Simon Award Winners Discuss What Sets Their Institutions Apart

November 21, 2014

By Michael Feighner

Internationalization is increasingly becoming a central tenet of university missions and successful institutions innovate unique solutions worthy of recognition. The NAFSA Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization is awarded each year to schools that set themselves apart with their efforts to increase international programming and offer global educational experiences to their students, faculty, and community. In 2014, NAFSA celebrated the 12th anniversary of the Simon Award, and in a panel held on Tuesday, November 18, in Washington, D.C., several presidents and chancellors discussed the ways in which their institutions rose above the rest to receive the award.

Ángel Cabrera is a former Fulbright scholar from Spain and the current president of George Mason University, a public university located in Fairfax, Virginia with more than 33,000 students. When asked about the internationalization successes that his university has seen, Cabrera said that his administration has placed emphasis on scaling up international education opportunities for a large number of students. “We had to make smart ways for students to study abroad,” he said. This has included many programs developed through the Global Problem Solving Consortium, an international partnership of eight universities that George Mason spearheaded.

For The Ohio State University, an idea as simple as switching from quarters to semesters changed the landscape of education abroad for a university already deeply involved in international education. President Michael V. Drake noted that the calendar shift in 2012 opened the doors for more STEM students, athletes, and others with limited time and resources to participate in study abroad. The month of May became the perfect time for short-term faculty-led programs, and participation grew from 1,716 to 2,255 students. The increase in study abroad means that students are more aware of the world and better able to help confront global challenges. “We wanted to do what’s best for the world, so we needed to know about the world,” says Drake.

The town of Albion, Michigan, became the sister city to the French neighboring towns of Noisy-le-Roi and Bailly in 1997. Numerous homestays, and exchanges have been conducted since, and Mauri A. Ditzler, president of Albion College, said the relationships provided the perfect opportunity to launch international education university exchanges, including a partnership with the Université de Versailles at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines. To illustrate the effect of these strong connections, Ditzler told the audience that the largest delegation to attend his recent inauguration was a group from France. Garnering support for international education may often be difficult in more rural settings, but as a result of Albion’s unique connections, approval was not hard to find.

Randy Woodson, chancellor of North Carolina State University (NC State), said refining the school’s international education strategy was the key to improving internationalization. NC State is the largest university in the state, with STEM majors accounting for more than a quarter of all students. At one time, faculty members had signed hundreds of memoranda of understanding (MOU), but by thinking strategically, Woodson and his administration pared that number down and focused more on establishing strong institutional partnerships. In elevating the exchange model from personal to institutional, more resources could support of research and collaboration, and NC State’s international partnerships have produced results on a much larger scale.

To read more about these and other Simon Award-winning institutions, purchase a copy of NAFSA's Internationalizing the Campus 2014 report.


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