ASU global engagement expands across borders, continents

At Sichuan University in Chengdu, China, you might see students wearing Arizona State University T-shirts, listening to guest lectures from ASU professors on American culture, history and literature.

This summer they’ll be joined by 18 ASU undergraduates for an intensive eight-week Chinese language program, in which the Arizona students will sharpen their language skills in the classrooms of Sichuan professors.

It’s just the tip of the iceberg for a broad and carefully cultivated partnership between the two universities, which began in 2005 when ASU President Michael Crow led delegations of U.S. university presidents and administrators to China to meet with their Chinese counterparts. The following year, Heping Xie, president of Sichuan University, led a delegation of Chinese administrators to ASU.

During those trips, the two presidents discovered they agreed about the need for creativity in higher education in a global mode. In 2006 an ASU-SCU partnership agreement was signed.

In the past 10 years ASU’s global engagement has become deep and wide, reaching across multiple borders and continents. The Sichuan partnership is one example. ASU faculty, staff and students are studying and conducting research across the world, developing new projects and initiatives that are aimed at solving shared problems in sustainability, health care, education, and resource and energy management.

Giving students an international education

ASU students benefit by developing a broader world view, an increased open-mindedness and competence in other cultures, which is a key success skill for 90 percent of today’s careers.

“We want to help students learn how to live and work effectively and ethically in the globalized world of the 21st century,” says Denis Fred Simon, vice provost for China initiatives and strategy. “We live in an increasingly interdependent world. All of the major companies have a global presence, and they need employees who are comfortable interfacing with customers and colleagues from around the world.

“Tolerance, awareness and cultural sensitivity are going to be the hallmarks of successful people in the 21st century. If universities don’t produce people who have those skills, we fail.”

Simon says the broader international mission of ASU is to work collaboratively across cultural, geographic and disciplinary borders to create solutions to pressing global, regional and local challenges. Having arrived at ASU in January 2012, Simon says he specifically joined ASU because both the president and provost are strongly committed to the internationalization of the university.

Markers of ASU’s increasing internationalization are found not only in partnerships and research but in international enrollment numbers, study abroad participation, the languages students study and the careers they choose.

ASU enrolled a record 4,430 international students last fall, up 15 percent from the year before. They came from 120 countries around the world, with China the leading source, reflecting the reputation of ASU and the increasing prosperity of China’s middle class.

Universities throughout the United States are scrambling to attract more international students, so the competition can be fierce. ASU has stepped up its overseas recruiting and has increased its services to international students, offering housing assistance and success workshops on academic and cultural issues.

Almost 1,600 ASU students studied abroad in 45 countries in 2010-2011, a 13.5 percent increase over the previous year. ASU offers more than 300 programs in 60 countries, including 20 language and culture programs in Spain, Italy, Romania and central Europe, and Mexico. This summer a new program in Brazil focuses on urban planning.

New study programs in China also are being forged as part of President Obama’s 100,000 Strong Program aimed at increasing the American student presence in the world’s second-largest economy.

Eighty-three percent of U.S. students who had studied abroad rated the experience as the most significant of their college years, even more than college friendships or coursework, reported The Chronicle of Higher Education.

“At ASU we are looking for our students to have a transformational experience that will give them a new perspective about the world and their responsibilities as global citizens,” says Simon.

ASU ranks 19th among all large universities for the number of graduates who volunteer and are accepted into the Peace Corps, with 67 alumni currently serving as Peace Corps volunteers in 34 countries.

ASU students also are especially successful in earning scholarships for year-long study abroad: 19 students won Fulbrights last spring, putting ASU third in the nation for public universities; 10 NSEP Boren Scholars won awards to study in China, Russia, Syria, Egypt, Kosovo, Bosnia Herzegovina and Japan. ASU is one of the top producers of these highly competitive National Security Education Program awards because of the university’s emphasis on global studies and critical foreign languages.

At the Melikian Center, the ASU Critical Languages Institute enrolled 172 students last year, the most in its 21-year history. Students took courses in less commonly taught languages such as Albanian, Armenian, Bosnia/Croatian/Serbian, Farsi, Macedonian, Polish, Russian, Tajik, Tatar and Uzbek. Many also studied abroad, including 52 cadets in the Global Officer project of ROTC.

Cultivating global partnerships

One of ASU’s longest and most significant global partnerships is with Tecnologico de Monterrey, one of Latin America’s premier and far-reaching institutions, with 33 campuses in Mexico. What began as a student exchange in 2002 developed into a faculty exchange and research partnership between the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Tec’s engineering college.

After creating a joint master’s degree program in aerospace logistics in 2004, the partnership has expanded to include collaborative research projects in biotechnology, the formation of a Water Innovation Consortium and the recent joint launching of a Latin American Office of ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability. The office will conduct applied transdisciplinary research, offer an innovative curriculum and develop solutions for a sustainable culture.

Also working in Mexico and Latin America are ASU’s School of Transborder Studies, the Southwest Borderlands Initiative and the North American Center for Transborder Studies, which researches and reports on key North American issues (including Canada) and provides policy analysis and recommendations.

Faculty exchanges with foreign universities also are meaningful in building ties to other countries. About 300 visiting international scholars taught, consulted and did research at ASU last year, and another 300 international scholars were employed at ASU.

One of the most notable programs is Cronkite Global Initiatives, in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Its signature program is the Humphrey Fellowship Program, a prestigious U.S. State Department-funded program that brings professional journalists from around the world to the university to study and engage with students and faculty for an academic year. The school also hosts international journalists from emerging democracies through the Edward R. Murrow Program for Journalists.

By far the most significant of ASU’s global engagement efforts take place in China, many at Sichuan University, others at Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Harbin Institute of Technology, two top-tier research universities in China. Other partners include the Chinese Academy of Science and the Shanghai National Accounting Institute.

Close, deep ties with China

Why has ASU become so extensively engaged in China? The reasons include close faculty connections and friendships, built through years of collaborative research. But the primary driver is China’s position as the second-largest economy in the world, and the United States’ No. 1 trading partner. Its people also are a rich source of talent and innovation.

“There’s no more important bilateral relationship to the U.S. than China,” says Simon, who is a member of the American experts group for the U.S.-China Innovation Dialogue. “China also has one of the largest pools of science and engineering talent in the world, and the brain power to contribute to the solutions of global problems.

“The areas that ASU has experts in, such as migration, pollution, climate change, energy and health care, all have global ramifications, so our work takes us across borders and cultures. We don’t have the luxury of having a single-country perspective. Connectivity with the world is something that is necessary. We can learn from each other.”

In Shanghai this June, 108 Chinese executives were presented with MBAs from ASU by Robert Mittelstaedt, dean of the W. P. Carey School of Business. They joined about 600 other Chinese graduates from the school’s executive MBA program in Shanghai, launched in 2003 under the auspices of the Chinese Ministry of Finance to cultivate world-class executives. The program, in cooperation with the Shanghai National Accounting Institute, is ranked in the Top 20 globally by Financial Times.

On the strength of this accomplishment, ASU has been invited by the Shanghai government to create a doctorate program in global financial management, in collaboration with the Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance.

Another notable program among ASU’s China initiatives is the "3 + 2 program," in which selected Chinese engineering students complete three years at Sichuan or Huazhong Universities and then enroll at ASU for two years to finish training for a bachelor’s degree from China plus a master’s degree from ASU.

Other projects among ASU’s many China initiatives include the following:

SCU-ASU Center for American Culture, located in Chengdu, hosts public English language and culture programs, symposia and lectures related to U.S. history, culture and the arts, and professional training programs for English teachers. Almost 20 ASU faculty members have lectured at the center, which is a joint creation between ASU and Sichuan University. The success of this center has led the U.S. Embassy in Beijing to provide start-up grants to 15 additional Sino-American university pairs.

ASU Confucius Institute, jointly established by Sichuan University and the Office of Chinese Language Council in China, is a source of knowledge about Chinese language and culture for Arizona residents. Located on the Tempe campus, its staff trains about 600 teachers each year, hosts summer programs including Startalk Chinese Language Summer Camp for 9th-12th grade students and hosts lectures, conferences and cultural activities. The institute funds six Confucius classrooms in three Arizona school districts, including the state’s first public school Mandarin immersion program at Gavilan Peak School in Anthem. More than 3,200 elementary, middle and high school students are currently enrolled.

University Design Consortium is a collaboration between Sichuan University and ASU that challenges public universities around the world to develop innovative strategies to address the world’s complex issues. Academic leaders and policy makers meet to share ideas, generate solutions and take action. The UDC hosted about 100 of these individuals at a conference on Creativity in Higher Education at Sichuan June 11-13, featuring projects by three ASU faculty, Alex Zautra of psychology, Linda Essig of theatre and Jewell Parker Rhodes of the Piper Center.

ASU Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing works with universities in both China and Singapore to train teachers. The center also provides fully funded international opportunities for MFA students to explore other cultures in Greece, Hong Kong, Oxford/Wales, Prague and Singapore.

ASU Chinese Language Flagship Program enrolls students from all majors who want a high level of proficiency in Mandarin. About 60 students are currently in the program, which includes a final year of study in China with an additional internship in their chosen field.

Sino-U.S. Center for Conservation, Energy and Sustainability Science was launched by ASU and Inner Mongolia University to promote global sustainability. It is a platform for international collaboration, particularly on use-inspired, transdisciplinary research relevant to sustainability issues in Inner Mongolia and neighboring regions.

Institute of Botany Inner Mongolia Grassland Removal Experiment is a multi-year collaborative research project between ASU, Columbia University and the Institute of Botany of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Funded by the National Science Foundation and the Natural Science Foundation of China, it will determine how plant diversity affects ecosystem processes in the Inner Mongolia grassland.

Research, scholarship to change the world

Hundreds of ASU professors and researchers are involved in research across the world, with the number growing each year. Many have particular expertise that is sought after in a number of key areas that apply to the developing world and elsewhere.

Stephen Feinson, assistant vice president for global engagement, is building the capacity of the university to pursue funding opportunities and contracts, many through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). His strategy is to look at the strengths the university has and to focus on challenges that match those strengths, rather than on geographic areas.

“ASU is doing the kind of work that the USAID wants done; now we have to connect the agency with our researchers,” says Feinson. “We have $150 to $175 million in proposals in the pipeline, across four categories: 1) sustainability – energy, food security, climate; 2) rule of law in a civil society – human trafficking, justice reform; 3) education reform in K-12 and higher education; and 4) global health.”

Recent successes include a $2.5 million expansion of a program to train engineering faculty for universities in Vietnam driven by Intel, which is building a large facility in Ho Chi Minh City. It comes one year after a $2.5 million grant from USAID and Intel, and includes assistance from the Vietnamese government. Faculty members from Vietnam engineering colleges are receiving training at ASU’s Fulton Schools of Engineering and in Vietnam.

ASU also just received a $10 million cooperative agreement­­ from USAID to lead a consortium of higher education institutions and service providers to offer clean energy training and education to countries in the developing world.

“ASU has taken on the role of being one of the prime drivers in changing the world,” says Feinson, “and the developing world is where the challenges are most defined. There’s no option not to be engaged globally. A lot of challenges are abroad, but they are relevant to the rest of us”

All large universities are becoming globally engaged, says Simon, but ASU’s approach to challenges is very different.

“ASU has this very problem-oriented structure, and we bring that as a big tool that enables us to offer more because we can draw on many disciplines simultaneously as we bring our expertise overseas,” he says. “ASU is interested in not just global reach but global impact, making a difference in the world.

“Another thing that makes ASU unique is that we move quickly here," Simon adds. "We don’t have long gestation periods where we take a year or two to make a decision. We get engaged and mobilize very quickly. ASU is a place where things are happening all the time.”

ASU also has been building a relationship with Dublin City University in Ireland and Nanyang Technical University in Singapore, both of which share many of the objectives of ASU.

Globalization is neither a fad nor a trend. It is the outcome of hundreds of years of connectivity through trade and the transfer of knowledge among cultures, now progressing at warp speed.

“The genie is out of the bottle,” said Michael Crow to the Phoenix Committee on Foreign Relations in 2006. “The nations of the world will only become more deeply entrenched in the process of globalization.

“Imagine hundreds of students and dozens of faculty members committed to improving the quality of life worldwide, and the collective energy of such a unified effort emanating from within schools throughout the university.”

According to Vice Provost Simon, in many ways, ASU has just begun its global quest.

“While we are well on our way to fulfilling President Michael Crow's charge for expanding ASU's global engagement, we can expect to see a new burst of activity in the coming years as all parts of the university broaden and deepen their global reach and global impact."