Global focus remains ‘valuable’ to students

Students from Japan help in the Japanese Tea Ceremony presented by Dale Slusser, a Japanese tea master, during the Japan Semester in 2001.

Special toThe Chart

Students from Japan help in the Japanese Tea Ceremony presented by Dale Slusser, a Japanese tea master, during the Japan Semester in 2001.

It all started in July 1995.

Former Gov. Mel Carnahan signed House Bill 442, which announced Missouri Southern’s mission for an international focus.

“We felt it was important that all students have a global perspective,” said Dr. Chad Stebbins, director of the Institute of International Studies. “It was felt that the international mission would arm our students with a valuable tool.”

The Institute’s Web site reads Southern “shall develop such academic support programs and public service it deems necessary and appropriate to establish international or global education as a distinctive theme of its mission.”

The Beginning

Stebbins said the idea started in 1990 when University President Julio León proposed an international mission to the Southern’s Board of Regents.

“It was his concept, and he was able to sell the Board of Regents on the idea and then the Coordinating Board for Higher Education and ultimately the state legislature and the governor,” Stebbins said.

Stebbins said in 1995 the state of Missouri recognized the international mission.

“[This was] through a submission enhancement program in which all the four-year colleges and universities were given the opportunity to develop a particular specialty,” he said. “Missouri Southern chose international education – a plan we had already had been working on for five years.”

León said with the changes in the world like the fall of the Berlin Wall and the acceleration of globalization, the administration thought Southern needed an international mission.

“We felt because of all those developments it was going to be very important for graduates of Missouri Southern to have an understanding of global affairs,” León said.

“The world in a sense was getting smaller and smaller and what happened in one nation was impacting what happened in other nations around the globe,” Stebbins said.

Enhancing the experience

Stebbins said one goal for the international mission is to give students a global experience.

“That doesn’t mean they have to travel abroad to receive that global experience,” he said. “We try to bring the world to the campus for those students who can’t go abroad.”

He also said they also have opportunities for faculty to be able to study abroad and bring that knowledge to the class room.

León said after 1989, they began sending students and faculty abroad in order to start the international mission. He said it started with the limited resources they had.

“Then in 1995, when the state had the funds to be dedicated to improving and advancing educational institutions, that’s when we requested special funding in order to expand the international program,” he said.

After receiving funding for the international program, León said they started developing study abroad options and forming new degrees such as international business.

There are several exchange programs students can participate in like bilateral exchanges with 17 schools and the International Student Exchange Program.

“We have agreements with partner schools abroad, which allows a student to be able to attend a university overseas for the same price that they would pay at Missouri Southern,” said Stephanie Goad, international student advisor and exchange program coordinator.

Stebbins said the Institute is projecting 215 students are going to travel abroad for the 2004-2005 school year.

“It will be the second highest number we’ve had,” he said. “The record was 237 in 2000-2001.”

Every year, the University receives about $2.4 million for the international mission.

The international mission included an expansion of foreign languages.

“We added majors for French and German and added minors in Russian, Japanese and Chinese,” Stebbins said.

The themed semester

Along with the foreign languages, the idea of the themed semesters came.

The purpose of the semesters is to do an intensive study of a specific country or region of the world. The first themed semester was China in 1997. In the future, Mexico is set to be the next for the fall 2005, France in 2006 and Southern will return to China in 2007.

“The goal now is to know two or three years in advance what the focus is going to be,” Stebbins said.

The mission today

León said he is pleased with how the international mission has become “so prevalent” and how the faculty has taken on its emphasis.

“I really think that they believe in it and, even now, as a part of the reason for the existence of this institution,” he said. “When they do that, they pass it onto the students.”

Dr. Scott Wells, biology department head, said he thinks it’s a great program.

“It really just becomes their (students) most life-changing experience,” he said. “That’s a really great opportunity.”

Dr. Michael Horvath, dean of the school of education, said it is valuable and mind-expanding experience.

“It allows the faculty and the students who go on the various trips to take a critical look and maybe look with a little bit more of a critical eye,” Horvath said. “Perhaps open their minds to looking at different possibilities.”

Dr. Pat Kluthe, director of the honors program, said the program is amazing.

“It makes us unique in the state to have an international mission,” Kluthe said. “One of the things that I see that is probably one of the benefits of the program is that it allows a student to learn about themselves as they move outside their comfort zone.”

Dr. Tia Strait, dean of the school of technology, thinks it has become an integral part of the campus.

“I think that the beauty of our international program is to get our students from here in the state of Missouri and surrounding areas to have that global experience in their specific disciplines,” she said.

León said he does not receive any negative feedback about the international mission.

“I regularly receive feedback from students and some graduates who have said ‘I’m really glad I came to Missouri Southern and the opportunities that I had,'” he said.

The mission has received several national awards, including the Theodore M. Hesburgh Award for Faculty Development to Enhance Undergraduate Teaching and Learning and the Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education. Also, Southern is one of 13 institutions included in Internationalizing the Campus 2004: Profiles of success at colleges and universities, a report from NAFSA: the Association of International Educators, for its themed semesters.

The future of the mission

León said he thinks there are going to be more resources to expand the international mission in the future including more study abroad opportunities for students.

“We’re going to see more opportunities for our faculty to interact with professors of foreign universities,” León said.

Stebbins said he thinks there will be more opportunities for students and faculty in the way of technology like video-conferences.

“There’ll be new innovative ways for students to receive this global perspective,” he said.

Goad said she envisions more international students at Southern because of forming more agreements with other universities.

“It’s evolving,” she said. “I envision as we go on we’ll be sending more American students abroad.”

Horvath thinks the international mission will evolve and incorporate more mid-term and long-term study into the curriculum.

“We’re always looking for possibilities that enhance the internationalization of the curriculum,” he said.

Kluthe believes there will be a greater emphasis on studying abroad for a full semester rather than a one or two-week trip.

“That has to be the best experience,” she said. “I think we’re making great leaps, and I hope we continue to think in new ways and think of innovative and creative things to do to continue to enhance the international mission,” Kluthe said.

Strait thinks the international mission will continue to grow.

“It’s going to become more embedded into our structure,” she said.