BSU opens doors in China

In November, Bemidji State University’s goal of expanding relationships with universities in China took a significant step forward with the signing of an articulation agreement with Weifang University in Weifang. The signing took place during a five-day relationship-building trip that saw Dr. Martin Tadlock and a group of BSU faculty and administrators visit a total of four Chinese universities.

Tadlock, BSU’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, has been building toward a closer relationship with universities in China since arriving on campus in July. His goals have been two-fold: to increase the number of international students on campus at Bemidji State, and to increase the number of opportunities for BSU faculty and students to teach and study abroad.

From Nov. 11-16, Tadlock’s delegation visited four Chinese universities: Weifang; Taiyuan University of Technology in Shanxi; Guangzhou University in Guangzhou; and Dongbei University of Finance and Economics in Dalian.

The delegation included Dr. Colleen Greer, interim dean of the College of Arts & Sciences, and Dr. Patricia L. Rogers, dean of the College of Health Sciences and Human Ecology, and five faculty members: Elizabeth Rave and Mike Hamann from biology; Bonnie Higgins and Steve Sundahl from technology, art and design; and Sanjeev Phukan from business.

Following the trip, Tadlock and other members of the travel party briefed BSU faculty and staff on the wide variety of opportunities that will become available through the agreement with Weifang and through future agreements with the other three Chinese universities. Some of the opportunities are available immediately, and others will open up as soon as next summer.

Student exchange opportunities

Tadlock plans for these agreements to create dozens of opportunities for Bemidji State students to spend an entire semester studying in China. To make these potentially life-changing opportunities available to as many students as possible, his goal is to structure the exchange agreements in such a way to keep student costs near zero.

“We are going to set up opportunities for any student at Bemidji State University who wants to go abroad for a semester to do it at an affordable rate,” he said. “At other institutions, it can cost you anywhere from $5,000-$12,000 above and beyond what you pay in tuition that semester.”

Through the exchange agreements, students would register for between 12-15 credits at BSU, then take those courses at a university in China. Those universities would provide student housing and some other services. At the four universities visited by the delegation, the plan is to offer exchange opportunities that would cost students very little above and beyond the normal cost of BSU tuition – ideally less than $500.

Tadlock said the University had a goal of seeing as many as 120 Bemidji State students studying internationally every semester in similar exchange programs with a variety of countries. Today, through existing Eurospring, Sinosummer and other international study programs, about 45 Bemidji State students study abroad each year.

Exchange opportunities for BSU faculty and staff could soon expand beyond China, as the university also is exploring international exchange agreements with universities in Norway, Switzerland, Argentina and Viet Nam.

Increased international population at BSU

These programs would be a two-way street as well, with Bemidji State dramatically increasing the number of international students it brings to campus each year. The university currently has approximately 120 international students on campus, and Tadlock says the university has a goal to expand that total to 300 students within the next two to three years.

The University is partnering with Canadian company CIBT, which is acting as a facilitator for most of the exchange opportunities being made available to faculty and staff in China and beyond.

To support these exchanges, BSU and CIBT also are planning to open an international English as a Second Language center to provide language instruction to Chinese students before they enroll in courses at the University. Planning for the ESL center is underway, with a goal of having the facility open sometime in 2013.

Faculty teaching opportunities

These exchange initiatives are not solely for students; faculty at BSU will also have significant international opportunities as a result of these initiatives. Rogers said all four universities visited by the BSU delegation now offer opportunities for faculty to teach in China.

“You can go and teach there and receive a stipend and travel would be paid and so on,” she said. “We are thinking this would be wonderful for sabbaticals or unpaid leave.”

Rogers also said there could be opportunities for faculty to teach in China and provide that course back to BSU through an online or other configuration, allowing faculty to officially teach half-time at BSU and half-time in China simultaneously.

Music students to visit China in 2013

One of BSU’s first sizable exchange opportunities will take place in May 2013, when Bemidji State’s student electronic music ensemble heads to China for a month.

Dr. Del Lyren, professor of music, and five members of the student ensemble known as Voltage, will spend between three and four weeks at Weifang University to serve as ambassadors from Bemidji State and to share expertise in electronic music.

“We will be doing a concert series at Weifang and at other universities, and will work with their students and teach them about electronic music,” Lyren said. “From what I understand, the Chinese mainly focus music education on traditional Western instruments – like piano and violin. They don’t have electronic-based instruments, so we’re going to be bringing them a completely new slant on music.”

Greer said the Voltage trip is just the first of many opportunities for groups of BSU students from a variety of majors and programs to extensively travel and study abroad.

“We are hoping to see some more of these opportunities,” Greer said. “And we hope to see this expand to student groups from any other program.”

Existing and future opportunities

Bemidji State already has two full scholarships available for students to study at Guangzhou, and is seeking opportunities to also offer similar scholarships for other Chinese universities. In addition, BSU plans to have four or five faculty traveling to China in the summer of 2013.

Tadlock said Bemidji State plans to host more visiting faculty from international institutions as well; BSU is currently hosting a visiting professor from Laioning University in China, as it has each fall semester for some time, and has plans to expand this program to host as many as four visiting processors per semester.

“China is a growing place, their economy is strong, and they are putting money into higher education beyond anything I’ve ever seen here,” Tadlock said. “They have the resources, and they’re willing to invest in sending their people abroad. That’s why every every university in the United States is trying to participate in these opportunities.”

Taiyuan University of Technology, Shanxi
• Weifang University, Weifang (no English-language version)
Guangzhou University, Guangzhou
Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, Dalian
• Livestream archive of Dec. 6 on-campus presentation (account required)