Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Thank you to the UI Foundation and the UI Alumni Association for everything they do to make the University of Iowa one of the world’s great institutions of higher education.

I would also like to recognize a very special guest and thank him for honoring us with his presence this evening. Joining us is an outstanding University of Iowa alumnus, Chang Sheng-Ford, the previous Deputy Finance Minister of Taiwan, who earned a UI economics graduate degree around 1980. In early June, he stepped up to the minister position. Please welcome Minister Chang Sheng-Ford.

I am very proud to lead the University of Iowa. My entire educational and professional career has taken place in American public institutions, and I have never forgotten how much I appreciate the opportunities they have provided me. My father was an immigrant from Czechoslovakia, and my mother entered the work force right out of high school. I was the first of my family to go to college. My dream was to become a scientist, and I am proud of my career as a biology professor, which was prepared for at the University of Kentucky, Purdue University, the University of Arizona, and Indiana University—great public institutions all. After a successful teaching and research career in biology at the University of Kansas, I entered higher education administration, eventually serving as dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Kansas, and then provost—the chief academic officer—back at Purdue University in Indiana. Today, I am proud to lead the University of Iowa into the 21st century as its president, and I am delighted that those efforts have brought me here to visit with you in Taipei.

We are excited to build important bridges between our cultures and countries. At Iowa, we embrace international education and international scholarly and cultural exchange as a public good, as an exciting intellectual challenge, and as a life-changing experience. For students, international study and exchange enrich their lives, contribute to strong critical thinking skills, and prepare them for successful careers in an increasingly globalized world. At the same time that international awareness expands our intellectual and social horizons, it also helps us meet the challenges of a wonderfully complex world. The world is made up of people who speak thousands of different languages, eat an amazing variety of foods, have developed vastly different cultural traditions, and hold an incredible array of different beliefs—religious, political, social, and more. At the same time, with today’s swift economic and technological changes, all of the world’s different peoples are becoming more and more interconnected and interdependent. Our need to reach out to each other and develop understanding and respectful relationships has never been stronger. International bonds close the gaps in human understanding, and that makes for a much better world for all.

The international students and visiting scholars on our campus enrich the entire University of Iowa community. Our largest group of international students on campus is the more than 2,400 students from East and Southeast Asia, including about 100 students from Taiwan. This places Taiwan in the top five largest national populations on the UI campus. We welcome international students to enhance the global character of our campus, but also, of course, to benefit their own lives and careers and the advancement of cultures around the world. We believe the world can be improved when any student—no matter where he or she comes from—brings an Iowa education out into the world, whether it’s in Des Moines, New York City, or Taipei.

If you’re an international student coming to our campus, you will enjoy a new—and maybe a rather unique—cultural experience in the American Midwest. But we also do all we can to make you feel comfortable. We have great orientation programs, as well as a lot of social and cultural activities throughout the year. Some of these programs help you learn about American culture. I remember a fun time that many of our international students had learning to square dance a year or two ago! Some of these programs connect you with people in our community for conversation and socializing. And some of the programs bring a little bit of your own home country back to your life in Iowa at the same time they teach our native students about your part of the world.

One of the most attractive aspects of learning at the University of Iowa is that Iowa City is a small, safe community. The major industries of our community—even those outside of the university—are connected to education and health care. In Iowa City, students can easily focus on academic achievement not only because they go to a great university, but also because they live and study in a very safe, supportive environment.

In addition to our international student exchange, our university faculty participate in many important research and educational exchange programs as well. The dean of our College of Education, Margaret Crocco, is here with us this evening, and our education programs have developed excellent relationships with Taiwan. A great example is one of our most distinguished education professors, Professor Emeritus Robert Yager. His reputation as a global leader in science education draws scholars from around the world for the chance to work with him. He has worked with many visiting scholars and Taiwanese students over the years. Currently, he is working with a scholar from Taiwan, Pi-Chu Kuo, who earned her PhD at Iowa. Currently, she is a professor at National Pingtung University of Education, and with Professor Yager, she is developing specific techniques to improve the teacher education program at her university.

One of our most important partnerships is with National Taiwan University. I would like to take a moment now and introduce a very special guest with us this evening, H. Y. Lee, who is a very distinguished University of Iowa alumnus, holding master’s and PhD engineering degrees from our institution. He holds a senior chaired position in Hydraulic Engineering of the Department of Civil Engineering at National Taiwan University. Professor Lee is also a distinguished public servant. He is Interior Minister of Taiwan, and the former Taiwan Minister of the Public Construction Commission, among other important titles. It is a tremendous honor to have him join us this evening. Please join me in welcoming Minister Lee.

Also joining us tonight is the dean of the University of Iowa’s College of Engineering Alec Scranton and UI Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineer Larry Weber. Professor Weber is also the director of the UI’s world-renowned IIHR-Hydroscience & Engineering research institute. Water resources are truly among the world’s most critical issues today. On our campus, one of the most prominent new programs is our water sustainability initiative. We are very proud of our relationship and partnership with National Taiwan University as we conduct critical research and education on one of humanity’s most fundamental natural resources. Especially in recent years, flooding has been a significant problem back home in Iowa, and I know it has been for Taiwan, and particularly Taipei, as well. Our collaboration in trying to address these and other critical water issues reflects the best of what international exchange is all about.

It has been a great pleasure and honor to visit with so many of our students and alumni, prospective students, research and scholarly partners, old and new friends, and distinguished hosts and guests here in Taipei. Our trip has been exciting and inspiring, and we thank you for your generosity and hospitality in welcoming us.