A From offering an international business program to hosting international exchange students, Mississippi State is a university that values having impact on a global scale. MSU’s International Institute led by Jon Rezek, interim associate vice president, assists students, faculty and staff as they pursue global learning, research and outreach endeavors. The hub of the university’s international activities, the institute is committed to fostering global partnerships and seizing opportunities to apply MSU expertise to global problems, as well as finding resources that will benefit the university’s own strategic goals.
Enriching and expanding international research and strengthening global partnerships are key missions for MSU’s Office of International Research, said Heriberto Gonzalez Lozano, project coordinator.
A source of institutional knowledge regarding international funding sources and university contacts, the office works to build collaborative teams composed of MSU faculty and staff and those at universities and organizations abroad.
Assisting in the development of international research proposals and providing administrative support for global research projects also are among its primary functions.
“We are constantly monitoring funding opportunities all around the world, and we are continually listing them on our website,” Lozano said.
“We also encourage researchers who are focusing or want to focus on a particular topic to let our office know, so we can keep an eye on opportunities that might match their interests,” he added.
The Office of International Services recognizes the positive impact that incoming international students and scholars can have on Mississippi State’s campus culture, and vice versa, which is why director Caroline Hearnsberger said she and her staff are committed to ensuring the university always is in compliance with federal regulations for hosting these individuals.
“MSU’s domestic students who are unable to go abroad greatly benefit from the diversity and critical thinking that international students bring to our campus, as well as the many research collaborations and achievements that have resulted from our international student and scholar population,” Hearnsberger said.
To accomplish this goal, the OIS staff regularly advises the university’s international population on VISA requirements through one-on-one counseling as well as mandatory immigration orientation sessions.
In addition to assisting international students and scholars who come to MSU, the OIS helps outgoing MSU faculty and staff with making travel arrangements prior to and after they arrive at their destination.
“Our office maintains the university’s international risk management system, so we conduct risk assessments of international city and country locations and circulate those to potential MSU travelers and administrative officials,” Hearnsberger said. “Additionally, if there is a crisis abroad, we coordinate the response efforts to bring university students and personnel home safely.”
Whether for two weeks, a semester, or an entire academic year, students who study abroad have the ability to enhance their educational experience and that of their peers at Mississippi State.
“Students who study abroad have a lot more opportunities to interact with people who have different belief systems, cultural values and ways of communicating, so they return with different attitudes and perspectives that they can then bring into the classroom at MSU,” said study abroad coordinator Kristen Bloom.
Naomi Taylor, an environmental economics and management major from Nesbit, completed an internship this past summer in the southeastern African nation of Malawi. There, she assisted the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in assessing the outcomes of irrigation techniques that had been introduced to small farmers in the wake of a 2005 drought.
“Mississippi State helped me help others around the world, and for that I will always be grateful,” Taylor said of the experience. “When I was a senior in high school, I knew I had to come to Mississippi State. Now, I cannot imagine what my life would be like without this amazing university filled with endless opportunities, like sending me to Africa.”
Global partnerships are key in achieving MSU’s goals of answering some of the century’s leading research questions, such as how to end global food insecurity and hunger.
Developing and cultivating strong relationships with international and governmental agencies is among the goals of MSU’s Office of International Relations, said Karin Lee, director.
Memorandums of understanding with partner institutions of higher learning around the world enhance MSU’s ability to engage in global research and development.
“Additionally, recruiting and providing services to sponsored and exchange students is another objective, and MSU has been successful in attracting top scholars from around the world,” Lee said.
Since 2010, MSU has hosted nearly 20 Fulbright students from 15 different countries. The nation’s flagship international exchange program encourages foreign nationals to study and conduct research in the United States. The program also enables Americans to engage in similar activities abroad.
“Having Fulbright scholars on campus offers our students and faculty a valuable opportunity to interact with some of the brightest, most ambitious and outgoing students from around the world,” said Jon Rezek, interim associate vice president and executive director of MSU’s International Institute.
“These students are generally very eager to share aspects of their culture with us, allowing our students and faculty to see the world from a different perspective, which is extraordinarily important to both understanding our world and to thinking creatively about solving common challenges.”
Lee said the Office of International Relations also arranges campus visits by international dignitaries and other distinguished scholars, as well as facilitates sending MSU delegations to build partnerships during strategic international travels.
While learning about the world has become as easy as clicking on the Internet, real international engagement goes beyond hearing and seeing from the media and other second-hand accounts to actually stepping out of one’s comfort zone and gaining first-hand experiences.
No one advocates international engagement more than Stephen Cottrell, who jumps at the opportunity to set an example by visiting and studying in other countries. Cottrell is director for the Office of International Engagement, and his role goes hand-in-hand with work he’s done for years.
After Fulbright sponsored visits to Thailand in 2007 and Japan in 2009, Cottrell was named in 2012 as a Fulbright Scholars Alumni Ambassador, a prestigious distinction. As such, he advocates that faculty and students apply for the Fulbright International Exchange Program. Most recently, Cottrell returned from a 10-month appointment in Nha Trang, Vietnam, to teach American regional studies and cultural awareness measurements.
Among his many international experiences, Cottrell served as a marine in South Vietnam during the war, and also has worked as a Peace Corps volunteer in Thailand and teacher in Iran. His personal experiences include taking a “walkabout” from the Afghanistan border to England.
“Experiencing different cultures can drastically change someone’s perspective,” Cottrell said.
Mississippi State is becoming more and more known as a global educational destination. But for many of the world’s top students who desire to further their studies and their research at MSU, language can be a real barrier.
The university’s English as a Second Language Center is a sanctuary for those needing to immerse themselves with English teachers who are willing to help them not only with their English vocabulary and conversation, but also support them as they make the transition from their home culture to learning all about life in the United States. Many of the ESL’s staff go above and beyond to make students feel at home as they meet others from a vast diversity of countries who are facing similar language challenges.
ESL hosts credit and non-credit students, those already enrolled at MSU and those who do not yet have a language proficiency test score required for admission. They also host groups of short-term visiting students from around the globe.
“We focus on intensive English for either international students who are already on campus or who are hoping to go to MSU,” said director Alison Stamps. “We strive for high-quality language instruction because we’re preparing students for the classroom,” she added.
Stamps said with close to 20 different countries represented at the ESL Center at any given time, a simple walk down the hallway can give a visitor a taste of the world.
“We love that diversity. It’s a wonderful environment. It’s always great to see people of different cultures interacting,” she said.
Stamps and other staff help ESL students make an easy transition to the main campus classrooms.
“We focus on enabling students to achieve their goals,” she said.
For more on Mississippi State’s International Institute, visit www.international.msstate.edu. Follow on Facebook at International Institute – Mississippi State University, on Twitter @MSStateIntl, and Instagram @MSStateIntl.