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June 22, 2011

Educators gather to create global relationships

— — Top college educators around the globe have gathered in Niagara Falls for a three-day conference to increase global connections.

The conference, which has not been held in the United States for the last 20 years, was sponsored by Keuka College.

The small, 122-year-old college in the Finger Lakes has spent the last ten years diversifying into international programs, according to Gary Smith, the college’s vice president of business affairs.

Last year the college’s president, Joseph Burke, was named to the board of trustees of Association of Southeast Asian Institutions of Higher Learning and in that leadership position drove the conference to Niagara Falls, Smith said.

“If you’re going to bring college presidents from all over the world, we wanted them to have world class facilities and world class attractions,” Smith noted of the location of the event held at the Conference Center Niagara Falls.

The gathering is expected to fortify international partnerships for universities such as Keuka, that are aggressively building partnerships with colleges in southeast Asia. Keuka, which has only about 1,000 students on campus, has 3,500 Chinese students in China through a partnership in that country, Smith said. Keuka also has partnerships with two colleges in Vietnam.

“People ask us, why are you in Asia,” said Smith. “Because it’s important. Asia is going to be the future of the world. If America doesn’t understand that, we are doomed. We have to invite the young to learn about our country if we want to live in peace.”

Southeast Asia is also ripe for opportunity for American students, according to Smith.

“We need to be educating our young people to go over there and find opportunities,” he said.

Representatives from European schools in France and Amsterdam joined those from southeast Asia. Local universities were also represented, including Medaille College and Niagara University.

“We're starting a doctoral program in September and we'd like to attract a global intake,” said Michael Smith, a professor at NU’s College of Education.

Smith, who spent two years teaching in China, said the college is hoping to begin a master’s program in teaching English as a second language. His global experiences have taught him the importance of understanding other cultures, he said.

“You think you know something about the culture but until you’re immersed in it and meet them face to face you really don't know what's going on,” he noted. “You have to meet face to face to form better partnerships.”

Some of the many and varied speakers at the conference — which closes today — have included: Jeffrey Lehman, former president of Cornell University and founding dean of Peking University School of Transnational Law, which is modeled on American law and intends for its graduates be eligible to sit for the New York State bar exam; Adam Sitkoff, director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam; and Felicia Zimmermann of the U.S. Olympic Fencing Team Executive Committee.

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