Since its founding in 1856, Niagara University, steps from the Canadian border in upstate New York, has been an international university with students and faculty members from our neighbors to the north. Niagara is governed by a Board of Trustees and sponsored by the Vincentian Community, a religious community with a tradition of missionary work, education and human service throughout the world.
Recently, the university expanded its international focus with a manifestation of our Vincentian ideals by actively recruiting students from many foreign countries, particularly Vietnam. Why Vietnam and how does this relationship benefit the university?
The exchange program between Niagara and Vietnam is rooted in my time as executive vice president at St. John’s University when I began outreach work on behalf of that institution to form a mutually beneficial relationship for our American students and those in Vietnam. We are doing the same at Niagara.
Now one of the world’s fastest growing economies, Vietnam wants to educate its young people in the United States, seeking to integrate western culture, education and business practices to its government and private sector. Vietnamese high school students seeking U.S. study programs (along with their parents), look for a warm and nurturing environment where they will thrive a half a world away. Since Vietnam has a growing, significantly Catholic population, a Catholic University in upstate New York is a good fit. (Catholicism is the second-largest religion in the country after Buddhism.) It helps that relations between the Vietnamese government and the Catholic Church have significantly improved in the last decade. Our American students have been incredibly welcoming and supportive of their Vietnamese classmates, as well as being edified by the humility, family orientation and studiousness of the Vietnamese students. One of our most successful relationships has been with Foreign Trade University, whose academic focus is business. Other partner schools are Vietnam University of Commerce and the Hanoi College of Tourism, a great complement to our own College of Hospitality & Tourism. Vietnamese students often come to us in their third or fourth year to matriculate, and then stay to earn MBAs. We also work with the government and its education minister to bring high school students to area schools, like Niagara Catholic, where they live with host American families. This high school education is the beginning of a U.S. pipeline which will benefit Niagara University, the students from Vietnam as well as the country of Vietnam. In January, we entered into a formal international partnership to develop the curriculum for a new Vietnamese Hospitality and Tourism, Education, Language and Training Center. Last summer, 250 members of the Miá»n ÄÁ´ng Báº¯c, a United States-based Vietnamese Eucharistic Youth Movement came to NU for a major convention. And, in May, a dozen MBA students from Niagara participated in a 13-day Global Trade Mission to the Southeast Asian nation, marking the first time the annual venture took place in Vietnam.
In addition to the financial benefits these students bring, there are a host of advantages for Niagara.
Niagara students from the U.S. and other countries benefit from the culture and diversity offered by their Vietnamese counterparts. They enjoy an international learning environment that prepares them for a workplace that will become even more global during their 40 years in the labor force.
The relationship with Vietnam has enhanced our ability to provide additional study abroad opportunities. As much as we want to import, we also want to export, to give all our degree-holders a global experience.
The parents of many of our Vietnamese students own major Vietnamese companies or are private, public and education leaders in Vietnam. When they graduate, most will return to follow their parents into the highest levels of industry, government, education and public service. These graduates are courted by major companies in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan (and some American companies), who seek American-educated personnel. Our Vietnamese alumni meet the criteria. They are bi-lingual (sometimes tri-lingual); they understand American discipline and the American ways of conducting business. They’ve been highly educated at a diverse, multi-cultural school, making them extremely marketable.
That marketability provides us with an alumni base in Vietnam and Asia comprised of “ambassadors” who spread the word about Niagara and assist in our recruitment efforts. The relationship has been successful in enhancing our international reputation. We are now emerging in our region as a university that educates and develops international students.
For its part, the greater Western New York area has benefited when our effort brings new students to area high schools with declining enrollments. We also supply local companies with potential employees who have multi-cultural experience.
We plan to expand our efforts with Vietnam. At a recent meeting I had with Vietnamese Cardinal Pierre Nguyen Van Nhon, we discussed how Niagara University can be involved in additional educational opportunities in the U.S. for Vietnamese students, priests and seminarians. That is one dimension in which Niagara University continues to educate future leaders and make a difference in the world.
— The Rev. James J. Maher is president of Niagara University