As a French foreign exchange high school student living in Decatur in the 1980s, Florence “Flo” Galy Lebois found herself a frequent visitor to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, as host families, friends and neighbors eagerly showcased the best of the Midwest. Too grateful for their kindness, the 17-year-old could never bring herself to say how very familiar she had become with the view from the top of that silvery slice of skyline.
“I’ve been up in the arch in St. Louis more than 20 times ... People were just so happy to show it to me, I didn’t want to disappoint them,” recalls Lebois. “People are very, very nice here, and you always remember that.” It is exactly that kind of warm hospitality – not to mention the bird’s-eye view – Lebois hopes to bring to her new role as Millikin’s director of international recruitment and global strategy. She began the new position, which centers on global recruiting, in July 2012.
"YOU NEVER KNOW"
“Decatur and Millikin are very special to me. The people are wonderful, and I really enjoy the community here,” says Lebois, who also completed an internship at Millikin in 1992. Still, she had no idea she would return to Decatur to become a catalyst for increasing diversity on Millikin’s campus – a twist of fate that reflects one of her favorite life lessons: “You never know.” Her fate took this unexpected turn when she returned to Decatur in 2010 for her 20th class reunion at St. Teresa High School. During that visit, she crossed paths with Barry Pearson, vice president of academic affairs, right around the time he and Interim President Rich Dunsworth, then vice president of enrollment, were discussing the need for a more strategic approach to international recruiting. Over the years, different staff members have been responsible for various aspects of international recruiting at Millikin. But because it was not the primary duty for any one person, it seldom received the attention it deserved, Dunsworth says.
“To see improvement in international enrollment numbers, it needs to be somebody’s sole focus,” Dunsworth says. “We knew what we wanted, but we didn’t think we could find it all in one person.” But that’s exactly what they found in Lebois, he says. As an associate dean, Lebois had helped grow international enrollment at Centre d’Etudes Franco-Americain de Management (CEFAM) in Lyon, France, an international business school and one of Millikin’s partner universities. “Florence has the academic and curriculum experience, partnership-building experience and she understands young people,” Dunsworth says. “This was a case where the need and the opportunity arose at the same time, as if the stars had aligned.”
It’s now Lebois’ job to link all activities related to global recruiting and apply a unified strategy to guide those activities. “She understands the living, learning and language issues involved with international recruiting,” says Pearson. “She can help us think with a 360-degree view about what we need to do to be competitive in drawing international students.” In a somewhat unusual dual reporting arrangement, Lebois reports directly to two vice presidents – the vice president for academic affairs and the vice president for enrollment. “This reporting relationship is symbolically significant – it acknowledges that enrollment strategy has to take root in academics,” says Pearson. “It breaks apart any notion of silos.”
BUILDING AN INTERNATIONAL BRIDGE
As Lebois reacquaints herself with the Midwest, she works to boost the number of international students on Millikin’s campus from its current number of 35. “For many years, it’s been our objective to have 100 international students on campus,” Dunsworth says. The hope is for Millikin to achieve that goal by fall 2015 and specifically to see greater numbers of four-year international students. The longer term goal five to seven years from now would be to double that number to 200. Lebois is realistic about the need to pace that growth. “We can’t go too fast – we need to be ready,” says Lebois. That means addressing practical issues ranging from housing to healthcare, while navigating social, religious and cultural differences with respect. “If we want to grow, we have to be very, very organized. We have to make it easier to think globally.” Still, “in many ways, we are prepared,” Dunsworth says.
“Our training and development for administrators, faculty and other students is ahead of the curve. The Center for International Education does wonderful training to educate and celebrate our differences.” Based on feedback from previous international students, Millikin may be a strong contender in the international arena. “We have a high rate of satisfaction among our international students,” Pearson says. “They love the close-knit campus community and the fact that they can eat, sleep and socialize in one square block.” Florence galy lebois, mu’s international recruiter Perhaps that’s because the concept of a campus is foreign to many international students, who frequently takes classes at their home institute, but live, work and play elsewhere.
“Millikin is a nice-sized campus where it’s easy to see the enrichment of having international students,” says Lebois, who believes Millikin’s emphasis on performance learning helps in her recruiting efforts. “Millikin is a wonderful place for international students. There are so many opportunities for students; business students in particular. It makes sense.” For Lebois, the first order of business was to ensure that all online program information and applications were presented in a simple, consistent way. “Students need to know what resources we have, and how and where to find them,” she says. “We have to make it very simple.”
PASSPORT TO DIVERSITY
As Lebois paves the way for progress with these types of tactical steps, she is charged with overseeing an overarching international recruiting strategy that points the way on pivotal issues, including geographical regions of focus, academic programs best suited for international study, marketing needs, campus issues such as housing and healthcare, and sources of funding for international study. “I’ll be looking at how we can make Millikin more global in general and how we can build a curriculum with a global touch,” she says, noting that she is building a foundation of universities in Europe, Asia, South America, India and China, where Millikin has existing partnerships. “The relationships Millikin has built are great,” she says. “We want to grow these relationships and see what we can do together.” Lebois also plans to leverage Millikin’s connection to Education USA, a government agency that provides resources for foreign students seeking to apply to U.S. universities. Foreign embassies representing countries of interest are also hearing from Lebois.
CENTERING ON INTERNATIONAL GROWTH
The creation of Lebois’ position adds fuel and strategy to Millikin’s ongoing efforts to go global – efforts that have ebbed and flowed since the early 1990s. “This position is an outgrowth of something faculty have been doing for years,” says Dunsworth, “we’re just adding more human capital to support those efforts.” As the latest addition to Millikin’s international team, Lebois will work closely with the Center for International Education (CIE) and the English Language Center (ELC). The CIE, led by Director Carmen Aravena, provides support for international students already on campus, while also working with faculty and staff to develop immersion courses and export Millikin students abroad. From banking to visa issues, the CIE advises students on virtually every aspect of their international experience.
“The CIE is a full-service, one-stop shop for students going abroad and coming from abroad,” says Pearson. “The Center also helps incoming students understand our classroom expectations and how to participate in the Socratic method of teaching and learning.” As an offshoot of the CIE’s efforts, Millikin’s English Language Center opened its doors in 2011. Offering a four-level transition program that lasts one to three semesters, depending on the student’s needs, the Center helps international students boost their English language skills before beginning a Millikin degree program. For some of these gifted students, English is not a second language, but a third, fourth or even fifth. “We realized three years ago that we had some exceptional applicants – very bright young people who happened to have challenges with English,” Dunsworth says. “The English Language Center will allow Florence to look at partnering with some countries where language is a barrier, so we can grow the number of degree-seeking international students.”
Beyond English, the ELC also focuses on writing, speaking and presentation skills and provides a cultural component to help prepare students for the Millikin classroom experience. For example, South Korean students may hesitate to speak up in class, as that can be considered a sign of disrespect in their home country. They need to know that their Millikin professors not only encourage engagement in their classrooms, but expect it. The first intake of ELC students in 2011, including a group of Saudi Arabian students with specific religious and dietary needs, tested Millikin’s readiness for a more diverse student population. “We had a conversation with them and asked them what we needed to do,” Pearson says. “We worked hard to understand their needs and made modifications to parts of campus to address those needs.”
At the same time, Pearson points out that “students want to feel like students and be part of campus life. They didn’t want to be singled out in a big way. They’re not here wanting to represent the international student population.” His advice in navigating cultural differences is simple: “Be observant and don’t make assumptions.” “Everything Millikin is already doing is very positive. People are very receptive toward international efforts,” says Lebois. “I’m adding some structure and trying to help those who are already doing things.”
No longer an optional area of engagement, global education is critical to the success of Millikin students and to the institution itself. “Every single university in the world knows they have to think globally,” says Lebois. “If we want to stay in the game and be part of this big world of education, we have to think globally, too.” Beyond that, an international focus helps students gain the confidence and cultural awareness they need to land jobs and succeed in a global economy. “You can’t stay in your little bubble and not see the world. It’s important to be open to this world,” says Lebois. “Even if you work at Caterpillar here in Decatur, you’ll be working with people from all over the world.”
Even Millikin students who don’t study abroad – and according to Lebois, only 1 percent of American students do – will benefit from a greater international presence on campus. “They will experience another culture through the students we have welcomed to campus,” says Lebois. “It will give them a more global vision of the world, and that’s important for students, faculty, the campus and the community – everyone.” By focusing on building a more diverse student population, Millikin is committing resources in line with its mission. “Everything we’re doing is driven by our commitment to Millikin’s mission – this is who we are,” Pearson says. “This world is interconnected, and every part of our economy is affected by the global economy. Helping students acquire the skills and confidence to succeed in a global environment is the most important thing we can do for them.”
In fact, global learning speaks directly to Millikin’s three-pronged mission, which aims to prepare students for professional success; a personal life of meaning and value; and democratic citizenship in a global environment. “Our students are going to work in a global environment, far more than any previous generation has,” says Dunsworth. “For them to understand the role of democracy – and the freedoms we have as a nation – they need to understand the world around them.” One of the true powers of an international education lies in its ability to unmask assumptions masquerading as knowledge – to transform tolerance into understanding and perhaps move fear into friendship, he feels. And when that happens, the ripple effects could be beyond measure.
Celeste Huttes '88 is a freelance writer specializing in corporate communications. She studied business and philosophy at Millikin and holds a master’s degree in human resource management.