New Asian partnerships cultivate global understanding

Thursday, September 28, 2006

President Roy Saigo is fond of posing this loaded question to students: "Do you think what happens in China will be important to you in the next decade?" The response, of course, is overwhelmingly positive, helping make an important point about one of his highest priorities – global education.

Saigo envisions SCSU as an increasingly global university, building on historically strong international programs that have dramatically influenced thousands of students and faculty. "I would love to see every student and faculty and staff member have at least one international experience because," as he frequently says, "international study leads to global understanding."

In the past year Saigo has visited China, Korea, Japan and South Africa to develop new exchange programs and strengthen existing partnerships with universities in those countries. In June he led a delegation of 15 deans, faculty members and the academic vice chancellor for the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, Linda Baer, to China. He networked with six university presidents, the U.S. ambassador to the People's Republic of China, the World Bank country director for China and American Chamber of Commerce leaders in Beijing.

SCSU Delegation to China

SCSU's delgation to China included: Mike Pesch, G.R. Herberger College of Business faculty; Barry Dahl, Lake Superior College's vice president for technology and the virtual campus; MnSCU Academic Vice Chancellor Linda Baer; Kathy Johnson, Colleg eof Education faculty; President Saigo; Continuing Studies Dean John Burgeson; Warren Yu, College of Science and Engineering faculty, and Norman Baer, MnSCU Career Information Systems project analyst.

The delegation also met with the Shaanxi Foreign Affairs Office in Xi'an. A leadership delegation from Xi'an universities plans to visit SCSU in March to further promote the sister-state relationship between Shaanxi Province and Minnesota.

The SCSU group discussed poverty issues, political realities and education and business relationships with business and political leaders.

"I'm always thinking about how we can use the strengths of the University, and international education is a major strength," Saigo said. Recent data show SCSU is the only university in the top 20 of comparable universities nationally in the number of study-abroad participants (ninth) while it's 19th in the number of international students. "We want to raise that to the top 10 in both areas," he said.

"I'm really excited about the potential of SCSU's international partnerships," said Kathy Johnson, special education faculty member who has worked with people with disabilities in China since 2000. She is organizing a symposium of experts on political, educational, economic and cultural aspects of China on the SCSU campus in March.

Saigo foresees significant payoffs from SCSU investments in building relationships with China. For example, Nankai University will send a Chinese language teacher to SCSU next year, a venture that may lead to an expanded exchange program for language faculty members.

The trip was a fact-finding mission, an exploration of possibilities that gave deans and faculty first-hand knowledge of China to come back and develop opportunities for further programs. Exchange programs with Shanghai University in engineering and science are probable through the efforts of SCSU Professor Warren Yu, and Professor Mert Thompson and Associate Professor Luther Rotto will lead efforts to revitalize the learning resources exchange program with Nankai University in Tianjin. College of Education faculty members explored collaborations with East China, Shaanxi and Beijing normal universities. John Burgeson, dean of continuing studies, is planning to take another faculty group to China next year to explore opportunities for SCSU online programs.

SCSU is promoting collaborations between the SCSU Department of Special Education and Beijing Normal University, the top teaching institution in China, to develop a master's degree program in that field. "We'd be the first university to work with them," Johnson said. Madame Liu, Beijing University chair and a former director of education at the Chinese Embassy in Washington, D.C., will visit SCSU in October to explore future relationships. And that's just the beginning.

"Global understanding is an important part of our university's mission," Saigo said. "Access to international education and the broadening of perspectives this kind of experience brings will help cultivate that in our students. This is the right time to build on our interconnectedness – right for our students and right for our world."

- Marsha Shoemaker

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