Pulling together some international threads


A handful of threads relating to Michigan State’s international character have come together in the past week, offering us the opportunity to examine a range of ways the university is continuing its journey toward its world-grant future.

Two of those are really opposite ends of the same strand: students from here broadening their horizons through MSU’s nation-leading study abroad programs, and international students bringing the world to MSU when they come here to study.

And the good news is both groups are increasing.

When we talk about Michigan State as an increasingly international university, students sometimes ask, “Where do I fit into this global picture?” I can tell you that MSU offers you countless opportunities.

Last year, a record 2,787 students participated in our study abroad programs, living and learning in other countries and cultures. This year it could be your turn. Here at Michigan State, we often say it’s not a question of “if” but a question of “when.”

And one of the best ways to find out about those programs—an amazing range of academic experiences offered on all seven continents—is by attending the annual Study Abroad Fair on Thursday, September 21 at the MSU Union from noon to 6:00 PM.

They plan more than 100 exhibits, with program information, professors, program leaders, academic advisers, and representatives from Study Abroad, Financial Aid, the MSU Travel Clinic, the Resource Center for Persons with Disabilities, and the MSU Federal Credit Union. They can answer your questions about degree requirements, travel logistics, funding opportunities (including the MSUFCU Scholarship), and health and safety issues. There even will be someone there taking passport photos for a nominal fee.

Besides sending students for academic experiences abroad, MSU hosts an increasing number of students from around the world. Today, one in every thirteen students at MSU is an international student.

Last Friday, Michigan State’s preliminary enrollment numbers for fall were announced. They show the number of international students attending MSU has grown from 2,823 to some 3,500—an increase of about 24% over the last decade. So it’s clear we’re not just saying we want MSU to become more global, MSU is becoming more global every year.

We’re preparing MSU students to live in a different kind of world when they leave us, one where it won’t simply be an advantage to have some international experience, it will be a necessity. And part of Michigan State’s role today is to try to see beyond the horizon and not only prepare our students, but to help shape the future where they will live and work.

So on Monday and Tuesday of this week, it was my task to take part in a meeting in Washington, D.C. where that future was very much on the agenda.

It was the third such meeting between the Council on Competitiveness—which MSU recently joined—and the Mexican Institute for Competitiveness, or IMCO (Instituto Mexicano para la Competitividad). A mixture of participants attended, representing globally based business interests, Mexican and U.S. government departments, at least one ambassador, and two university presidents, the other being Marye Anne Fox of the University of California–San Diego.

Issues discussed at Tuesday’s meeting included increasing global competition, the heightened need for cooperation across international boundaries, economic and workforce development, the importance of innovation and the vital role of higher education in all of that. Perhaps most important, we began a dialogue to develop a strategic vision for an economic partnership that will make North America competitive as a region, in much the same way that the EU has organized itself into a regional approach for economic competitiveness in Europe.

The implicit objectives we set out—all built around the idea of harnessing knowledge and innovation, then putting them to work on society’s behalf—were essentially a reiteration of our land-grant mission—but going beyond just the state or the country in order to make the entire region globally competitive. Clearly, that’s an important part of our growing world-grant responsibilities.

I’ve written here about just three international threads that happened to come together in a single week. There are countless others woven into the fabric of this university and the community it serves. I encourage all members of the MSU community not only to be aware of them, but to seek them out, to take advantage of the opportunities offered by MSU’s unique global character, and to make the whole world your home town. Because that’s the future where all of us are going to live.


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