International partnerships create opportunities at Bemidji State

Throughout the 2012-13 academic year, Bemidji State University began laying the groundwork for an expanded international presence. Led by Dr. Martin Tadlock, Bemidji State’s provost and vice president for academic affairs, university faculty and administration traveled the globe seeking greatly increased opportunities for BSU students and faculty to travel abroad and similarly increased opportunities to host students and faculty from overseas institutions.

With numerous initiatives announced throughout the year, renewals of previously existing partnerships and other work to expand BSU’s global presence, the university today has partnerships with 17 institutions in 12 nations. Bemidji State’s international partners include:

• Weifang University; Weifang, China
• Liaoning University; Shenyang, China
• International College of Guangzhou University; Guangzhou, China
• Global Institute of Management and Economics; Dalian, China
• Capital Normal University; Beijing, China
• Beijing Information Science and Technology University; Beijing, China
• PHZ Luzern; Lucerne, Switzerland
• University of the Comoros; Comoros Islands
• University of Reykjavik; Reykjavik, Iceland
• Sprott-Shaw University; Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
• Kyung Hee University; Seoul, South Korea
• HELP University; Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
• Aalborg University; Aalborg, Denmark
• Tampere PolyTechnic; Tampere, Finland
• Magdeburg University; Magdeburg, Germany
• Tromsø University; Tromsø, Norway
• Linnaeus University, Växjö campus; Växjö, Sweden

“We wanted to begin with the end in mind,” Tadlock said. “Our master academic plan has increased international competitiveness as one of its goal areas, and these programs will play a significant role in allowing us to reach that goal.”

The university’s efforts to reach that goal have stemmed from a simple premise – BSU intends to provide affordable pathways for its faculty and students to travel abroad. Tadlock’s goal was to have opportunities in place for 120 students to participate in semester-long study-abroad opportunities each semester, and the current lineup of international partners will allow BSU to reach that goal by the spring semester of 2014.

“Many of these programs are new, and our students don’t know enough yet about all of these opportunities,” Tadlock said, “So we have very few students who have stepped forward to take advantage. Our students just aren’t aware yet of the semester-abroad and work-abroad opportunities and how they work. So, we will do a lot of publicity in the fall.”

Bemidji State’s early adopters are already in China gaining life-altering experiences as a result of the opportunities made available through these exchange programs.

Four Bemidji State students traveled to Weifang University in February to begin work for CIBT, a Vancouver-based company with which BSU has a partnership to facilitate student exchanges. The students have been teaching in intensive English instruction courses and participating in all aspects of university life in China.

In May, BSU’s student electronic music group, “Voltage,” along with Dr. Del Lyren, professor of music, departed for a four-week stay at Weifang University. The group is teaching Chinese students about electronic music and about composing for electronic instruments, while also experiencing life and culture in China.

The student exchange will not be a one-way street. As a result of these partnerships, Bemidji State will begin hosting international students this fall as well.

Eight students from Weifang University will spend a month on campus this fall getting acquainted with the university and living in BSU’s residence halls. These students are currently receiving English instruction from the BSU students working in Weifang, illustrating the cooperative nature of the programs.

“They are coming at the end of August and will be here for the first month of the semester,” Tadlock said. “They are like ambassadors, doing the same things our students are doing over there right now. They’re coming to interact with people and to get familiar with us. After they check us out, they will have the option of transferring to Bemidji State, or they will go back and promote BSU on their campus in Weifang.”

BSU also will be hosting a pair of graduate students from PHZ Luzerne in Switzerland, and will have a visiting professor from Russia in addition to its long-standing arrangement to host a visiting professor from Liaoning University in China.

The formal university partnerships are only a part of BSU’s burgeoning international partnership efforts. The university also has entered into a cooperative agreement with the China Education Association for International Exchange, in conjunction with the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. The exchange facilitates dual-degree programs between 42 top-tier Chinese universities and 26 American universities, a group which now includes BSU. This program will allow further opportunities for exchanges beyond the university’s more formal network of 17 partner institutions, Tadlock said.

In addition, the university is adding a Global Learning Network classroom which will soon be online in Bridgeman Hall. The classroom allows high-definition videoconferencing with partner universities, and allows for long-distance instruction for classrooms of up to 40 students via connections with sites around the world. The room will be online in the coming weeks and will be used during the spring 2014 semester to begin offering intensive English and other courses at a distance.

This initiative, in concert with the university partnerships and the consortium memberships, shows Bemidji State is well on its way to achieving its goal of becoming a more internationalized campus community.

“Everything we had planned to do is starting to happen,” Tadlock said. “It’s only been a year, and things like this take two or three years before they start to feel like things are gelling. Things are going right along as planned.”