Perspectives Online

Global Connections - The college's office of international research leads the way in international research collaborations and study abroad opportunities for students.  By Natalie Hampton.

BigStock Photo: Andrea Danti

As international mercantilism increases, universities nationwide scramble to go global, bolstering international student, faculty and researcher exchange programs to help graduates compete in growing overseas markets and to burnish university reputations as world-class players.

A CALS Jefferson Scholar (above, left) welcomes visiting Honduran students from the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura to N.C. State.
Photo by Becky Kirkland
At N.C. State University, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences researchers and students interested in international studies or research collaborations, or both, have a friend in the College's Office of International Programs (OIP).

Dr. Larry Nelson, the College's assistant dean for International Programs, works with Dr. Bailian Li, N.C. State's vice provost for international affairs, to help develop international partnerships that provide N.C. State students and researchers with overseas centers. Three centers recently established in Poland, Chile and China continue the College's long international work tradition, Nelson says.

"Since N.C. State is the only university in the state with economic development as part of its mission," he says, "faculty researcher exchanges that lead to the establishment of research collaborations on partner campuses are a driving force. We also provide our students opportunities to study abroad and to expand their horizons in a world where their future depends upon their global awareness."

But longtime College international program fund providers such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) are sidelined by federal budget cuts. So fierce is the competition among institutes of higher education to land international centers and lure international students - especially from rapidly developing China - that one national educator calls it "a gold rush."

International and CALS students mingle at a campus reception (top). Dr. Larry Nelson (bottom) of CALS International Programs meets with Dr. Gustavo Ramon Lopez, who is the rector of the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Honduras.
Photos by Becky Kirkland
"It's all very competitive," Nelson says. "Nevertheless, our faculty is internationally well-connected and involved in a variety of collaborative research, teaching and extension programs and projects. We also have trained many international educational leaders, who maintain strong ties with the College and university."

One of those is Li, who is creating the international centers, and the College is a major partner in that effort, Nelson says. Li holds Ph.D. and M.S. degrees from N.C. State's College of Natural Resources and a B.S. degree from Beijing Forestry University.

Nelson knows that student exchanges, while important, are usually a crucial first step in a deeper N.C. State involvement with the international host campuses that lead to faculty exchanges and research collaborations.

Here's how the economic development catalyst process usually works: First, after reciprocal visits between the target campus and N.C. State, the College (or other NCSU colleges) signs memos of understanding with an international campus to allow student exchanges. Next comes an exchange of professors and researchers. After the exchange reaches critical mass, both campuses set up collaborative research programs.

In 2004, Nelson, Dr. Gerald Elkan and visiting scholar Al-Hassan Seidu shipped CALS-donated computers to Moldova.
Photo by Daniel Kim
The most current example of this strategy is the College's expanding relationship with Chinese universities.

In October, an academics-related College delegation visited the University of Zhejiang, near Shanghai, China - in a visit coordinated by Nelson's office.

The group included Drs. Kenneth Esbenshade, CALS director of Academic Programs; Steven Leath, CALS director of the N.C. Agricultural Research Service; Tom Rufty, Crop Science; Shaobang Zeng, Bioinformatics Research Center; Craig Yencho, Horticultural Science; Peter Ferket, Poultry Science; Ralph Dean, Genetics; and Ingrid Schmidt, NCSU Office of International Affairs (OIA).

As a result of that visit, agreements later were signed so that about 60 N.C. State students will attend Zhejiang University, which will serve as an NCSU study-abroad base. Students will spend a summer, semester or academic year in China taking classes they need to complete their degree.

Soon afterward, N.C. State administrators cemented ties here with visiting officials from China Agricultural University, Beijing Forestry University and The Graduate University of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. N.C. State and Chinese officials in April opened a Confucius Institute here in which Chinese faculty teach Chinese language and culture.

On another part of the globe, the College of Design-initiated N.C. State Prague Institute, since 2005 the UNC system's first permanent international base, now offers all N.C. State students a range of required general education courses. Last summer College of Management students were the first non-Design students to attend the Institute, participating in an international trade session.

Dr. Shaozhong You (right) of the People's Republic of China speaks with NCSU Provost Larry Nielsen at the October announcement of academic agreements between N.C. State and Chinese universities, including the Chinese Agricultural University.
Photo by Roger Winstead
Concurrent with the Institute's programs, several College biotechnology or pre-med students in the summer study-abroad program took courses in Poznan, Poland, at Adam Mickiewicz University (AMU) and the Agricultural University (AU).

Dr. Hannah Gracz, CALS professor of biochemistry and an AMU alumna, started the program in 2004 with colleagues Dr. Paul Mozdziak of the Department of Poultry Science and Dr. Marc Fountain, a scholar of Polish history.

The College just launched another overseas partner campus agreement with the Universidad de Concepcion (UdeC), Chile.

Following the usual procedures, in July, Nelson led faculty and administrators during a week on two UdeC campuses, investigating the creation of a dual degree program.

"Biological and Agricultural Engineering initiated this action," Nelson says. "We're striving to exchange faculty and students with Chillan, Peru, because that's the ag campus, or with the main campus at Concepcion, since they concentrate on the life sciences as we do. But there's no reason we can't expand to vet med, agronomy or horticultural science."

N.C. State Provost Larry Nielsen and UdeC Rector Sergio Lavanchy in October formalized several dual-degree agreements so N.C. State undergraduate and graduate students can study in Concepcion for a semester or a year, while N.C. State welcomes UdeC students.

"They're also asking for faculty to come down and teach short courses, with most expenses paid," Nelson said.

And with a $100,000 Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service grant, several College faculty members and others are focusing on an international collaboration in organic agriculture in Uruguay. Involved from the College are Dr. Paul Mueller and Dr. Michelle Schroeder, Crop Science; Dr. Nancy Creamer, Horticultural Science; Dr. Jean-Marie Luginbuhl, Animal and Crop Science departments; Dr. Sophia Kathariou, Food Science and Microbiology; and Gary Bullen, Agricultural and Resource Economics.

N.C. State's Uruguayan counterparts are Bio-Uruguay and la Universidad de la Empresa.

Student exchanges help N.C. State boost its international student count, which stands at about 6 percent of the total student population. About 11 percent of the international student population is enrolled in the College. While N.C. State's international graduate population comprises less than 1 percent of the total student body, the university hosts more than 600 Chinese graduate students, with more than 300 visiting international scholars, Li said. And more than 600 N.C. State students typically are studying outside the United States, says an OIA Web site.

Among instruments helping raise the numbers are the College's increasingly popular summer study abroad programs. Students now can study not only in China, Prague and Chile, but also in Australia, Costa Rica, Northern Ireland and Norway.

The list continues to grow:

  • A three-week China session in May, headed by Dr. Jenny Xiang of the Plant Biology Department, included lectures and mountain field trips on which students learned plant identification, plant specimen preparation skills and natural plant resources and biogeography knowledge.
  • Dr. Morgan Morrow, professor in the Animal Science Department and native Australian, heads the CALS Australia summer abroad programs, delivered at two Queensland universities. It includes animal industry visits and wildlife and animal identification.
  • The three-week Costa Rica program, with N.C. State student direction by Dr. Michelle Schroeder of Crop Science, covers crop science, ecology and horticulture.
  • OIP also encourages international goodwill visits. In 2006, for the fourth consecutive year, junior undergraduates from the Universidad Nacional de Agricultura in Honduras visited our campus.

At the research level, several College departments are involved in on-going international projects funded by USAID Collaborative Research Support Programs (CRSP): Soil Science, Crop Science, Animal Science, Horticultural Science, Entomology and Sociology and Anthropology.

In 2001 a faculty exchange between N.C. State and the Agrarian State University of Moldova was funded with a $200,000 U.S. State Department Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs grant. That exchange grew into a postharvest lab's establishment at SAUM's Chisinau campus and a postharvest technology curriculum development, along with the College's donation of 185 computers and peripherals and 13 tons of books and journals to SAUM.

The program ended in August, but recent feedback from the Moldovan government indicates the computers went to seven boarding schools, four "theoretical lyceums," two high schools, an orphanage and two non-government organizations.

But Nelson and his group do not rest upon such laurels.

Even as funding decreases, Nelson and OIP help faculty members continue to find, process and submit grants and contract requests for proposals, as well as collaborate in joint international research projects and attend international conferences.