Ann Cunningham is a Wake Forest professor in the education department.
She currently teaches first year seminars, as well as a design and technology course for education major and minors.
She spent a few years in China working for Wake Forest on a program designed to help Chinese high school students looking to attend college in the United States.
What prompted your visit to China?
I was asked to be the chief academic officer of the Wake Forest Advantage program. My job was to design a curriculum for Chinese high school students who were interested in coming to universities in the United States.
What was your experience in China like?
Incredible. It was a major growth opportunity for sure. All the way from changing my thinking about what we’re doing to the planet to an admiration for the culture and what kids in China do to actually be successful. It was the whole shebang, and I just loved visiting the cultural spots as well as the people, who were extremely kind and graceful.
Has that helped you better connect with international students from China?
Yes, it does make a difference because they like to know that somebody understands and knows where they come from and what their lifestyle is like. On the other hand , I can also help faculty members. I’ve been asked to speak to faculty members and advisers who would like to learn a little bit more about dispositions and issues associated with teaching international students. I’ve been involved, and I teach first year seminars, so I’m involved with international students in my classes.
Tell me a little about the entrepreneurship program you were a part of that took you to China.
What happened was the plan that we had didn’t work out, so it has been modified into something else. But I left that program as soon as I was finished with what I was doing there and went back into the classroom because I love teaching so much.
But if anything came out of it, it was everybody learned something about doing business in China. And it’s not business as usual, there’s a lot more to it. Even if you can speak Mandarin, there are so many different cultural levels in terms of how they do business.
Is there another entrepreneurship program like this one coming to Wake Forest any time soon?
I’m not involved in it because I’m back in the education department. My understanding is that now the model is to do something different. Now, they will take a university professor over to mainland China to teach a class there.
They are looking for a Wake Forest professor to go over and teach a freshman-level course to give students a Wake Forest credit on their transcript.
There are so many agencies that are trying to help [Chinese] kids get over here, but they’re not doing it aboveboard. They are using strategies that are unethical and it’s very difficult, but that’s why it makes having a university come over there and lend them credibility to their application [valuable].
Were students involved in this program in any way?
I took alumni and two of my undergrad uate students to teach at a summer academy I ran. So I got to hand-select who came with me from the department of education as well as two students that got to study abroad with me in New Zealand.
One thing that makes a big difference is I prepare students to be in the classroom. One of the undergraduates I worked with applied for a job in Atlanta and got hired before she even graduated from Wake Forest.
They were so impressed by her experiences in New Zealand and China. It’s a very big initiative in American education to be globalized. If you want to be highly desirable candidate, get some global experience.
What do you think are the values of globalized education?
It’s critical. You’re going to be working in a globalized economy, and you need to understand theirs. Intercultural competence is valued highly anywhere. Lessons that we learned on our entrepreneurial venture were associated with not really getting the culture and business. So making sure that you have spent time overseas and really engaged with the culture is very helpful.
I’m promoting study abroad to my freshman classes. Anything you can do to engage with the local people, learn more and help them understand that we’re not all that bad.
What do you like the most about working for Wake Forest?
I’ve been here since 1999, and I think what I like the most about Wake Forest is the ability to reinvent yourself in your work. I love working with bright young students and having opportunities to take advantage of opportunities like working in China. There’s a lot of support from the current administration and the office of global programs is outstanding.
Would you recommend education as a major at Wake Forest?
That’s a tough question because I really want to prepare a lot of teachers but at the same time, right now, especially in this state, it’s not a good climate. But they’re in high demand, so if Wake Forest students are interested, you learn so much from teaching and about the diversity of our country.
That being said, I think everyone should do it, you do change people and have an effect on young people’s ways of thinking even though the society does not value it.