In Chile, UNT students kayak alongside gigantic icebergs near the shore of Lago Grey and hike through forests to study one of the most pristine wilderness areas in the world. In India, they visit movie sets to learn about music and the massive filmmaking industry there.
In Turkey, graduates are better equipped as police officers to ensure a secure world where democracy thrives because of the experience they gained through UNT's partnership with the Turkish Institute for Police Studies. And in UNT classrooms, international students share their experiences from Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and more than 100 other countries.
UNT's focus on three key themes — internationalization, diversity and collaboration — emphasizes the importance of global connections as a catalyst for change. And the university already is making a difference in the world through on-campus curriculum, exchange programs and innovative partnerships with other countries and international institutions.
"One of UNT's many strengths as a student-centered public research university is our commitment to be a responsive partner in improving our global society," President Gretchen M. Bataille says. "Our emphasis on internationalization ensures that we are at the forefront of institutions working to improve quality of life, facilitate the exchange of ideas and culture, and allow for important research addressing global issues.
"Because of the experiences offered in UNT programs, our graduates are prepared to succeed as engaged, thoughtful citizens of our world."
Music professor Steven Friedson, for example, has been leading study abroad trips since 1993 and enjoys giving students the opportunity to explore other cultures and exchange ideas.
During trips to Ghana, students embrace the local life — hauling in fish off the Gulf of Guinea, going to funerals and markets and studying drumming and dancing. These three- to five-week programs allow them to immerse themselves in another country without a hefty time commitment. But the experience can have a dramatic impact.
"I get e-mails from students from years ago saying, 'It changed my life,'" Friedson says.
Most recently, Friedson and Poovalur Sriji, a renowned South Indian drummer and UNT adjunct faculty member, led a group of eight students on a four-week trip to Mysore University as part of UNT's first formal educational exchange program with a university in India.
"I definitely think it's going to be an advantage when I interview for jobs," says Heather Lacy, a journalism major who participated in the trip and also has been on one of Friedson's Ghana trips. "That will make an impression, more than someone who hasn't been exposed for a long period of time to being away from the States."
In Chile, UNT students participate in an international network of researchers who are integrating science, philosophy and policy to find new approaches to conservation. Three groups of students have traveled since 2006 to the UNESCO Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve to study cultural history, natural history, biology and environmental ethics. A fourth group will travel there this summer.
As part of the philosophy department's winter course, Tracing Darwin's Path, Bruce Blay hiked through the Chilean wilderness with a mini-disk recorder to tape bird sounds for a CD.
"It was definitely the most profound thing I have ever done to this point," says Blay, an undergraduate philosophy student. "It gave me a hands-on experience and the hope that there are pristine wildernesses out there. I feel like a different person because I had this opportunity."
As a philosophy master's student, Erin Daly participated in an international workshop about ecological science and environmental ethics in March in Chile.
"You can't think about something in your chair in your office the same way you can think about it if you are actually surrounded by the people, the environment, the culture, traveling and looking around. That's the important aspect of this trip," Daly says. "I saw who and what would be affected by whatever I wrote. They weren't just words or ideas to me. They were words and ideas about real people and real things, and they could have real consequences."
More opportunities are on the way. Construction is planned for a UNT field station at Puerto Williams, which is located within the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve. The Chilean Institute for Ecology and Biodiversity, UNT's primary partner in the program, received a $15 million grant from CONICYT, the Chilean equivalent of the National Science Foundation in the United States, to help fund construction of the field station and support the work of UNT researchers and students over the next 10 years.
"Southern Chile — Patagonia — is one of the last best places in the world," says Robert Frodeman, associate professor and chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion Studies. "It is a region of pristine nature, high mountains and glaciers, penguins and whales, and traditional cultures. UNT is privileged to be able to conduct research there with its Chilean partners."
Another recent trip to study the environment took UNT students to Nepal for lessons in urban development, environmental quality, endangered wildlife management and community forest practices."The opportunity to ride an elephant in the wild and observe a horned rhinoceros in its natural habitat is one that you cannot get from a book, film or lecture," senior geography major Jon Gilliam says.
"The importance of the trip to Nepal for all of us at UNT is that we were able to visit a country that is going through many political and social changes.
"I am able to say I have studied in a country that has only allowed foreigners to visit since the '50s."
A better understanding
In another international partnership, UNT has teamed with the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México in Toluca — which has had an office on the UNT campus since 2005 — to provide unique opportunities for students at both universities.
Four years ago, UAEM student Oscar Olea-Mejia enrolled at UNT to pursue his doctorate in materials science and engineering. When he received that degree from UNT in December, he became the first graduate from the unique partnership. And this fall, the partnership began offering a dual master's degree program in English as a second language and linguistics. The two-year program will provide students at both UNT and UAEM with the opportunity to study in each country and earn degrees from both universities.
Wendolyn Tostado taught English for 11 years at several schools in Mexico, including UAEM, before deciding to pursue a master's degree through the program — along with her husband and fellow student, Rene Diazgonzalez.
"For us, it's a really huge opportunity," says Tostado, who completes her first two semesters of study at UNT in May and will complete the remaining two in Mexico. "Being one of the very first in the country to be enrolled in the dual program — that's a milestone in our lives and in the education of our country.
"Many of the conflicts we are experiencing now in the world are because we don't really know each other. The opportunity to study in another country and learn about different cultures and people really helps us understand those differences."
A more secure globe
Since 1999, UNT has helped more than 150 Turkish police officers develop a better global understanding and earn advanced degrees from U.S. universities through TIPS.
The program helps provide master's and doctoral education for Turkey's national police force at UNT and other American universities. The institute has become an international source of information on global security. Together with the Turkish National Police, TIPS now regularly sponsors conferences that are noted on calendars at the FBI, Homeland Security and Interpol and attended by scholars and policy makers from across the globe. Attendees of the Istanbul Conference on Democracy and Global Security in 2005 and 2007, for example, discussed such topics as counterterrorism in metropolitan areas and police reform in Brazil.
"Communication, technology and transportation are making it easier for terrorists to carry out attacks," says Sámih Teymur ('04 M.S., '07 Ph.D.), founder and president of TIPS.
"We need to work together as law enforcement agents throughout the world and share information, especially in the era after Sept. 11. In the TIPS program, cooperation and information sharing are among the most critical issues for fighting crime at the international level.
"We are creating a new type of expert."
Siddik Ekici ('05 M.S.) worked in various departments with the Turkish police and in Bosnia as a United Nations peace keeping officer before coming to UNT in 2003. He earned his master's degree in criminal justice and now is finishing his doctoral work in public administration at UNT.
"Here in the United States, graduate students from the Turkish National Police try to combine their practical knowledge with theoretical knowledge they obtain from their universities," he says. "We believe people with both practical experience and theoretical knowledge will be able to look at a problem from different sides and assist policy makers, senior officers or other administrators in developing more realistic approaches to solve problems."
The police force sometimes overlooks the actual cause of some problems and deals only with the outcome, he says.
"Fighting a street gang problem, for instance, can be approached with classical police operations," he says. "But the theoretical education we obtained has made clear the same problem has other aspects and requires us to pay attention to the reasons people leave their homes and head to the streets in the first place. Then we can try to solve the problem starting at its roots."
Improving quality of life
A longstanding relationship between UNT and Thailand led to two new programs in 2007 that will elevate the quality of education and improve the quality of life in Thailand. In July, UNT became Thailand's American partner in helping the nation meet its goal of having 30 percent of its 20,000 Rajabhat University faculty members earn doctoral degrees by 2014. UNT will educate many of these students and also act as the gateway to other American universities.
In addition, UNT was one of two U.S. universities selected by the Royal Thai Embassy to provide training for the prestigious Royal Thai Scholars.
Sutthinan Chuenchom, a lecturer of information science at Chiang Mai Rajabhat University, came to UNT with her husband and 3-year-old daughter to pursue a doctoral degree. When she returns to Thailand, Chuenchom plans to use her polished skills in the classroom.
"My English skills will help me to read textbooks in English to obtain updated information to use in teaching my students back in Thailand," she says.
"Already, I have learned some new techniques from my UNT professors, which I can use to teach my students."
Doctoral training for students such as Chuenchom will have far-reaching implications for Thailand, says Panu Sittiwong ('85 M.A., '94 Ph.D.), deputy president of Uttaradit Rajabhat University. Sittiwong is among the more than 1,000 UNT alumni in Thailand — many in high-ranking positions in education, business and government. The Rajabhat universities are responsible for educating about 400,000 to 500,000 students throughout Thailand, Sittiwong says.
"This alone gives you some idea of how we will impact the country," he says. "I just want faculty members to have the proper education and training. Our students are pretty much first-generation college students, so this is one way to improve their quality of life and move them up the ladder in society."
Expanding our global reach
Because of UNT's strong commitment to internationalization, Bataille named UNT's first vice provost and associate vice president for international education — Earl Gibbons — last summer. Under his guidance, UNT is expected to move to the forefront of institutions working to improve global education and societal conditions around the world. Gibbons is working to maintain existing partnerships and create new ones for a more diverse campus and student experience.
In fall 2007, UNT's enrollment included more than 2,000 international students representing 116 countries. UNT is 53rd in the nation for international enrollment. More than 500 UNT students studied abroad in 2006-07. Of those, about 380 participated in faculty-led programs.
"I expect the numbers of international students to grow quite dramatically as prospective students from countries like China discover UNT," Gibbons says. "I also expect us to double the annual number of UNT students traveling abroad very quickly, and to double it again before this decade is over. And, we expect to be delivering UNT programming on the ground at one or two international sites before the end of next year."
UNT's international activities are designed to show students they have a role to play as informed citizens in a global society.
One student who learned that lesson was Mary Ellen Scribner ('63), who has traveled to more than 70 countries since graduating. As a teacher and librarian, she has worked in Italy, Russia, China, Vietnam and now in Ghana.
"My experiences at UNT whetted my curiosity about the world and its people," says Scribner, who earned a degree in English and history with secondary teacher certification. "I treasure the knowledge that I have made a difference, even though in ways that won't land me in the history books."