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Far East trip by MUC establishes relationships with Asian institutions

June 16, 2008

 

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A Japanese legend promises that he who folds a thousand origami cranes will be granted a wish.

Mount Union College President Richard F. Giese yearns for strengthened and new relationships with Asian institutions, so he recently visited five universities and several alumni in the Far East.

And he had 1,000 origami cranes in hand.

From May 15-31, Giese and his wife, Sandra, along with William Coleman, assistant to the president for diversity affairs, and his wife, Ruth, and Scott Slabaugh, director of international student services, made two-day stops in Japan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Singapore and China.

The cranes, folded by international students after a visit from a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bombing earlier in the academic year, were presented to the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation where they will be laid at a memorial at Peace Park.

A key to the city of Alliance, along with a proclamation from Mayor Toni Middleton, was also presented to the mayor of Hiroshima.

"We would like to have a city-to-city relationship with Hiroshima much like it has with Akron," said Giese. "Because of what happened there in World War II, Hiroshima is really at the forefront of the peace movement and the college wants to be a part of that."

The entire mission of Giese and his envoy was one of peace and goodwill, reaching out to alumni as well as current sister schools and making initial inroads in China.

"The epiphany for me is what a huge opportunity this is for our college and for our students and faculty to be involved with Asia, which is by far the area of the world that is expanding at the fastest rate," said Giese. "We really need to be involved over there. It's certainly a wiser path for us as a college, and as a country for that matter, to be collaboratively working with emerging powerhouses in Asia than it would be to be confrontational with them over military power. Already you see a tremendous intertwining between the cultures."

Mount Union already has a strong Asian influence with 60 of the 75 international students enrolled for next year coming from an Asian country.

However, while strengthening current ties with Baika University, Kansai Gaida University and Jogakuin University in Japan -- schools with which Mount Union has had a strong and long-standing exchange and scholarship program -- during the trip, the Mount Union delegation took the first steps in establishing an exchange relationship with Shanghai University of Finance and Economics in China as well as Sains University in Penang, Malaysia, where Mount Union alum Jason Tye is an associate dean.

"Our main purpose was to establish student and faculty exchange relationships with these Asian universities," explained Giese. "We would love to have visiting faculty come to teach, especially their native languages, and we want our students to have the opportunity to study abroad if they wish. This is a tremendous opportunity for our college."

Giese said Mount Union has a handshake agreement with Shanghai University of Finance and Economics, which was initiated by Chinese native Liangwu Yin, history professor and director of non-western studies at Mount Union.

The exchange will be the first with a Chinese school for Mount Union and the first with an American school for Shanghai University.

"China is just an unbelievable opportunity," said Giese, explaining that competition to get into the limited number of universities there is fierce.

While demographics show that college-aged population will drop over the next several years in the United States, making it more difficult for colleges to attract students, there is a surplus of Chinese students seeking educational opportunities.

"The limits at Chinese universities are very restrictive and there are many good students who can't go to college there because there just aren't enough schools," said Giese. "At the same time, there is an emphasis on education and students need to go elsewhere. There used to be a language barrier, but now anyone under 15 in China speaks English fairly well."

While in Shanghai, Giese also visited Mount Union alum Roger Lindsay, an executive with the Timken Company regarding international internship opportunities for Mount Union students.

In Penang, Giese and Tye discussed a four-week summer faculty exchange program.

"I think that is something our faculty will be excited about," said Giese. "Plus, I think it is critical for us to give faculty more of an international experience because it will only help in the classroom because of the globalization that is going on."

The Mount Union board of trustees could be going global as well. In between hosting six alumni functions of 20 to 25 persons each, Giese interviewed at least three potential board members.

"All of our alumni, no matter where they live, are a huge asset as far as recruiting students and fundraising," said Giese. "We have some very successful alumni in Asia that would also be a benefit on our board and give us a world perspective."

Giese said reaching out to Asia is a natural evolution to what Mount Union has been doing, noting that faculty members have made the first venture into India.

"We're a global society and it's becoming obvious that the boundaries just don't exist like they did at one time," said Giese. "Asia and India are two giants in the world that are growing and we need to learn to work together for the betterment of all. This is a tremendous opportunity for us to expand our horizons."

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