GUNNISON (August 4, 2015) — For two days in early August, Western State Colorado University hosted a dozen international higher education administrators as part of StudyColorado’s International Delegation Institute 2015.
The visit focused on acquainting the educational leaders – whose six countries have close to 80 students already attending Colorado colleges – with American higher education, helping them build their own systems’ capacity and assisting them in enrolling their citizens at U.S. institutions. The StudyColorado Institute focused particularly on how educational programs partner with industry – especially the energy sector – for everything from internships to guest lecturers, curriculum and support for research.
The group, most of whom have backgrounds in engineering, energy and sustainable development, spent particular time with representatives of Western’s Professional Land & Resource Management, Petroleum Geology and Master in Environmental Management programs. They took a field trip to visit the varied geological features of the Gunnison Valley, toured Crested Butte following a local industry partnership showcase, met Western students from their countries, and engaged in forums and seminars on economics, resources and the environment.
“We’re very serious about connecting with other universities around the world,” Dr. John Hausdoerffer, executive director of Western’s Environment & Sustainability Institute and director of the MEM program, told the group.
Sponsored by the Colorado Department of Higher Education and the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Education and Cultural Affairs, the group visited Western following similar sessions at Colorado School of Mines and the University of Colorado at Denver. Two similar institutes are underway in the U.S. as part of the State Department’s EducationUSA initiative, which helps international students access higher education in America, while helping U.S. institutions better recruit such students.
The visitors hailed from Tanzania, Lebanon, Jamaica, Morocco, Kazakhstan and Nigeria. They seemed to take particular interest in how Western, a relatively small school with a liberal arts tradition, provides an affordable education that helps students succeed in competitive professions.
Dr. Noel Brown, head of the School of Engineering, University of Technology, in Jamaica, asked how Western managed to keep an effective education affordable, when compared with larger, more conveniently located universities.
“It’s a small school,” he said. “And I’m told larger schools benefit from economies of scale.”
Menon Billingsley, director of Western’s Professional Land & Resource Management emphasis, replied, “A lot of the value adds – things that make our program unique – come with the help of private funding.”
She, Dr. Elizabeth Petrie, who is Western’s Moncrief Chair in Petroleum Geology, and Hausdoerffer explained how Western’s location – close to key geologic structures and environmental resources – tight ties with professional leaders and intimate atmosphere help encourage broad thinking that builds industry leaders.
Petrie said Western’s close relationship with such industry leaders as Antero Resources and Anadarko Petroleum, along with field work that gives context for future professionals who will make most of their decisions in offices, ensures graduates will understand well “what you’re supposed to know when you walk in the door.”
Hausdoerffer noted the MEM program allows students around the country and the world to integrate their education with their jobs in resource management and building sustainable communities. He pointed to partnerships with AmeriCorps VISTA and the Peace Corps for helping MEM graduate students integrate their professional and academic efforts. And he that cross-curricular study is key for undergraduates, with those seeking to work in the energy industry and those seeking careers sustainable environmental management sharing several classes.
“PLRM and Environment & Sustainability students run environmental projects together in the community,” he said. “Plus, we have students coming here from organizations that don’t generally talk with each other. And they talk.”