Broadening Campus Boundaries
A campus in America’s central plains finds attracting multinational students not only elevates enrollment but promotes cultural understanding.
By Barbara Louise Johnson
We tell people that the University of Nebraska-Kearney (UNK) is in the middle of the country, and it is-literally. We are precisely 1,733 miles from the East and West coasts. However, despite our location in America's central plains, we've created a thriving international presence that broadens our regional boundaries and changes the face of UNK.
With an overall undergraduate population of nearly 6,500, we have students from 47 different countries, including Belarus, Colombia, and Nepal. The richness of diverse cultures and people is one of our strongest assets.
Our International Studies Program, which began in the mid-1980s, is the cornerstone of our outreach efforts to other countries. The interdisciplinary program is built around a core of courses rooted in traditional areas of study, such as global economics and comparative and international politics. We permit students-with the help of an adviser-to tailor a substantial portion of their global-studies curriculum to fit their own interests and career objectives. The program also requires foreign-language and world-literature studies.
One of the many advantages of our focus on multinational studies is the opportunity for both campus and community members to expand their knowledge base about other cultures and countries.
We also strongly encourage studying abroad. As a result, UNK has extensive exchange relationships and other multicultural opportunities, including programs in 28 countries. The exchange program has existed since the early 1990s.
Recruiting From Afar
Our commitment to a global culture goes far beyond the International Studies Program. For example, about 15 years ago, working collaboratively with the program's director, we were able to partner with the National Collegiate Network (NCN). The organization is based in Tokyo and connects Japanese students who want to study in the United States with cooperating schools across the nation. NCN representatives identify prospective colleges and universities in the United States, visit them, and get to know the administrators on those campuses. They then identify schools that would be a good fit for international students.
UNK is proud to be one of those institutions, and the program acts as a roadmap to recruit other international students to our campus. In partnership with the NCN, we have been able to attract 500 foreign students during our 15-year relationship. The resulting diversity in our student body makes a real difference in the community, on campus, and in our residence halls.
Our worldview brings other exciting opportunities. Since 1964, for example, UNK has hosted a World Affairs Conference, during which heads of state interact with students, faculty, staff, and state politicians. We also sponsor an international festival, which is one of our largest events. It attracts not only those from the UNK campus but also community members from near and far.
The Business Side
The impact of UNK's multicultural focus reaches many areas. For the business office, the influx of foreign students is a source of additional revenue. But, of course, this enrollment growth also comes with increased expenses. Consequently, we establish tuition and other fees to cover our costs for these educational opportunities we consider so valuable to our campus. We also have international scholarship opportunities that are funded from private resources as well as the University of Nebraska system.
Since our mission is to provide students with a multidimensional learning environment, the international initiatives are part of our strategic plan. Thus, support for such programs is part of our state-aided funding, with additional dollars allocated to other priority programs for the campus.
We are fortunate to have trained staff in various administrative offices who handle matters pertaining to our international students. This can include anything from understanding individual housing needs to handling mailing of parcel packages and providing appropriate selections in our dining halls. Importantly, we have legal counsel to assist with any particular visa or travel matters as well as advise us about general issues related to immigration.
We are currently working on a proposal to the International House (I-House) for a campus project that will bring together U.S. and international students to develop mutual respect, cross-cultural understanding, and friendship among students, faculty, and the people of Kearney. Our hope is that the project will function as a magnet to draw in the community and foster awareness and appreciation of the world's different cultures.
Students will live in one of our residence halls with a resident assistant and visiting faculty, who will help them to coordinate activities and innovative programs. We want to provide participants with activities outside of the classroom-opportunities for them to live and learn together. At the foundation of the I-House effort is our desire to create an opportunity for U.S. students and international students to learn more about one other.
Planned activities include the following:
- Groups of participating students will meet weekly to practice foreign languages.
- A Global Gourmet program will feature I-House chefs, who will teach students to appreciate foods from different parts of the world.
- Through an existing UNK International Ambassadors program, I-House students will visit K-12 schools to share details about their homelands. Participating students will be encouraged to provide visuals and bring samples of goods unique to their countries. Kearney K-12 students also attend events on campus, which will allow for further interaction and mutually rewarding interchange.
- Various multicultural events will allow students to learn firsthand how various cultures celebrate holidays and other types of events.
The result of all these efforts is that we offer an outstanding-and now multicultural-education based within our small town. This is one of our greatest recruiting strengths not only for our American students, but especially for our international students: UNK offers a safe, welcoming environment in which to learn.
We also offer a window of diversity through which to experience the world's many varied cultures, all from right here-in the middle of the plains.
Barbara Louise Johnson is vice chancellor, business and finance, University of Nebraska-Kearney.