NORMAL — As part of its efforts to provide students with a global perspective, Illinois State University has signed an agreement with Wuhan University in China that will lead to faculty and student exchanges.
“Wuhan University is a first-rate research university, but they also offer strong education programs,” ISU President Larry Dietz said.
The agreement calls for exchanges of faculty, staff and students; training and joint research activities; and exchange of academic material and other information.
Perry Schoon, dean of ISU's College of Education, who accompanied Dietz on the trip to China, called it a cooperative agreement in which “we can learn from each other's best practices.”
Within the next five years, ISU wants to double the number of students who study abroad. The university also wants to increase the number of foreign students studying in Normal. Currently, the number going each direction — about 400 — is nearly the same.
ISU's strategic plan calls for providing programs “that prepare students to excel in a globally competitive, culturally diverse and changing environment.”
As much as ISU would like more students to study abroad, leaders recognize that most won't, for financial or other reasons.
Increasing the number of international students and faculty at ISU is “a way of bringing the world to Illinois State,” Dietz said.
International students make up about 2 percent of ISU's student body. Typically, a university of ISU's size would have about 5 percent international students, he said.
“That's not going to happen overnight and we don't want it to come all from one country,” Dietz said. “We want a diverse international student population.”
Schoon said three ISU programs he expects to be most involved are special education and instructional technology on the undergraduate and master's degree levels and teaching and learning at the doctoral level.
Dietz said Wuhan University has an advanced student assessment program and high-tech facilities for distance learning.
In addition to Schoon, Dietz was accompanied to China by his wife, Marlene; Barb Meyer, associate dean of education; and Luis Canales, director of international studies.
“We went there to establish relationships,” Schoon said. “The second step is to get our faculty with their faculty.”
While in China, the ISU group also visited the U.S. Embassy and two other universities in Wuhan that may be interested in ties to ISU.
ISU also has been working with Brazil, Panama and Saudi Arabia.
“The new market is Mexico and Central and South America,” Dietz said, in part because of the practicality of being only one or two time zones away and the relative ease of travel.
The roots of the Wuhan agreement began with a native of China who teaches at ISU.
Zeng Lin took a leave of absence to become chair of the geology department at Wuhan. He contacted ISU about some graduate students possibly attending ISU, explained Schoon and "it kind of expanded from there."