Gorbachev Visit Highlights UW Internationalization Efforts

October 6, 2011

By Tom Buchanan, President, University of Wyoming

One of the iconic images of the Cold War era is U.S. President Ronald Reagan challenging Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "Tear down this wall!" during a speech in 1987 near the Berlin Wall. A series of startling events soon followed, including the collapse of the Soviet Union itself, dramatically altering the course of world history. Those of us who grew up in the decades after World War II appreciate the monumental significance of those events.

A new generation of students has entered college, never having experienced what it was like living all those years under the tensions that existed between the two world superpowers or how startling it was to hear a Soviet leader advocating "glasnost" or openness. That's one of the reasons that, when I learned that Gorbachev was planning to be in North America this fall, we pursued the opportunity to invite him to Wyoming.

Mikhail Gorbachev's appearance at the University of Wyoming on Oct. 14 is part of our ongoing efforts to provide meaningful internationalization experiences for our students, faculty and the residents of Wyoming.  

It's not that our UW students don't get the importance of global awareness. In fact, many of our expanded internationalization efforts were in response to student demands. Our students understand that Wyoming is affected by events such as increased energy demands in China, or the economic turmoil in Greece. Through the emergence of social media and the power of the Internet, this generation of students has witnessed in real time such events the first pro-democracy protests that led to the "Arab Spring" that swept across North Africa into the Middle East.

Today's UW students want more opportunities to study abroad and seek out interaction with people from other countries.  They want to learn more about global issues by taking international studies courses in such areas as economics, agriculture, and energy markets. Enrollment is increasing in Arabic and Chinese language courses, along with traditional language offerings. Our faculty recognizes the value of conducting research in key locations around the world.  Many faculty members have persuaded influential visiting scholars to come to Wyoming to share their insights and experiences through public speeches and class lectures.

Just this September, I attended a forum on campus led by Gordon Gray, the United States Ambassador to Tunisia, who had witnessed the massive protests that launched the "Arab Spring" rebellion that led to the ousting of that nation's president. The thoughtful, knowledgeable questions our students posed to the ambassador demonstrated the high level of understanding our UW students have about an important international issue.

You can go to the websites of many colleges and universities, and you'll see they are saying the same things about the importance of including internationalization in their strategic planning efforts. But what you don't often see is a commitment to bring about these initiatives.  At UW, there are more than 750 students representing 94 nations. They add an enriching cultural texture to our campus, often sharing their cultural heritage through special events such as international week, talent shows, and international cuisine nights. 

We support a speakers' series in which international scholars interact with students and residents at Wyoming community colleges. Last year, more than 1,700 people attended the programs, organized by our International Studies office. 

Donors such as former Vice President Dick Cheney and his wife, Lynne, and many others have contributed funding to support study abroad. Last year, more than 300 UW students studied at 37 countries around the world.  UW partners with more than 400 exchange sites or study abroad programs, allowing students to go almost anywhere in the world and study in English or in a foreign language.

In my State of the University remarks this fall, I announced UW's commitment to participate in a two-year internationalization laboratory at the invitation of the American Council on Education.    Both inside and outside of the classroom, we strive to contribute to our students' understanding of international affairs and prepare them for careers in the global workplace.

After we announced Gorbachev's appearance, it has been heartening to learn that students at Wyoming's community colleges and people from throughout the Front Range are making plans to come to Laramie to attend this landmark event. We have heard from parents who plan to bring their middle school-aged children to listen to President Gorbachev's remarks. What we know is that our commitments to internationalization appear to be shared by many.

We invite everyone to join us for the Gorbachev's public event on Friday, Oct. 14, at 3:30 p.m. in the Arena-Auditorium.

More details about Gorbachev's appearance at UW can be found at www.uwyo.edu/news/index.html  under Top Stories.

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