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Destination:Discovery
Exploring Ohio University’s international role

By Melissa Rake & John Borhaug

Whether they’re in Germany, Ecuador or Athens, Ohio, USA, students are learning more about themselves and their world than ever before.

Open a world atlas. Pink, green, purple, orange and yellow lines trail the asymmetric edges of countries large and small. Thousands of bold black dots representing the Earth’s most populous cities fight for their rightful place on the surface of this crowded collage of diverse nations.

Now look at a map of southeastern Ohio. Small towns interrupt miles of loosely populated land near the twisting Ohio border. Bright colors trace the Appalachian Highway snaking through rural communities. You’ll find Athens and Ohio University in tiny letters amid sweeping patches of green symbolizing the dense Wayne National Forest.

Put these two maps side-by-side, and the only correlation is the cartographer’s color palette. But Ohio University’s relationship with the rest of the world can’t be gleaned from maps. It only can be told through the rich experiences of students and faculty who have crossed thousands of miles and myriad time zones to make connections across the globe.

A brave beginning

Tyle Fernández
Education abroad student Mark Puskar photographs the Volkerschlacht-denkmal, a monument in Leipzig, Germany.

Ohio University began looking at global issues with a curious eye long before the Soviet Union’s 1957 launch of the world’s first man-made satellite, Sputnik, prompted an embarrassed U.S. government to begin investing money in science and international studies programs. The institution set into motion this longstanding commitment in 1895 with the graduation of Japanese native Saki Taro Murayama, the University’s first international student.

Global conflict prevented the University from creating solid links with higher education institutions abroad from the early 1900s to the end of World War II. But during the early 1950s, Ohio University President John Baker initiated the campus’ first scholarships for international students, including some from communist countries. Baker hoped the scholarships would demonstrate that people could live and learn together with mutual understanding despite nations’ ideological differences. Soon after, Baker was selected by President Eisenhower to serve as the chief U.S. delegate to the United Nations Economic and Social Council.

"During the McCarthy era, we were offering scholarships to students from East Germany, Yugoslavia, Poland and other communist countries,” says Associate Provost for International Programs Josep Rota. “It was a daring act for any university during that time.”

Baker’s successors forwarded the agenda: Vernon Alden, who learned to speak Japanese while in the U.S. Navy during WWII, oversaw the creation of Ohio University’s Center for International Studies in 1964 and, soon after, programs in African, Southeast Asian and Latin American studies. Charles Ping, who expanded international programs during his tenure from 1975 to 1994, is regarded as one of the nation’s most authoritative speakers on why it’s important to globalize college campuses. And in his seven years as president, Robert Glidden has furthered international cooperation by establishing new links with colleges and universities overseas and maintaining close ties with alumni around the globe.

This constant vigilance has produced relationships with 160 higher education institutions worldwide, clearing the way for international students to study here and creating paths for U.S. students to earn academic credit in other countries.

"Since 1946, we’ve had presidents who’ve been very interested in and committed to international education,” Glidden says, “and that certainly has contributed to our success today.”

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