Posted on: September 1, 2015

Issue 4: Why I Love Teaching at VIU?

Issue 4: Why I Love Teaching at VIU?

When people ask me why I teach at VIU, which is far away from my home, instead of teaching at nearby universities in Maryland, I have one answer: I love my students at VIU and I feel that they love me too. But there are many reasons why I love teaching at VIU.

By Dereje B. Tessema, PhD, PMP, CEA

It has been almost six years since I started teaching at Virginia International University (VIU), and throughout this time I have seen the university change and grow both in delivery of quality education and in the number of students studying here from different parts of the world.  I teach graduate courses in management, leadership, and research methods for the School of Business as well as information technology courses for the School of Computer Information Systems. I live and work in Rockville, Maryland and my commute to the university is challenged by the three notorious highways around the DC area (270, 495, and 66).

Several years ago, I was an international student in another country (Germany) and I went through circumstances and challenges similar to those my students are facing now. I understand and appreciate the struggle of each student to learn the language, way of life, and culture of another country while also dealing with missing home and family members.

In a typical class I have students from various countries with different backgrounds, cultures, and values. This diversity has made the university a melting pot for international students. I have attended a few cultural shows and events held at the university and found them to be testimonies to the seamless integration of cultures on campus. Of course, life for students continues after VIU and I have seen students from totally different countries and cultures get engaged or married, work together, travel to one another’s countries, and create lasting bonds. The university provides a prayer and meditation room allowing students to practice their religious rituals and I am amazed by the level of respect they show each other as they wait for their turns.

I see my students as my clients and try to give them full attention from the time they come to my class until their graduation and transition to the next step in their lives. I am asked by students to write recommendation letters to their potential employers and universities, sometimes years after they graduate from VIU.

Either at the beginning or the end of the class, I listen to students’ stories and try to encourage or comfort them as necessary by reminding them that there is an even better tomorrow waiting for them. Their stories are memorable. A few students who lived in Northern Maryland told me that on a typical day it could take them over three hours to get to VIU (one way), and yet they were always on time. Two students once told me they had to finish their 9:20 PM class and then take a series of three buses to New York and New Jersey (they commuted three days a week from there).  Some students persevere even under intense health conditions. One student came to school for her proposal presentation with her one-day-old baby boy. A student with kidney failure worked on his assignment from the hospital. A student who had three heart attacks managed to complete the program. I remember another day when I was tied up between classes and forgot to get a snack and a student who knew my schedule brought food from Subway and asked me if I could take a break and eat. Actions like these are common from VIU students and touch my heart.

Some of my students have gone on to pursue doctoral programs at different universities in the US and Canada and still keep in touch for mentorship, requesting recommendation letters or feedback on their work. I enjoy and appreciate knowing that they continue to pursue their dreams.

Advanced Research Project is the only class in the School of Business that every student has to take before graduating. This course gives students a foundational framework on how to perform business research, which is a critical component of the MBA and other master’s programs. We developed the course in such a way that students pick their own topics, topics they are passionate about, and I provide them with guidance on their research throughout the semester.

Our graduate technical assistants (GTAs) guide them in formatting their papers using the APA standard. The level of interest and engagement in this class is not much different from a similar class at another university’s doctoral program, and I let my students know that the skills they develop here will carry them on to the next level.

This rigorous course starts with students narrowing down their topics of interest to two or three before coming to discuss them with me in a one-to-one session. I work with them to align their selected topic with the research framework and other requirements. After we agree on the topic, the student starts the long journey of finalizing the problem statement, identifying the research question, formulating the hypothesis, linking the research with the relevant theoretical framework, finding relevant peer review journal articles, and designing the research method.

All these activities lead them to the development of their proposals, the first major stage in the research process. Students then present their proposals and, if they are approved, students move on through the next phases: collecting and analyzing data, interpreting and providing recommendations, and lessons learned.

At the end of the class, I am the one who learns from my students’ research. Hundreds of research topics have been covered on current issues around the globe.

Here are examples of the diversity of topics students worked on: “The impact of Syrian and Iraqi refugees on Turkey’s political stability,” “Why the US education system is failing,” “Human trafficking in Colombia,” “The US trade deficit and its implication,” “Healthcare in Sub-Saharan Africa,” “Islamic banking and its policies,” “Medicine counterfeit and its implication,” “Medical tourism and its risk,” “Genetically modified organic food (GMO) and its benefits,” “Diversity in the workplace,” “Employee retention challenges,” “Turkey’s struggle to join the European Union,” “US-Russia geo-political environment and regional stability,” “US-China trade deficit,” “Hispanic prisoners  in Northern Virginia jails,” “Global warming and its impact on the environment,” “Pollution in Mongolia,” “Global logistics and its trend,” “Black Swan theory and its implication on risk management,” “Stock market volatility,” “Ethics in accounting,” “Outsourcing and its benefits.”

And, today, more than 10 students have been invited to present their research works at the International Conference on Interdisciplinary Research Studies to be held at the George Washington University.

As  VIU matures and continues to grow, it is my hope that tolerance, understanding of other cultures, respect, integrity, and quality but affordable education will continue be the symbols of Virginia International University.

University Magazine: Issue 4, Fall 2015