Improving Higher Education in Mongolia

Minutes after entering a business management class at Gillette College, it was easy to see what the 12 Mongolian guests were. Their professions translate in any language. The higher education professionals — some who own and operate their own private universities and others who hold high positions in the Mongolian education department — quickly took on the demeanor of professors.

The group of education professionals, who’ve been in Gillette since Friday, have been involved in workshops and discussions on leadership and team building, along with a variety of other topics, at the Peregrine Leadership Institute in Gillette. They were guests in the first class of the spring semester in John McGuire’s business management course on Wednesday evening. They were there to add their expertise on building business teams and came to the class after enjoying the Pronghorns women’s basketball game and American hot dogs, some for the first time. McGuire is the new director of business education at Gillette College and his class will conduct a marketing research project about the college’s cafeteria this spring, aided by Olin Oedekoven, who co-owns Peregrine and its worldwide college services wing.

Ultimately, students will share their research results with other officials in Mongolia through the International Finance and Economic Institute in a simulcast, Oedekoven said. He hopes Mongolian students will agree to do a similar project in their country to share with Gillette College students. As part of that project, he had the Mongolian officials in Gillette talk to students about creating teams and teamwork as they prepare for the marketing research.

With two translators in tow, one of the Mongolians who spoke English well and McGuire, who speaks Russian, interpreting, the students broke into four groups for the discussions. Some moved along slower than others. In the one with McGuire interpreting, Lkhagvasuren Purev, director of the Ministry of Education and Science State Training Foundation in Mongolia, joked with the female students that “maybe you need to work with a boy,” as one way to stimulate enthusiasm. He added, “or have a party, so people can relax and discuss freely.” While students laughed at that, they broke into teams representing different media to promote their study and analysis. Students, on the first night of their class, then asked how best to pick teams or what factors they should look for in building teams.

That is when the professors — Mongolian and American alike — went into high gear. “They immediately went into professor mode,” noted one Peregrine facilitator. They are, undoubtedly, comfortable in a classroom. That was evident no matter what language was spoken, the Gillette College students said.

The Mongolian group, which will leave Gillette on Friday, has a total of about 40 academic degrees and many are presidents or vice presidents of public and private universities in their country, Oedekoven said. They are esteemed leaders in Mongolia. He urged the students to take advantage of the knowledge the group could provide them in the business world. He had one more directive while looking on in McGuire’s room. “If all else fails, go sign language.”

“It’s been pretty crazy” for the first night of class, said Katie Mills. But it was an opportunity the students and Mongolians embraced, too.“It was really interesting,” added freshman Kenzie Huffman. “It was two different cultures, but it was surprising how we worked the same way, even though we are from two different worlds.” Mills had that same take. “They always wanted to make that connection,” she said, adding she thinks the research project “sounds like it will be a lot of fun.”

The Mongolian professors and university presidents spoke about values and how to select a team, how to encourage a team and how to handle difficulties as a leader. They stressed the need for communication, picking the right people with the right talents to be part of your team and knowing your own style as a leader. They also spoke about treating each person on the team with respect. “Nobody works by themselves,” they said. “If you can’t work together, if you don’t have the talent, then it doesn’t matter. You have to know about the lives of those on your team.” Others stressed the need for team leaders to continue learning and acquiring knowledge, to use their experience to also learn new things and care for each team member. “Care for your employees, have humanity and use that to find your voice,” said Baigalmaa Tsembel, doctor and professor at Citi University in Mongolia.“You could tell that they were professors and leaders and had dealt with pressure,” said Tanner Rogen, a Gillette resident who is taking classes while healing from a baseball injury. “This was my first night (in class). It’s definitely a new experience for me. It was unique.”

And that needed no translation.

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