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Participants of the new American Culture and English for International Business Students Program pose for a group photo.

Cultural orientation helps new students adapt to American life

Kellogg School’s ACE program gives international scholars tools to excel in unfamiliar environment

By Crystal Gentilello

8/17/2007 -

Before they hope to ace their exams at the Kellogg School, new international students are taking steps to strengthen their understanding of what life is like in the United States. Early signs indicate they are acing this course too.

Throughout August, 33 newly admitted Kellogg School students have participated in a series of intensive classes providing an introduction to both the Kellogg MBA environment and American culture and conversation.

“Kellogg wants international students to know how important they are to us,” said Carla Edelston, senior associate director at the school’s Career Management Center, speaking about the American Culture and English for International Business Students Program (ACE), which runs Aug. 6 to 24 on the Evanston campus.

Developed in consultation with Northwestern University’s School of Continuing Studies, this program was designed specifically for full-time students in the two-year MBA and Master of Management and Manufacturing programs who have less than one year of experience living, working or studying in an English-speaking country.

Kellogg is known for its inclusive culture, and each year, the school brings together students from all over the world. International students form 31 percent of the incoming Class of 2009. “We felt that the cultural piece was as important as the academic piece in terms of maximizing the Kellogg MBA experience for international students,” explained Wendy Metter, associate director of student affairs, describing the development of the program’s curriculum.

The Kellogg School spent months defining what the program should be by speaking with professors and creating focus groups with current international students to understand their needs better. They found that while most non-U.S. students are comfortable listening to English when they arrive to Kellogg, not being familiar with American sports or popular culture can make informal conversation at social events difficult. The ACE program helps prepare international students for these and other situations that will occur inside and outside the Kellogg classroom.

Program participant Toshi Matsuo from Tokyo said, “I wanted to feel prepared entering class and socializing with Americans. Now I have a better understanding of what I will be expected to do. I have a head start,” adding “We all need a head start.”

Instructed by Northwestern University faculty experienced in teaching English to speakers of other languages, students learned the details of successful business and social interactions. They sharpened linguistic skills such as speech acts, sentence intonation and listening strategies, while learning about the socio-cultural aspects of conversational behavior. Participants also had extensive practice in teamwork and case study discussions, as well as pronunciation and accent reduction training.

What is often foreign to international students is the Kellogg School’s interactive culture. On top of a cultural introduction, the ACE program prepares students to thrive in the classroom. “In Russia, we are not encouraged to speak up in class,” said ACE student and Moskow native Stanislav Satsuk. “Being expected to give your opinion was surprising, but it was a pleasant surprise.”

Interspersed with guest speakers and simulations, highlights from the program included a lecture on “U.S. Culture and Business Media” by Kellogg Assistant Dean and Chief Marketing Officer Richard Honack ’94 and a case discussion led by Clinical Associate Professor of Marketing Julie Hennessy ’82, the 2007 L.G. Lavengood Professor of the Year. Social and cultural events included an architecture ferry tour on the Chicago River, a student panel on culture shock, and a dining etiquette and networking tutorial at the Hilton Garden Hotel in Evanston.

Exchanging ideas and experiences on the pages of their blog, “ACEin’ America,” participants played an active role in enriching a program that, in its first year, is already a success. Flavia Takey from São Paulo, Brazil, said, “I think the course made me much more confident in class. It was definitely worth it.”

Matsuo agreed. “Without it, I might have felt a bit lost.”