Dean's Blog: Welcome to the 2017-2018 Academic Year

Downing Thomas

Though it is the first week of the 2017-18 academic year, International Programs and many others around campus have been working hard over most of August to prepare a new group of international first-year graduates and undergraduates, transfer students, and visiting scholars to hit the ground running this fall semester.  We will have a smaller incoming cohort of international undergraduates this fall. While we will not know the full story until we have final data and are able to compare it with our peers, most likely this change is attributable to factors that are out of our control, such as the current political climate in the U.S., fierce competition from other English-speaking countries, and the shifting winds of global demographics and sources of educational funding. The University of Iowa, likewise, reported a slightly smaller freshman class at 5,029 -- making it the third-largest class in UI history after two record-setting years. Our total enrollment remains up slightly -- at 33,564 from 33,334 last fall.

After several years of strong and even double-digit increases in our international undergraduate student numbers, this year we have an opportunity to evaluate and improve upon what we have been doing to welcome and integrate students from abroad into our community.  It will allow us to focus on programs related to student health and well-being such as our counseling services and recreational programs; on the initiatives that students themselves have brought to us, such as the Conversation Center, which was embraced and sponsored by the Department of Rhetoric; on the various “friends” programs that enrich the educational experience of both domestic and international students (Global Buddies; Friends of International Students; Friends Without Borders); and on the Global Mosaic Living-Learning Community.  One of the goals IP’s Advisory Council set for the campus in 2016 was to improve upon the ways we engage our international and domestic populations, in order to make the UI a destination for global learning.  2017-18 is a chance for all of us to consider how we can move toward realizing this goal.

Increasing study abroad opportunities and developing enhanced curricula for global learning right here on campus are stated goals of the university’s new strategic plan. Thomas A. Shannon, Jr., under secretary for political affairs at the U.S. State Department, has remarked that American colleges and universities are an “essential part of our nation’s diplomatic outreach” and critical to building the cross-cultural relationships necessary to solve the world’s most pressing problems.  More students than ever before seek to understand global processes and problems, and want to know how to solve them using the tools of their disciplinary majors and using the perspectives of newer interdisciplinary approaches. UI students want to study abroad more than ever before; and they are seeking out new kinds of educational experiences integrated into their fields of study: internships, service-learning programs, volunteer activities, and community engagement.  Private donations from alumni and friends have an increasingly important impact in providing study abroad opportunities for students who would not otherwise be in a position to take advantage of them.

Continuing this year, Professor Wenfang Tang, as IP’s faculty fellow, and the Advisory Council will continue to explore how we can better understand and leverage the international and globally oriented research and scholarship that is going on under our noses, yet not always immediately visible.  We are also enhancing our investment in global research by fully supporting faculty Fulbright awardees, who visit other countries to collaborate with colleagues.  As Under Secretary Shannon noted, “the citizens of just one nation alone will never overcome our global challenges. Economic opportunity, good governance, energy security, and global security can only be advanced by committed individuals, institutions, and nations working together to find solutions. It’s all about partnerships.”  At the UI, we are working to cultivate and leverage those partnerships in ways that were impossible just a few years ago, using today’s data and tools.

As a 2017 Senator Paul Simon Awardee for Comprehensive Internationalization, and a Fulbright Top Producer for the second year in a row, the University of Iowa has the opportunity as never before to advance our missions as a truly globalized institution.

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