PORTLAND STATE: Serves the City, and the World

By Connell, Christopher | International Educator, March/April 2010 | Go to article overview

PORTLAND STATE: Serves the City, and the World


Connell, Christopher, International Educator


THE MOTTO OF PORTLAND STATE UNIVERSITY in Oregon is emblazoned on a sky bridge that spans Broadway, Portland s main thoroughfare: Let Knowledge Serve the City. "We'd like to change it now to Let Knowledge Serve the Globe," quips Kevin Kecskes, associate vice provost for engagement. Portland State, already known for deep community partnerships, today works on a broader canvass seeking sustainable solutions to economic, environmental, and social challenges that confront cities everywhere.

This urban university practices what it preaches. In a city crisscrossed by light rail and streetcars, most students, faculty, and staff walk, ride bicycles, or take public transportation to the compact, 49-acre campus. The new president, Wim Wiewel, an expert on urban affairs, rode a bicycle to work on his first day in August 2008. Most of the 26,000 students commute; the dorms abutting Broadway house only 2,000 of them, although plans are on the drawing boards for several thousand more.

The city itself is a powerful draw for the 1,700 international students. "Typically international students want to come to an urban environment. The living environment is more supportive culturally and more diverse than in a university town like Corvallis or tò an extent Eugene," said Gil Latz, vice provost for international affairs and a professor of geography. Portland's lures also make faculty recruiting easier. "A lot of people want to live in the Pacific Northwest," said Ronald Tammen, director of the Mark Hatfield School of Government. Wiewel, who came from Chicago, said his new hometown "is such an easy city to sell. It's a great brand."

Wiewel is building on momentum created over a decade at Portland State. His predecessor, Daniel Bernstine, doubled enrollment and won the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges' (now the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities, A-P-L-U) Michael Malone International Leadership Award in 2005 for his efforts to internationalize Portland State.

Broadening the Experience of 'New Majority' Students

The new president, a native of Amsterdam, views attracting more international and out-of-state students as a strategic way of broadening the educational experience for Oregon students. The student body typifies what some call "the new majority" in American higher education: older and often part-time. Most of these collegians "can't park their family and their job for six months to go study in Berlin," said Duncan Carter, associate dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Fretting over that reality would be pointless, said Provost Roy Koch, so instead Portland State has concentrated on offering short, faculty-led education abroad opportunities, often over spring break as part of longer courses. The number of students who study abroad is still modest (541 in 2007-08) but it has been climbing. Ron Witczak, assistant vice provost director of education abroad, said, "We started in 2001 with three or four faculty-led programs and roughly 30 students. Now we're up to 27 with close to 250 students." Last year a full-time coordinator was hired. "There's no place-bound student who can't figure out a way to go abroad for two weeks if they want to," said WieweL Both the length and cost - typically $2,500 to $3,500- make the short-term programs attractive, and partial scholarships are available for those in need.

Jill Scantlan, who quit school, earned a GED at age 16, and became a licensed massage therapist, spent nine months studying in Hyderabad, India, The 25-year-old international studies major aims to earn a master s degree and return to India to do public health work. Helen Johnson returned to college for a master s in teaching English as a second language after two decades as a homemaker. The two summers she spent practice teaching in South Korea were "the experience of a lifetime," said Johnson, 47, a native of Greece who aspires to teach English to immigrants. …

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