Tuesday, May 1, 2012

We very much believe in international exchange and collaboration at the University of Iowa. I believe our experience demonstrates well how public universities in particular have developed their global consciousness and international presence over time. Our first degree conferred on an international student was in 1864, when John Rapier of Kingston, Jamaica, earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from the UI. In 1890, Professor of Natural Science Charles Nutting began his international expeditions for the Museum of Natural History. This was the period when our modestly sized state school began developing a national profile and an international perspective. In the mid 20th-century, UI President Virgil Hancher enhanced a strong international spirit at Iowa when President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations for 1959.

Nearly thirty years ago, President James O. Freedman provided a great vision for the University of Iowa and its place in the world in the late 20th century. On behalf of the UI, he traveled to Indonesia, Austria, the People's Republic of China, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Israel, Iceland, Italy, and Germany. In his travels, he established foreign exchange programs, spoke on and learned about international education, and participated in Iowa’s outreach programs to other countries. Back home on campus, he encouraged the further development of our study abroad programs and cultivated important international research collaborations.

The UI is the nation’s premier center for creative writing, and Paul Engle, then the director of the renowned Writers’ Workshop, founded the International Writing Program with his wife Hualing Nieh Engle in 1967. Since 1967, over a thousand writers from more than 120 countries have attended the IWP at the University of Iowa to write and engage in cultural exchange. The IWP is one of our premier international programs today and is currently under the direction of Christopher Merrill, who spearheaded the efforts that led to Iowa City becoming the first city in North America and the third city in the world to be designated a UNESCO City of Literature.

International education and the internationalization of our students remains a core focus of the globalization of our campus. Our institutional presence in the world and our efforts to bring the world to campus are at their most vibrant, robust, and productive when we educate students for global awareness and understanding and offer them opportunities for international experience. At Iowa, we encourage our students to study abroad, and we create as many opportunities as we can.

Today, students are more and more seeking out experiential learning, even with study abroad, and they cannot always commit to or financially handle full semesters or years overseas. In recent years, then, we have seen the rise of a number of shorter-term programs. One example is our India Winterim, a three-week program in which students interact with leading social entrepreneurs, environmental and nonprofit organizations, and academic institutions in India. Recent Winterim courses have focused on such areas as sustainability, biodiversity, women’s health, social entrepreneurship, and the arts. Our College of Engineering also offers shorter-term experiential opportunities. Often students will spend a semester in an on-campus course preparing for a project and then embark on a post-course experience. Through programs like this, we have had students build footbridges in Peru, create solar-powered ovens in India to help stop deforestation, and bring handheld water sanitization devices to Ghana.

Even with these shorter-term opportunities, the majority of our students at our large public university still do not or cannot study abroad. Many elite small liberal arts colleges send all of their students abroad, but at Iowa, about 20 percent of ours experience study overseas. This is why internationalizing our campus at home is just as crucial to our international education efforts—if not more so—than study abroad.

Domestic global study and experiences in fact need not be inferior to actual study abroad. A recent study by two University of Iowa professors—Brian An and Ernest Pascarella—and Mark Salisbury of Augustana College in Illinois, which was reported on in the Chronicle of Higher Education late last year, found that a number of domains of intercultural competence are not necessarily increased by study abroad and may perhaps be even more effectively taught at home. These domains include students’ comfort in intercultural interactions and appreciation of different perspectives.

This is why it is important for us to bring the world to campus as much as it is to send our students out into the world. Faculty exchanges and programs such as the International Writing Program I mentioned earlier are obviously important ways to bring international perspectives to our domestic home. Another one of the best ways to offer global experiences to our students is to make sure we have a robust international student presence. We have long had a strong presence of international graduate students at Iowa, but in recent years we have emphasized increasing our global undergraduate population (though not at the expense of admitting all Iowa residents who qualify). This year, we set a record for the number of international students entering the university, with over ten percent of our first-year students hailing from countries around the world. International students bring new perspectives and experiences to our students, the core of critical thinking. We realize that sometimes actually having our domestic and international students interact beyond the classroom can be a challenge, so we have implemented several “global buddies” and conversation partner programs, for example.

Globalizing our curriculum is also an essential part of our efforts to make sure our students are internationally competent, and we are implementing a new general education requirement in global education as well as dedicating funds to curricular development for new courses.

While it is not our primary motivation, the economic impact of international students on our community and state is also a notable advantage. According to NAFSA, the Association of International Educators, international students bring about a quarter-billion dollars’ worth of economic impact to the state of Iowa—proportionally quite strong compared to many other states.

International students have a great impact once they graduate and leave our institution as well. Many do return to their home countries, or even other countries, for further education or employment, and they become wonderful ambassadors for our institution as well as intercultural understanding in general. International graduates bring the knowledge and discovery we create at Iowa out to the globe, and their example and goodwill in return encourage others to study with us or even partner with us in research or economic development.

One great example of synergistic possibilities at Iowa is our Hong Kong Executive MBA program. This program offers working students, mostly from Hong Kong and Singapore, the opportunity for a UI business education. Campus UI faculty travel to Hong Kong for short-term, intensive on-site sessions, and ongoing work occurs online. Executive training programs like this will only grow in the future. They are practical for an institution like Iowa in terms of enrollment growth and revenue, but more importantly they provide the kinds of diverse connections we need in a global economy. The education we provide in the immediate term is obviously valuable from programs such as the Hong Kong Executive MBA, but the returns in further educational, research, and economic exchange can lead us to new opportunities we had never even imagined.

Linkages and agreements with institutions abroad—which allow us both to go to the world and have the world come to us—are one piece in a strategy to expand the reach of the University of Iowa in several ways: They build on strengths in faculty research collaborations and curricular programs, they take advantage of emerging opportunities and connections, and they are cost-effective. The University of Iowa will not open a satellite campus in Rio or in Riyadh. But we will partner with other globally minded institutions to develop partnerships and programs that expand our reach; serve our students, faculty, and the state of Iowa; meet the needs of our partners abroad; and ultimately close the gaps in human understanding, making for a much better world for all.