Mason highlights UI's reach overseas and Iowa City's international appeal
By Josh O’Leary, Iowa City Press-Citizen 
President Mason speaks to a group of alumni and friends while in Asia for the UI delegation trip. Mason recently spoke at an ICFRC luncheon regarding the trip, which took place over 10 days in July.
John Rapier of Kingston, Jamaica, was the first international student to earn a degree from the University of Iowa when he became a doctor of medicine in 1864.
Today, more than 3,000 international students make up UI’s student body, including nearly 2,000 undergraduates — up dramatically from just the 50 international undergrads who were on campus a half decade ago.
UI President Sally Mason, fresh off a summer visit to China and Taiwan, highlighted the growing reach of UI as what she called a “global institution” Tuesday at a luncheon hosted by the Iowa City Foreign Relations Council.
Mason shared slides from the UI delegation’s trip to Asia, a 10-day visit in July designed to strengthen current relationships with alumni and partners in Hong Kong, Taipei, Beijing and Shanghai, and establish new ties.
“International education and the internationalization of our students remains a core focus of the globalization of our campus,” Mason told the Foreign Relations Council audience at Congregational Church.
Just as UI is bringing more international scholars to Iowa City, including large numbers from China, South Korea and India, it is sending more of its students overseas. Mason said the university is nearing the 20 percent mark of students who study abroad and that number continues to grow.
“We think it’s important to encourage our students to study languages, cultures and histories of other peoples around the world,” Mason said. “We also think it’s important obviously to learn in diverse environments. Interacting with people, cultures and ideas that are different than their own has been a strong foundational approach we have in the curriculum that we try to deliver.”
One of the key reasons for Mason’s trip to China was to mark the 10th anniversary of university’s international MBA program in Hong Kong, which is taught by UI faculty and is among the university’s many overseas partnerships and endeavors.
“We have looked carefully at opportunities to build partnerships where it makes sense,” Mason said. “We are not going to build campuses overseas. That’s an expense and that’s probably something that is just really not on the horizon with us. But we love partnerships. We love being able to bring what we do over there and in some cases bring what’s done there here.”
Earlier this week, Mason spoke to the more than 30 members of this year’s UI International Writing Program, which since its founding in 1967 has hosted more than 1,400 writers from nearly 140 countries.
“If you want to be in the the theater, you go to New York City. If you want to be in television or the movies, you go to Los Angeles. But if you want to be a writer, you come to Iowa City,” said Mason, who touted the town’s designation as a UNESCO City of Literature, one of just six in the world.
Also at Tuesday’s luncheon, Downing Thomas, associate provost and dean of International Programs at UI, addressed the recent shakeup in his department. In January, UI announced it was restructuring International Programs, eliminating two assistant dean positions but putting plans in place to hire new employees to support the increase in international students and study abroad interest.
Thomas said he intends to re-engage faculty members this fall by establishing a new faculty advisory board, and said Doug Lee, former associate dean in the Division of Continuing Education, has stepped in as assistant provost of International Programs and has been well received.
“This frees me up to do what I really ought to be doing, which is working with faculty in all of the colleges to build their international activities and endeavors,” Thomas said. “There is more going on in the colleges than there ever has been in the past.”