“Our international program is unlike any other in the state of California.”
When Eva Janos, an alumna of the UCSC Silicon Valley Extension Project and Program Management certificate program, received an H-1B visa to work at a Silicon Valley company she delivered flowers to the International Program team thanking them for making it possible.
“I am so happy,” she said. “It means the world to me.”
Professionals like Eva who are focused on gaining practical skills for the workforce have helped make UCSC Extension’s one of the most successful international programs in the UC system.
“Our international program is unlike any other in the state of California and probably across North America because we target prospective working professionals,” says Lynda M. Rogers, dean of UCSC Extension. “Many other international programs have seen steep declines of as much as 30-40 percent over the last several years. Not ours.”
The rapid expansion grows from an ongoing focus on what Silicon Valley professionals need.
“We do things differently here,” Rogers says, crediting Michael Mrache, recently retired director of International Programs and Workforce Development, and his dedicated team. “We looked at the market and found an unmet need among prospective students.”
Up until about 10 years ago, UCSC Extension provided English language intensive (ELI) training programs for high school graduates, prospective UC undergraduates, and corporate customers. ELI students would take four to six weeks of English language training and possibly take a course on the main campus before completing their visit of California with a scenic trip.
Mrache, who started off as office manager of the international program at the time and later became the program representative for International Custom Programs, remembers organizing classroom activities, transportation, and housing for a revolving door of international guests. Meanwhile, only a few dozen other international students discovered the Extension certificate program online and registered on their own.
In 2008, the international program and English-language program closed. In the next few years, the program underwent a transformation. It left Santa Cruz and joined the Silicon Valley campus. It was there the UCSC Extension found its niche in the international market—professionals who would benefit from the unique Silicon Valley culture that is the backdrop of all Extension workforce development programs.
“It was very attractive for international students to develop skills and study in Silicon Valley,” Mrache says.
Mrache, who took over responsibilities for the international program in 2011.
“We looked at our classrooms and noticed that many students were the spouses of workers on H-1B visas,” Mrache said. “They were often highly educated but unable to work due to work restrictions or they needed to update their skills.”
The International program staff started a series of workshops introducing its Silicon Valley-style certificate programs to the H-4 visa community that was enthusiastically received and the number of international students multiplied.
Most students also wanted to gain practical job experience during their study by working in unpaid internships with local employers. What was just a handful of internships turned into about 50 internships the following year.
These days, many students find their own internships; others work closely with Extension academic advisors who introduce them to companies interested in international interns. Extension has served students from more than 30 countries and, currently has about 260 full-time international students enrolled in classes, internships and Optional Practical Training positions.
Russian digital marketer and real estate salesman Andrey Palagin had more than 10 internship offers in hand before he arrived in Santa Clara last year for the Marketing Management certificate program. With the help of UCSC Extension partner EC Higher Education, he found housing near the Silicon Valley campus and received individual coaching on his resume and job presentation.
“One of the reasons I applied with this particular program is that it provided me the opportunity for a real working experience in Silicon Valley,” Palagin says. “I was trying to get ahead as soon as possible and to become familiar with the student atmosphere in the U.S.”
For the past two years EC has been marketing UCSC Extension abroad, bringing students to an on-campus English language center where they benefit from intensive, practical training. The organization also provides help with housing, usually as homestays with American families and hopes to offer student apartments in the future.
In the month of March, EC students came from Russia, Korea, Japan, China, United Kingdom, Taiwan, Nigeria, Turkey, Peru, India, and Ukraine. Students who need help with English can take a series of courses and workshops, including a Certificate & Internship Preparation class to prepare them for U.S. academic and career environments. Workshops cover topics such as study skills, making presentations, research methodology, and interviewing skills. Studentsalso benefit from work skills coaching that focuses on resumes, the elevator pitch, how to reach out to individual companies, and professional Silicon Valley culture.
“We are really trying to get them ready for the classroom so they will find academic success while also preparing them for internships,” says Dawn Sherman, vice president of academics and operations for EC. “We support their skill development so they can go out and find success.”
EC plans to add a new part-time career counselor to the campus to further support students in their career preparation.
While changes in immigration work laws have shifted the composition of the Extension international population over the years, these global students have remained a mainstay of the campus community.
“Our international students register through open enrollment in our professional certificate programs,” Rogers says, “and all our students learn side by side. This diverse student population shares a global perspective and wants to change the world for the better. Due to the many contributions of our international students, our academic programs continue to grow and thrive.
The number of students enrolling through the EC Higher program has already doubled.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if our international population doubled again next year,” Mrache says.
In seven years at the helm, Mrache laid a solid foundation for growth going forward.
“What I’m most proud about is growing the program and the growth of the team,” he says. Student advisors Kathy Harrington and Diane Johansen, and Program Assistant Ray Porras work closely to support students. “The international program is a stand-alone program and has significantly contributed to the success of Extension and the certificate programs.”
Replacing Mrache as director of International Programs and Workforce Development is Lajlim (Lali) Yang, who has a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies, master’s degree in Teaching English to speakers of other languages (TESOL) and is currently completing his doctoral studies in higher education at the University of Liverpool. He has held leadership positions related to international study programs at both INTO University Partnerships and Pace University and formerly taught English in South Korea, Thailand, and Germany.
Find out more about our International Program on our website.