JiHua Shi, of Changchun, China, heard about the University of New Mexico last year through a family friend, who encouraged him to come to Albuquerque.
Had Shi still been in China today, he might have learned about UNM through a different route: from two recruiters who are manning a new UNM office in Beijing and traveling the country in an effort to increase the number of international students here.
The university opened an office there this month as it tries to more than double its number of international students, said Mary Anne Saunders, special assistant to President Bob Frank on global initiatives.
Saunders, who worked with Frank at Kent State, where he was provost before becoming UNM president, said the new office is one of numerous initiatives to globalize the university.
The school has only about 800 international students now, putting it far behind similar institutions like the University of Arizona, which this year has more than 3,000 such students. Arizona State University and the University of Texas at Austin each have more than 5,300 international students, although their enrollment is much larger than UNM’s nearly 30,000 students, according to the Institute of International Education.
UNM hopes to have 2,000 international students within the next three years.
“We feel in order to stay competitive as a cutting-edge institution, UNM must go global,” Saunders said. “We have a responsibility to prepare our students for the international realities.”
The university also wants to attract more students from India and Latin America, although there are no plans to open any additional offices.
Exposing Lobos to students from around the world helps them learn different perspectives and world views, Saunders said.
“We call this internationalization at home,” she said.
Away from home – some 10,300 miles away, to be more precise- UNM has hired two Chinese nationals to serve as recruiters. They will attend expos and fairs and help office walk-ins. They will even travel to places like Taiwan, Saunders said.
She said she expects the number of applicants from China to grow as soon as next fall. The university expects an increase so significant, it’s hiring five new people to help with admissions, she said.
Plans to expand the global community at UNM began this summer after Frank, who took the helm in June, made it a goal of his presidency. His speech during his installation ceremony this month touched on the need to expand.
“International students inspire in our students a curiosity and awareness of global cultures and economies. Our students will not compete with people from Berlin, New Hampshire or Globe, Ariz., or Paris, Texas, but with people from Shanghai, Vietnam and Mumbai,” he said.
But it’s not just about bringing more students to UNM – the school also wants to send more of its students abroad, Saunders said.
UNM’s “shockingly low” number of students who study abroad – 568 this year – also needs to double within the next few years, Saunders said. The university is working on establishing more partnerships with other schools around the world, and Saunders wants to set up focus groups to learn why so few UNM students study abroad.
As for attracting students to come here, Saunders said UNM needs to foster the school’s international community with academic and social resources. The school recently sent out a survey to international students asking them what it’s doing right and wrong. The results are not in yet.
But UNM has won over at least one student. Shi said during an intensive English-language class on Thursday that he loves everything about the school and Albuquerque.
“I’ve never seen this kind of beauty,” he said.
— This article appeared on page A1 of the Albuquerque Journal