop and think how to interact with each other. Companies understand that a lack of diversity training will hinder their bottom line, and they want to find the best practices out there.

Visit the ITC website, which includes information about IITL, at www.gvsu.edu/itc.

Page last modified May 9, 2013