From left, Amit Rama of Zambia, Carlos Torres of Mexico, Agata Gora of Poland (in background), Andy George of Micronesia, Thanchanok Ruangsiriwut of Thailand and Dae-Jun Kim of Korea are learning project management skills at SOU. - Bob Pennell

Students learn to be doers

MEDFORD — As she looks about her class in Project Management, Southern Oregon University professor Hart Wilson sees faces from Zambia, Brazil, Poland, Micronesia, Korea, Thailand, Mexico and, of course, the United States.

"It's like a little United Nations, really fun, and they bring interesting ideas and practices for managing projects from their homeland," says Wilson, a program manager in SOU's Master in Management Program. Every Monday evening in the new Medford Higher Education Center, Wilson's students learn the basics of proposing, planning and implementing projects, skills they'll take back to their own countries. Her international students found SOU and her class online, started an e-mail conversation with her and chose the Rogue Valley for its natural beauty, small-town pace and cultural richness, she says.

Amit Rama of Zambia says the classroom's diversity will help him prepare for working with many cultures in the global business environment.

"I love the diversity here and the knowledge that's coming from all over the world, with all the opinions," says Rama. "It's impressive."

After getting his Master in Management degree, Rama plans to use his skills to promote solar energy and "sustainable tourism" in Zambia.

Andy George is executive director of the Kosrae Conservation and Safety Organization in the Federated States of Micronesia. He plans to use his project management skills in biological data collection at coral reefs in the Utwe Biosphere Reserve.

"It's quite interesting to see a lot of students from other countries. It makes me realize how small the world is and how important project management is," George says.

As project managers, the students will be working with people they've never seen before and likely won't see again, so it's important they master "soft skills" — communicating and coordinating while respecting everyone's comfort zone, says Wilson.

Successful project managers learn the art of temperament assessment — recognizing whether a person is a thinker, doer, relater or influencer, she says.

Jamile Cerqueira of Brazil is studying project management and earning her master's to pursue a career as a diplomat.

"In such a career, you do many projects, negotiations, meeting people and making things happen. You need to be very clear about your mission, vision and where you want to arrive," says Cerqueira.

"Here, it's great to learn how to work with people of different backgrounds, because, as a diplomat, I'm not just going to be dealing with people from my own country."

Like other international students, Cerqueira lauds the peace, safety and beauty of the SOU region, as well as its theater and cultural offerings.

A member of SOU's United Nations Club, Cerqueira is using project management techniques in many on-campus events of United Nations week, which started Monday. They include talks and panels on Darfur, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the cocoa trade and challenges facing the U.N.

Korean Dae-Jun Kim was a high school exchange student in Paisley. He graduated from SOU and now does global investment standards verification for Ashland Partners, based in Jacksonville. He's building project management skills so he can interface with colleagues all over the world.

Carlos Torres, a lawyer from Guanajuato, Mexico, calls the project management class "surprising, in the number of students from all over the world, with a great collection of skills and different approaches to handling projects."

Lorin Schrader, who works for Erickson Air-Crane Inc. in Central Point, says he manages many one-time projects involving diverse groups and the class is helping him hone soft skills to "remove roadblocks and make sure everyone is getting what they want."

"It's the most diverse class I've ever had," Schrader says. "We work on many small group activities. It's not so much what you learn but when you work with diverse people, you learn a lot of different dynamics for the job."

The fast pace of the American business world is a different experience for people from other cultures, Schrader says.

"I come from a high-pressure business world and talk fast. Other cultures have their own timing about how discussions go. We're faster than most. People from diverse cultures have a much, much more social view of meetings."

Rama agrees, noting, "It's very straight-to-the-point here, focused on achieving the target, getting to the goal. Where I'm from in Zambia, it's more laid back. If you don't finish the project, they give you more time."

Cerqueira says she's noticed American business shows greater respect to employees' lives, welfare and working conditions and employees can use the legal system to correct wrongs. It's not that way in Brazil, she says.

The class is learning to tune into idiomatic usages that, while easily understood by Americans, make little sense to other cultures, says Wilson. For instance, she once said, "This project is a dog," but it didn't translate because the international students thought of dogs in a positive way.

John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at

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