Frostburg State University President Jonathan Gibralter and other FSU officials who accompanied him on a recent trip to Europe were pleased to report even greater progress than had been anticipated. Throughout their visit they discovered new areas for cooperation, potential for program development and opportunities to expand those and enhance already existing affiliations.
“We went to Europe with the intent of rekindling existing student exchange agreements, but it turned out to be much more than what we originally anticipated. We found many common goals and many ways that the institutions could support one another,” said FSU President Jonathan Gibralter. “Our hosts really went out of their way to make us feel welcome.”
In a highlight of the journey, the presidents of Frostburg State University and Mary Immaculate College in Limerick, Ireland, signed a new agreement to continue providing educational exchange opportunities between the two institutions, but also with prospects to expand connections in new ways, reaffirming a trans-Atlantic relationship that goes back nearly 20 years.
“I think it’s a very significant relationship because, by accident for us as for you, this was our first trans-Atlantic foreign exchange link, so we cherish it,” said Dr. Peadar Cremin, President of Mary Immaculate College. “We have exchanged a significant number of staff and a significant number of students. We have a great deal in common, through boundaries and across borders.”
The Mary Immaculate visit was the first leg of a weeklong journey by Gibralter and other FSU officials aimed at strengthening Frostburg’s overseas ties. The meetings, which were also held at Northumbria University in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England, and Copenhagen Day and Evening University College of Teacher Education in Denmark, opened up possibilities of many new areas for cooperation and program development. Frostburg has launched a strategic effort to increase the number of international students studying in Western Maryland, as well as the number of study abroad possibilities for Frostburg students.
The Frostburg contingent met with FSU students who are currently attending “Mary I,” as well as a number of Mary Immaculate students who had spent previous semesters in Frostburg. These students, as they have gotten to know one another at their respective institutions, have created ongoing friendships that are an integral part of the strong relationship between the two schools.
Frostburg and Mary Immaculate have another unique, ongoing relationship in the dozen Mary Immaculate graduates in recent years who have taken leave from their teaching careers in order to come to Frostburg to earn their Master of Education degrees. While in Frostburg, they serve in the College of Education as graduate assistants.
“Both Dr. Cremin and I voiced our commitment to keeping this exceptional arrangement ongoing,” said Dr. Kenneth Witmer, Dean of the College of Education.
Valuable bonds were also being forged at the two other institutions. Northumbria University, in the revitalized northern England city of Newcastle, is in its third year of the process toward international accreditation for its College of Business from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. FSU achieved that distinction in 2005. Likewise, Northumbria has recently completed a significant and successful rebranding campaign, an effort that is under way at FSU, and Northumbria expressed interest in FSU’s involvement of the development of marketing plans and materials. Each school has offered its expertise to the other, and future visits in both directions may be soon in the offing.
FSU officials were particularly impressed with Northumbria’s international business internship program, and its initiatives in economic development, leadership and public policy echoed Frostburg’s efforts back home.
At Copenhagen Day and Evening University College of Teacher Education, FSU officials were briefed on the unprecedented transformation that Danish higher education is facing in the coming months. Following the changes, FSU officials are anticipating broader opportunities with the newly realigned university system. The college’s director, Dr. Kaj Petersen, is anticipating a spring visit to Frostburg to continue discussions.
At the meeting, Petersen echoed Gibralter’s remarks about international exchanges: “International understanding is such a crucial part of education in today’s world,” and pledged to do his part to continue building those relationships. Danish students at the meeting also expressed enthusiasm at the possibility of studying in Frostburg.
The schools were also interested to learn more about advancement strategies, since many activities – fund-raising, alumni relations, promotions – that have become standard among American colleges and universities are still new concepts in Europe, but which are a growing need for them as well.
“All three institutions were also very interested in what we’re doing in distance education. They would like to observe how we support students and faculty involved in online learning,” said Vice Provost John Bowman, a member of the delegation.
The Frostburg officials were pleased with how candid and wide-ranging the in-person discussions were, touching on topics that would not have been discovered otherwise.
“Our hosts pointed out how important it was to meet face to face – a lot of what we do is by phone calls or e-mail. But there’s no substitute for actually seeing people and discussing where we have been and what our goals are,” Bowman said.
Gibralter has said he is committed to significantly expanding the presence of international students in Frostburg.
“We cannot offer the education our students need and expect without providing an international component,” Bowman said.