Hoping For Global Connections

May 13, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — While Creston High School senior Alexis VanHaitsma looks forward to using her experience in French and Spanish in her future, Junior Achievement volunteer Karen Wolf is helping her and her classmates learn more about the global economy and how she could put those languages to use.

VanHaitsma and about 100 other students from Creston and Central high schools are learning about the culture, methods and tools of the global economy and how to use them in their future careers in a six-week program sponsored by the West Michigan World Trade Association and Junior Achievement.

The classes started meeting in April, and today will be the capstone of the class at the Student Global Awareness Program at Grand Valley State University. The day is part of West Michigan World Trade Week.

“The idea is to provide a little bit of excitement to the general curiosity and willingness to learn more about some of the global culture, some of the global influence on our economy, even global adventures that await their arrival into some of these places in the world,” said Scott Hibbard, vice chairman of West Michigan World Trade Week and vice president of international trade at Comerica Bank.

“We were looking for something that was going to expand the discussion to include younger people,” Hibbard said. “We’re hoping that they will understand more of the dynamics of global economy and intercultural relations.”

Hibbard said he wanted to catch the interest of the students and expand their vision of the global economy.

“We view our event to be a very relevant and useful complement to the Grand Rapids Public School system,” he said.

Though 100 students is a good number for the first year, Hibbard said he would like to see the program grow to involve more students.

“We thought 100 would be a nice number to start at,” he said. “But if it’s God’s will and this thing is well received, we hope to make that number much larger in the years to come.”

Hibbard said surveys have found that students have a large knowledge gap when it comes to global economy, particularly about Asia’s importance in the economy.

“More international exposure and discussion would be a welcome addition to the learning experience,” he said. “It seems to be something that the school system could use as a complement. They seem to be welcoming of our effort, and I think it’s a kind of nice partnership.”

Creston junior Tyler Cotter said he thought the program was teaching about more than just globalization.

“It’s trying to get us to become successful,” he said.

VanHaitsma said the program has helped her to learn more about other cultures.

“It really offers us a chance to understand how other people work,” she said.

Wolf, vice president of emerging markets at The Right Place Inc., said this is the first time she has taught a class for Junior Achievement. Wolf said the program is important because it will help prepare the students for the future job market.

“As they graduate and begin working, every single job now has an international element to it,” she said. “If one of them can be influenced by this class, we’ve already achieved the goal.”

Christine Friedt, job shadow coordinator and education assistant for Junior Achievement of the Michigan Great Lakes, said JA has been working with students regarding the international marketplace for 10 years. The program was updated last year to involve the global marketplace. This is the first year the program has partnered with West Michigan World Trade Week.

“A lot of these students don’t know how connected they actually are,” she said. “They are much more globally connected than they think they are.”

Friedt said they use examples like where the shoes and clothing the students are wearing came from.

“We just start looking at the labels,” she said. “Right there you’ll have 25 different countries that their stuff is made in.”

At the event, students will have a chance to hear about international studies and experiences, and jobs and opportunities throughout the world. They’ll also visit information booths for area colleges and the armed services to learn about opportunities after high school. The colleges will be offering information on international curriculum, overseas study programs, grants and scholarships and financial aid. Parents of the students are also invited.

The Grand Rapids Sister Cities program will be represented at the event to show what opportunities it has for students.

“That’s something they can participate in, as well,” Friedt said.

“There have been a number of organizations involved in putting this thing on, which is very rewarding to see,” Hibbard said.

Students participating in the program also have the chance to compete for a scholarship from National City by writing an essay on the importance of international trade to West Michigan. The scholarships are set at $500 for two students, but National City has the option to award one exceptional student with a $1,000 scholarship. The scholarships are to be used toward the pursuit of post-high school education or training. Scholarship winners will be recognized at an upcoming Grand Rapids Public Schools Board of Education meeting.    

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