James Madison University will lead an international consortium of higher education institutions beginning next year with an eye toward developing new study programs, furthering exchange opportunities and fostering collaborative research and service projects.
Members of the INU Executive Council met at JMU in October. Click on photo for larger image.
Before arriving at James Madison University, 21-year-old Adam White of Richmond developed an appreciation for the Korean people and culture during his brief stay in a suburb of Seoul in early 2009. However, it wasn't until this past summer, as a participant in the Korea America Student Conference, that the sophomore international affairs major was awakened to the challenges facing North Korean refugees crossing the border into South Korea.
Now, thanks to JMU's membership in the International Network of Universities, White will have the chance to build upon his vision of helping this group of defectors assimilate into a free society.
The International Network of Universities, which dates to 1999, presently is comprised of 11 universities worldwide. JMU is the only consortium member that is based in the United States. The other countries represented are Australia, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, South Korea, Spain and Sweden.
Members of the INU Executive Committee gathered at JMU in late October for a series of strategic meetings and networking opportunities, and to celebrate the INU’s accomplishments under the leadership of Malmo University in Sweden. The gavel will pass to JMU in January for a three-year term.
“We all have differences, but we have much more in common,” JMU President Linwood H. Rose told members of the INU delegation during their visit, adding that the complex issues facing members’ home countries and the world at large are best addressed through higher education. “There is no better return on investment,” he said.
Toward that end, Hiroshima University has received a grant from the Japanese government that will help fund future consortium activities, including the INU Student Seminar in August, for up to five years. The seminar brings together undergraduates from member institutions to discuss global citizenship and peace as part of the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima City on Aug. 6, 1945.
INU President-Elect Lee Sternberger, associate provost for academic affairs and executive director of JMU’s Office of International Programs, said Japan’s $1 million annual gift brings with it a new sense of energy and commitment. “This is very good timing. We’ve got some new members and now funding. So we really see this as a chance to build programs. … I see us entering a very productive, creative phase of the consortium.”
Some of the projects on the table include an environmental sustainability workshop on water next summer as well as targeted career seminars in health and human services. Sternberger said she would also like to develop student and faculty exchanges in the arts, drawing on JMU’s new Forbes Center for the Performing Arts and similar venues across the network.
To date, the INU has focused on the Hiroshima project, which also features a summer school for graduate students, as well as study-abroad opportunities and staff shadowing programs. As the network’s only U.S.-based institution, JMU serves as a model for higher education, particularly in the areas of fiscal sustainability and student affairs, Sternberger said. “Because we are tuition-based, because of our love of collegiate athletics and our ability to build an alumni base that gives back to the university, and because of our focus on the student as a whole, the world does look to us,” she said. JMU recently welcomed two staff members from Ritsumeikan University in Japan for a two-week shadowing program.
Students at INU institutions can add an international dimension to their studies by taking courses at other member universities for credit. JMU typically hosts between 12 and 15 of these participants per year, with many of them choosing to take advantage of Madison’s strong liberal arts curriculum to supplement coursework in their primary fields of study.
As president-elect of the INU, Sternberger said another one of her goals is to increase membership in the consortium. “We’re a fairly small group. We’ve lost a few members over the years, either because it wasn’t the right fit for them or due to financial pressures. So we’ll be looking to find the right universities in the right places.”
JMU has brought veteran INU staff member Melanie Pissarius on board to serve as project manager during the university’s tenure as president. “Right now, we want to concentrate on what we’re good at and developing new programs that come with the Hiroshima [grant] money,” she said.
Pissarius’ primary roles will be to facilitate INU activities and to help implement the network’s new communication strategy, which includes a revamped website and other online channels. “I think the network has great potential,” she said.