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University debuts first phase of internationalization strategy

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This January, the Case Western Reserve University International Planning Committee (IPC) submitted its Plan for Internationalization to the university for approval. The plan, which makes specific recommendations to improve the university’s internationalization, focuses largely on undergraduate education.

The IPC and the Center for International Affairs, headed by associate provost David Fleshler, hope to increase undergraduate participation in study abroad programs while continuing to recruit talented international students. These and other goals set up by the plan seek to improve CWRU’s global reputation and cultural resources for an increasingly international education environment.

The IPC began planning to improve internationalization at CWRU in January 2010 with the support of president Barbara Snyder and provost Bud Baeslack. The plan defines internationalization as “the process by which institutions foster global learning.” Global learning covers cross-cultural and international issues.

The plan’s goals are broad and focus on supporting global collaboration among researchers as well as enhancing the undergraduate experience by both recruiting international students and enabling all students to participate in study abroad programs.

To that end, the new Center for International Affairs has hired two new staff members to assist students. Molly Watkins began as the Director for International Affairs in July 2011. She oversees the Office of Education Abroad and the Office of International Student Services. Watkins detailed some of the plan’s goals for undergraduates.

“Within five years, we plan on increasing all study abroad so that 40 percent of our graduates have studied abroad,” she said. “We hope that 20 percent of our graduates have participated in long-term study abroad programs in this time span.” Long-term programs have students abroad for a semester or more, while short-term programs last from one week to several weeks.

Currently, about 20 percent of the undergraduate population participates in any kind of study abroad program. Watkins says this is “a pretty good statistic, but we can do much better.”

Watkins described many improvements her office has made to make it easier for students to learn about study abroad. They have hired a full-time study abroad advisor and have centralized information. When asked what has prevented more students from participating in these programs, Watkins said it was about student misconceptions.

“I think the biggest barrier is perception: study abroad is too expensive, study abroad will delay graduation, there are no study abroad programs for students in my major,” she said. “As we work to show students that none of those premises are true, I hope we can have more students engaging in study abroad.”

The Plan for Internationalization also recommends increasing the minimum TOEFL score – a test used to measure English proficiency – and requiring the SAT for applying international students. Watkins said these measures have already been implemented and that the number of international students has continued to rise, to about eight percent of the undergraduate population today.

The plan calls for increasing that figure to up to 12 percent. “By requiring better scores on the TOEFL…as well as requiring international students take the SAT, we will give our admitted international students the best chance of having a successful academic career,” Fleshler said.

Lisa Brown began as the new Study Abroad Advisor in the office of Education Abroad in September of 2011. She handles all inquiries about study abroad, from finances to credit transfers. Brown sees financial considerations as one hurdle keeping students away, but says that students have options.

“Our office is trying to make study abroad as financially neutral as possible,” she said. “We already have some semester-long options that cost the same or less than a semester at CWRU, and students are able to keep all of their financial aid for these programs.”

Brown also noted that students are wary of delaying graduation, but that many programs allow even the most time-crunched students, such as engineering majors, to study abroad while staying on track.

The Plan for Internationalization goes beyond study abroad. The plan promotes “global citizenship,” which Fleshler describes as “the ability to understand and interact with people and cultures different from one’s own,” as well as the ability to “live, work, and communicate with people from other cultures, countries, and backgrounds.” Fleshler believes that a strong international student presence and robust study abroad programs facilitate global citizenship at the undergraduate level.

The plan also calls for university-wide cross-cultural relationships. Fleshler gives the example of a new program from Brazil, “Science Without Borders,” which helped bring five Brazilian undergraduate students to CWRU this January for a year-long program. “Through the ‘Science Without Borders’ program we are expanding our faculty, research, and institutional relationships with universities in Brazil,” Fleshler said.

The Plan for Internationalization advocates improving the experience of enrolled international students by providing more need-based financial aid and better integrating international and domestic students. Conversations with students suggest that cross-cultural integration is lacking and can be improved.

Julia Shei, president of the Taiwanese American Students Association, discussed her perception of the status quo. “It seems there’s a great amount of distance between the international and domestic student populations,” she said. “I think both sides can work on certain aspects to bridge the gaps.”

Prince Wang, president of the International Club, agrees. In addition to advocating more interaction between domestic and international students, Wang supports the plan’s recommendation to maintain and improve international orientation.

“[CWRU] has [made] a great improvement by adding international orientation,” he said. “But I [think] there should be some consistent connection between orientation leaders and international students.” Wang believes the orientation loses some value by not maintaining its initially strong support structure.

Many of the plan’s recommendations, such as those affecting undergraduate study abroad, are already going into effect. Others, such as graduate and professional student internationalization, will be addressed in the future. And the plan calls for strengthening international research ties among faculty, while including students in relevant international projects. The new Center for International Affairs, the coordinating office for most of these initiatives, is located in Tomlinson Hall.

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University debuts first phase of internationalization strategy