Montana State University

MSU launches new internationalization initiative with Feb. 7 session

January 18, 2012


Increasing international experiences at MSU, which includes broadening programs that bring international students to MSU as well as making more study abroad opportunities available for MSU students, is the goal of a program that launches this spring at MSU. The first step is a feedback session with faculty, students and staff about current MSU international programs as well as experiences they'd like to see in the future. Deidre Combs will moderate the session, set for 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7. MSU photo by Kelly Gorham.   High-Res Available

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When Cory G. Walters was at Montana State University about a decade ago, the Kalispell ag econ major happened upon an Arabic language class. He thought it might be exotic and enrolled, nearly on a whim.

That course led to a study abroad semester in Morocco, then to a visit to Syria, and then a work study in Syria. He broadened his experience and developed life-long international friendships, all while he pursued a doctorate. Now, an assistant Extension professor at the University of Kentucky, Walters said the chain of events that began with his MSU international experience changed his life by helping look at the world differently.

While Walters' story illustrates a success of MSU's Office of International Programs in introducing MSU students to the increasingly interconnected world, MSU officials would like to see more.

"We'd love to replicate (Cory Walters') story hundreds of times," said Norman Peterson, executive director of MSU's Office of International Programs. "We'd like every MSU student to have a Cory Walters experience."

And increasing international experiences for MSU students is the goal of a new program that the university launches this spring. MSU is one of nine colleges and universities across the country that are part of the newest group of institutions participating in the American Council on Education's Internationalization Laboratory.

The first step in the program is garnering feedback from faculty, students and staff about current MSU international programs as well as experiences they'd like to see in the future. The first of those fact-finding meetings is set for 3-5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7 in the Northwest Lounge of the MSU SUB when Deidre Combs, an instructor in MSU's Leadership Program who is also the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflicts, will moderate a discussion.

Peterson said that while currently MSU has 600 international students on campus and 350 MSU students studying abroad, "the ACE program is intended to deal with much more than this -- faculty international expertise, international dimensions of the curriculum, international dimensions to our outreach programs, and much more."

Peterson said MSU became involved in the ACE internationalization project at the suggestion of MSU President Waded Cruzado, who had positive experiences working with ACE while she was provost at New Mexico State University.

MSU will analyze the feedback and begin planning and formulating ways to better integrate global programs into curriculum and campus life-style, Peterson said. MSU will also work with the other eight schools in the ACE cohort to share ideas and solutions. An action plan will be developed. Peterson said he hopes to see results as early as next year.

"We hope to emerge from the process with a detailed set of measurable international learning outcomes we want our students to attain, a campus-wide review of international programs and how they relate to those learning outcomes, and a detailed plan to strengthen our international programs," Peterson said.

Robert Marley, dean of the MSU College of Engineering and chairman of the MSU Internationalization Laboratory committee, said that in many ways, MSU is well ahead in internationalization because the university has many outstanding programs on campus that have a significant international focus. However, without a "well-articulated vision or a broad-based set of goals regarding international learning and discovery, MSU runs the risk of lagging behind," he said.

"The Internationalization Laboratory is intended to help us focus on developing a vision and goals by involving a broad representation of faculty, staff and students, all assisted by experts at the ACE and a cohort of peers undergoing the same process," he said.

And while the process of the lab may seem complex, the intent is simple: strong internationalization helps students, Marley said.

"I think most people understand that it does not matter what business one may be involved with, we are all impacted by an integrated, global economy. I challenge skeptics to identify a business that does not have some international aspect--business in agriculture, heath care, engineering, architecture, accounting, construction, and so on," he said. "It is critical that we help instill in the next generations of our students a reasonable understanding of the international political and social environment that they will working in--integrated with whatever academic discipline they may pursue."

For more information about MSU's Internationalization Laboratory project, contact Peterson at normp@montana.edu.

Norm Peterson (406) 994-5325, normp@montana.edu