Institute of Technology alumni and students led 8,000 Minnesota school children in creating a geodesic globe on Northrop Mall (1993).
A school of the world
The U embraces internationalism
By Martha Coventry
From M, fall 2005
Waiting for the bus on the Twin Cities campus not long ago, I looked across Washington Avenue to see eight Muslim men on the lawn in front of Coffman Union in mid-afternoon prayer. I thought it was brave of them to show their faith in such a public way. I was also proud of the University for creating an environment safe and open enough that they felt they could be who they are.
At this point in its history, the University is taking a hard look at where it has been and where it wants to go in the coming century. At the core of the decision to transform itself into one of the top three public research universities in the world is the knowledge that this is a borderless planet, with a free flow of cultures, creativity, and intellectual inquiry. And being part of this global m?lange has been a hallmark of the University for decades.
The University's first foreign students came from Canada and Denmark in 1874; in 1914, a single Chinese student arrived, a harbinger of what has become our most successful international academic relationship. As of fall 2005, the Twin Cities campus had 3,302 international students, with 2,630 of them in graduate or professional schools. And the number of University students studying in other countries has skyrocketed. Last year, the Morris campus reached President Bruininks's goal of having 50 percent of the student body study abroad by graduation. On the Twin Cities campus, 1,674 students studied abroad last year, up from 770 in 1999. At the 2004 graduation, approximately 22 percent of graduates had studied abroad.
At the core of the University's decision to transform itself into one of the top three public research universities in the world is the knowledge that this is a borderless planet, with a free flow of cultures, creativity, and intellectual inquiry.
These are encouraging numbers, especially in light of the growing need for international academic contacts and influence in an increasingly competitive world. India, England, Germany, and Australia are all involved in significant reforms to their higher education systems and are much more aggressive than the United States in recruiting international students and faculty. If the University wants to attract the best students and scholars from abroad--and it must to be successful--it has to do all it can to make its campuses welcoming for international students and scholars and to infuse the curriculum with a sense of the larger world.
Luckily, the University for years has been weaving connections among students and scholars at home and abroad, internationalizing the curriculum, making study abroad a priority, and bringing a worldwide perspective to subjects from health care to fashion through lectures, films, exhibits, guest speakers, and symposiums.
Culture Corps Meriem Chida, who comes from El Marsa, Tunis, could be the poster child for internationalizing the University. In 1998, attracted by the University's reputation for quality research, she came here for her bachelor's degree, stayed for her master's, and is now a Ph.D. candidate in social cultural studies. As an undergraduate, she studied abroad, doubling her international experience. When Chida was working on her master's, she got involved with Culture Corps, one of the ways in which the University deepens the international student's experience while enriching the curriculum.
In Culture Corps, international students or University staff and faculty propose a project they feel would help to expose students to the wider world, either through classroom presentations or cocurricular activities. Last year, Culture Corps reached hundreds of people on campus through subjects as diverse as tango dancing and human trafficking. "[Culture Corps] is a great way for international students to practice teaching, gain confidence, and get creative," Chida says.
Barbara Kappler, assistant director in International Student and Scholar Services, is in charge of intercultural training and programs and runs Culture Corps. She has worked with international students for 12 years and knows they get a good education here, yet she'd like the University to do more to support them in sharing their perspectives and expertise. "[Internationalization requires] a concerted effort by a faculty member or an R.A. in a residence hall to reach out and find some common ground among students," says Kappler. "I think structured ways--like Culture Corps--are critical because then we're validating that international students have something to offer."
Study abroad When it comes to studying abroad, it used to be that if you were a French major, you went to France, or perhaps if you were studying art, you went to Florence. The opportunities were pretty predictable and often reserved for those students whose parents could foot the bill.
All that has changed. Eavesdrop on student conversations on any given day and you'll hear someone mention her year in Warsaw or his May session in Kenya. Studying abroad is increasingly affordable for most students, available in all majors, and the admissions office offers study abroad scholarships to prospective students to sweeten the pot in choosing the University.
And studying abroad has gained an enormous amount of respect as a way for students to get the most out of their education and prepare for life. "[When students study abroad] their academic discipline is enhanced and improved by their knowledge of how things are done elsewhere," says Lynn Anderson, associate director of the Learning Abroad Center. "It's also a very good thing for the University. We're seeing an increasing number of students who are selecting their university or college based on the kind of opportunities offered abroad."
The Learning Abroad Center joined with the Center for Teaching and Learning Services to work with scores of University faculty systemwide to internationalize on-campus courses, adding a worldwide perspective to at least a third of their content. "It's not about just inserting readings or case studies that are international in nature into a course, it's also about helping students understand the place of this discipline in the world, how it's practiced in other countries, where the collaborations might be," says Anderson. This ground-breaking curriculum integration program is being copied by colleges all over the country.
Faculty expertise The University has a long history of sharing its faculty and staff expertise with other countries. In the aftermath of World War I, the University worked with countries around the world to build or rebuild their agricultural, environmental, medical, and educational infrastructures. Following the destruction resulting from the Korean War, the University helped make Seoul National University into one of the world's leading research universities. "[The University of Minnesota] is viewed as a major player in the international arena among top-ranking universities," says Gene Allen, associate vice president for international programs. "I know about the big projects we're involved in, like the offshore degree programs in China and Poland, but I'd love to know how many of our faculty in any given month are somewhere else in the world doing something."
When he was a professor in animal science and food science and nutrition, Allen began a 25-year-long project in Morocco; he also recently led 24 students on a trip to Australia during May session. "[Through an international collaboration], you get a new appreciation for what we can learn from people in different cultures and countries who live under much more difficult and trying circumstances," says Allen. "This is not a one-way exchange of information. It doesn't matter what country or culture you're working with. People may dress differently, they may speak a different language, but we all have similar goals and aspirations for ourselves and our families. While that may seem obvious, it's a powerful message to have reinforced." That message, along with sheer knowledge gained, is what faculty members bring back to their campuses to share with their students.
Looking to the future University students are studying abroad in record numbers, we have a highly successful program to internationalize the curriculum, we provide a good experience for our international students, and our faculty are bringing more and more of the world back into the classroom. What do we need to do to further internationalize the University, one of the stated goals for the University's future?
One thing is to increase our number of international students. "We're at the bottom of the Big 10 in the rankings of international undergraduates in our student body," says Allen. "To get to the middle, we need 1,000 more students than the current 430 we have on the Twin Cities campus." This year, for the first time, the University has put together a team of top administrators to go to other countries and recruit international students for all four campuses.
Another thing is to broaden the opportunities for international students from all economic situations. "One of the difficult things to do with [U.S.] visa requirements is to bring poor international students to the University," Allen says. "They have to show in their visa applications that they can afford to come and have money in the bank to support themselves. We have basically no scholarships that go to first-year international undergraduates."
Ultimately, there is no way to become one of the top three public research universities in the world without the world as your focus. "To be sustainable in today's global environment, the U has to really invest in internationalism," says Chida. "It can't afford not to do this. By inviting international students and faculty here, or by sending U students and faculty overseas, it's making itself a leader. Internationalism is a must."