WILLIAMSBURG - The College of William and Mary is working to establish in the next year three student-exchange partnerships with universities in Syria, Egypt and Morocco.
The effort is in response to demand for workers skilled in Middle Eastern and North African languages and culture. The U.S. State Department provided the school a $200,000 grant this year to help facilitate travel and living arrangements for students at William and Mary and the new partner institutions.
The university also is working toward partnering with universities in South Africa, the United Arab Emirates and Poland as it tries to further its ability to prepare students for an increasingly global society, said Guru Ghosh, director of global education at William and Mary.
The moves are designed to help U.S. students keep pace with foreign students who are already skilled in other cultures and come to the U.S. for education or work, Ghosh said.
"We believe not only are they going to be competing with friends and neighbors for jobs, but also the best minds from the Philippines and China, when they go out in the work force," said Ghosh, a native of India and doctoral student at William and Mary. "We want them to be globally competitive."
In the past five years, the university - with about 5,500 undergraduate students - has more than doubled the school's exchange programs with foreign schools - to 15 - and increased summer study abroad programs from six to 13. Between June 2006 and May 2007, 706 William and Mary students studied in a foreign country, Ghosh said. That represented a 50 percent increase compared with five years earlier.
The university, however, isn't focusing simply on preparing students by sending them overseas. Student interest in the school's international-relations program has skyrocketed since 2001, leading faculty members and administrators to revamp the program's curriculum this year.
Several students - including senior Summer Marion, who's finishing her studies in the old curriculum - praised administrators' decision to emphasize economics and adopt a core of required courses.
"Understanding international development, development aid, international trade and things like that are really important to understanding other aspects of international relations," Marion said, referring to the program's economics-related topics. "Without that basic background, it's hard for students to get the most out of their education."
This summer, university President Gene Nichol traveled to universities in England and Scotland, where William and Mary has exchange programs. He met school leaders and discussed ways to expand William and Mary's overseas presence.
"These students are going to be citizens of the world," he said. "To prepare them well, we have to acquaint them with different cultures ... and we're committed to doing that."
John Lee is a sophomore who plans to major in international relations and study abroad in Germany or Switzerland. He said he looked forward to earning a bachelor's degree in the curriculum.
The changes, he said, will boost the program's reputation. But more important, he said, "employers will know what they're getting - and I'll know what I'm getting - is much more than just a buffet of courses. It's an actual curriculum."