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Recognized for top study away programs

March 16, 2009

PLU recognized for first class global studies

Pacific Lutheran University has received the 2009 Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization, a prestigious award that honors outstanding efforts on and off campus to engage the world and the international community. PLU is the first and only private college in the West to have received this honor. On March 10, NASFA: Association of International Educators announced the recipients of the award, which aside from PLU, included four other colleges and universities. All five will be featured in the NAFSA report Internationalizing the Campus 2009: Profiles of the Success at Colleges and Universities, which will be published this fall. The awardees will be recognized at a May 29 ceremony in Los Angeles.

“For me, it’s a significant validation of the work that people have been doing on campus for a long time,” said Professor Neal Sobania, executive director of the Wang Center for International Programs. “And that’s to increasingly make PLU a globally-focused university.”

In nominating the university, Sobania noted the focus on global scholarship began more than 30 years ago, when PLU became one of the first universities to establish a Global Studies Program in 1977. Now, more than 40 percent of the students participate in at least one study-abroad program before they graduate. This compares to the national average of 3 percent, and puts PLU among the top comprehensive masters-level universities in the country with the percentage of students studying abroad. When students involved in near-campus or in-state J-term programs are included in this number, the percentage jumps to over 50 percent, Sobania noted.

In general, “PLU has made a conscious decision to talk about “study away” rather than “study abroad,” Sobania noted in his report to NAFSA. “We do so because the South Puget Sound is so richly diverse that one does not need to travel more than a few blocks to have a cross-cultural experience.”

PLU also offers “Gateway” semester abroad programs that include study in Sichuan University in China, an advanced-level Spanish language program in Oaxaca, Mexico as well as programs in Norway, Namibia and Trinidad-Tobago.

The gate swings both ways, he noted. About 235 students representing 24 countries study on campus and international scholars are always present. Campus groups focus on international issues, such as the Invisible Children Club, which looks at issues facing children in Uganda. And The Mast, the student newspaper, has an international editor. Every other year, the Wang International Symposium brings major speakers that focus on pressing international issues.

Most recently, a $2 million endowment was established, Sobania said, to help low-income students participate in the study away programs. He also noted the university’s International Honors Program and the fact that 35 Fulbright student scholarships have been awarded in the past decade to PLU scholars, with more than half of those in research areas.

PLU made history in 2006, by becoming the first United States university to have students and faculty studying on all seven continents simultaneously – an achievement repeated in 2008.

“This award confirms a focus and mission we have had for decades,” said PLU President Loren J. Anderson. “Our university is one that stresses how small a world we have become, and the necessity to see and engage the world in thoughtful scholarship and a passion for service and care.”

Nearly two-thirds of the PLU faculty have lived, taught or conducted research abroad, or have fluency in another language, or where born overseas. Faculty have also received Senior Fulbright Scholar Lecturing Awards in such countries including China, Korea, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Uganda.

The award is named for the late Sen. Paul Simon, D-Ill, who was a strong supporter of international efforts throughout his life. NAFSA’s annual Internationalizing the Campus report recognizes institutions that are leaders in the growing effort across higher education to better prepare students for a global economy and an interconnected world. With nearly 10,000 members, NAFSA is the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education.

The four other winners in 2009 are Boston University, Connecticut College, Portland State University and University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. Past winners in other years include Purdue University, Michigan State University, Concordia College and Arcadia University.