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INSIDE BINGHAMTON UNIVERSITY

Support, cultural diversity key to internationalism

By : Sarah Lifshin


International educator June Noronha says academic institutions must become more user friendly if they are to continue to attracting students from abroad during last week's "Enhancing SUNY as a Global University" conference. Noronha gave the keynote addres
International enrollment at the nation's universities is rising, and if SUNY colleges want to keep up with the trend, they must continue to provide a user-friendly environment, experts said at a recent statewide conference in Binghamton.

"We need to speak each others languages, know each others religion and eat at each others homes," said June Noronha, past president of NAFSA: National Association of International Educators and keynote speaker at the two-day event.

The University was host on October 2-3, to "Enhancing SUNY as a Global University," a SUNY-wide conference held to discuss strategies for recruiting students from abroad and improving their quality of life while on campus. The conference, which gathered representatives from a majority of SUNY institutions, also attracted private colleges and universities, including Georgetown University, Syracuse University and Hartwick College.

Statewide, SUNY currently has 14,962 international students, an increase of 70 percent over the last four years. At Binghamton, there are 1,102 international students, 818 of them graduate students.

However, SUNY officials say they can work harder to increase those numbers."Fourteen thousand students is not an overwhelming percentage," said Robert Gosende, SUNY associate vice chancellor for international programs. "It does not reflect the excellence of the educational opportunities offered at SUNY's 64 campuses."

Gosende said students, both American and international, thrive when surrounded by different cultures. A SUNY agreement signed with Turkey in 2001 for student exchanges is one step toward that goal, he said.

Students from Turkey, where there's limited space in the university system, are able to now spend two years at a Turkish institution of learning before attending a SUNY college or university. Binghamton University is participating in the program with offerings in global and international relations, and information systems.

"This is a great joy to see our campuses come together," Gosende said.University President Lois B. DeFleur said she wants the BU student community to continue to be culturally diverse. The University requires students to have international course work, and she said it has succeeded unbelievably."

DeFleur said that the campus community already shows an environment that welcomes other cultures. Earlier this month, hundreds of BU students participated in the International Festival, a celebration of foreign cultures that offered sporting events, food and music.

"We want the student community to be global," DeFleur said. Noronha said that many students, once coming to a new country, face difficulties obtaining financial aid or student visas. Noronha, who was born in Kenya, was herself an example.

She went to college in Minnesota before deciding to obtain a graduate degree in education. Then, in the early 1970s, she was accepted into BU's education program.

However, when Noronha arrived on campus, she was told that since the program was federally funded, she as a foreign citizen was not eligible for financial aid. "I had no place to go," she said. "I was no longer a graduate student." She feared being forced to go home because her student visa would expire.

She had a chance to stay when the French department offered her a spot, but turned it down. "Binghamton University helped me solve the problem, but this is not untypical of an international student's situation," Noronha said. "We need to envision international students in a broader light." The United States is the No. 1 destination worldwide for international students, and since 1993 there has been a 60 percent increase in their enrollment in the United States, Noronha said. BU ranks 20th in the nation in the number of international doctoral students enrolled.

International students contribute $1.4 billion to the New York state economy and $72.34 million to the Binghamton area, Noronha said.

To keep up international enrollment, SUNY needs a fine-tuned strategy and a support network, Noronha said. Students from abroad seek campuses in the United States that are diverse, she said. "The goals for colleges should be social, educational and academic," Noronha said. "Globalization creates entrepreneurs, which add to the local economic development."
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Last Updated: 10/14/08