Connections with Alumni Abroad

Currently on return flights from a trip to Asia, with at least my fair share of flight delays, I have had time to reflect on the importance of building relations between the University of Iowa and our constituencies abroad, in particular the growing number of friends and alumni we have living in other countries.  There are two reasons for the growing significance of our ties to friends and alumni abroad.  First, there is the fact that our international enrollment has grown significantly over the past few years, particularly at the undergraduate level.  We welcomed about 60 new, first-year international undergraduates to campus in the fall of 2007.  By 2010, that number had risen to 350; and the applications for admissions have continued to grow tremendously for fall, 2011.  We need to make sure that we connect with these alumni, who are just now beginning to graduate.  Second, given the economic rise of Asia–in particular, China and India, but also other countries such as Vietnam and Singapore–University of Iowa graduates, whether they grew up in Iowa or Illinois or Texas, are likely to have new opportunities for career advancement outside the U.S. that did not exist just five or seven years ago.  In my visit to China, I met several graduates of U.S. universities who had difficulty seeking employment at home, but had a number of opportunities come their way from abroad.  This fact speaks to the importance of our continued investment in the study of global languages and cultures, as these graduates told me that having some knowledge of Chinese language and culture had helped them advance in their careers and gave them an advantage over others who did not have this experience.  Officials at two top Chinese universities explained that they were investing in programs that will benefit both Chinese students and international students by bringing groups together on their campuses in special programs, both during the summer session and in the regular academic year.  The emergence of such programs will enhance the experience of U.S. students who decide to study abroad in China, which has become one of the top destinations for study abroad travel at the University of Iowa.

I have been impressed with the degree of interest our alumni abroad have in connecting with our faculty and students and with the Iowa City campus.  The alumni group I met with in Bangalore, India, in April were insistent in asking what they could do for their alma mater.  Traveling last week with the Dean of our College of Pharmacy and his faculty leadership in Bangkok, I was struck with the energy and enthusiasm of UI Pharmacy graduates, who are leading the top Thai colleges of pharmacy or have been successful in private industry.  It occurred to me, as I was waiting at yet another airport gate, that by maintaining contact with our alums abroad we are not only investing in the future of the University of Iowa but are also developing invaluable ties with well-placed groups in an area of the world that is of increasing and crucial importance to the State of Iowa and to the U.S.

I look forward to working with collegiate leadership and with the UI Alumni Association in reaching out to groups of alums abroad, whether they be from Clinton, Iowa, or from Shanghai, so that we can continue to enhance our programs.  Internationalization is not an end in itself but rather a means to enhance our core missions.

Downing Thomas
Downing Thomas

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