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PLU wins Simon Award

June 15, 2009

PLU wins Simon Award

This spring, PLU received a powerful acknowledgement that it continues to be seen as a leader in globally focused education. The university was awarded 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.

“This kind of recognition 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.”

Neal Sobania, executive director of the Wang Center for International Programs, agrees. “For me, it’s a significant validation of the work that people have been doing on campus for a long time,” he said. “And that’s to increasingly make PLU a globally focused 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 instate J-Term programs are included, the percentage jumps to over 50 percent.

The prestigious 2009 Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization – named for the Illinois senator, a strong supporter of international efforts throughout his life – will also undoubtedly enhance PLU’s stature as a globally focused university.

The honor was awarded by NAFSA: Association of International Educators, the world’s largest nonprofit association dedicated to international education. Along with PLU, four other colleges and universities were honored. 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 later this fall. The 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.

Sobania notes that it wasn’t simply PLU’s successful study-away programs that earned the university its honor.

In general, “PLU has made a conscious decision to talk about “study away” rather than “study abroad,” Sobania said. “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.”

Many of those cross-cultural experiences happen right on campus. For instance, more than 230 international students study on-campus, representing 24 countries. On-campus groups also focus on international issues, such as the Invisible Children Club, which looks at issues facing children in Uganda. Even The Mast, the student newspaper, has an international editor. And, every other year, the Wang International Symposium brings major speakers who focus on pressing international issues.

Additionally, the university has developed an International Honors Program and 36 Fulbright student scholarships have been awarded in the past decade to PLU scholars, with more than half of those in research areas. Faculty members have also received Senior Fulbright Scholar Lecturing Awards in such countries as China, Korea, Estonia, Finland, Norway and Uganda.

The Simon Award wasn’t the only significant announcement acknowledging PLU’s emphasis on global education. Friends of the university met a $1 million challenge grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, establishing a $2 million scholarship fund that will enable up to 70 Global Scholar Grants for low-income students, who otherwise might be unable to participate in PLU’s study-away programs.

The fact that PLU is able to engage in partnerships with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation underscores the university’s leadership on global education issues, and is certainly the type of thing that NAFSA: Association of International Educators would have been looking for when considering universities for the Simon Award.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave the university the $1 million challenge grant to initiate the endowment fund a year ago. Since then, the matching $1 million was raised from donors, including the estate of Arthur H. Hansen, Loren and MaryAnn Anderson, Charles Bergman and Susan Mann, and Iver ’54 and Ginny ’56 Haugen. Earnings from the endowment will provide approximately $100,000 a year to fund up to 70 Global Scholar Grants for students who otherwise might be unable to participate in PLU’s study-away programs.

Given that PLU admits more Washington Achiever Scholars than any other independent university in the state, as well as 800 Pell Grant and 700 State Need Grant recipients, the Global Scholar Grants program will enable the university to further its commitment to making study-away opportunities available to all of its students.

“This new endowment will provide a significant boost to many deserving PLU students for generations to come,” said Sobania. “The Global Scholar Grants program and the many accomplishments of these students also will continue to enhance PLU’s stature as a globally focused university.”