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WSU wins trade award for success with international students

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Freshman Zion Jung of South Korea works on his computer Monday, Sept. 21, 2015, in Winona State University's Kryzsko Commons in Winona. Jung, who is studying biology, said WSU was recommended to him while in high school.
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There were five winners of the 2014 Governor's International Trade Award this year, and four of them were companies that export goods and services.

The fifth was Winona State University, which won for attracting 350 international students who provide economic and cultural benefits. It's working to attract even more.

In addition to paying tuition and other fees to the university, renting housing, buying cars, groceries, home goods, and clothing, and frequenting local restaurants, students also bring in money through their families, said Kemale Pinar, the director of International Services and cultural outreach at WSU. When parents come to visit during graduation, they also visit hotels, restaurants, and other locations in the area, which raises revenue for the city and elsewhere in the United States.

"We are looking to increase the number of students, and when we look at that, I believe we are going to have even a bigger impact than what we have right now," says Pinar.

Te award selectors wanted to recognize education as a revenue generator for the state of Minnesota. According to a study published by National Association of International Educators, in the 2013/2014 school year, WSU's 350 international students paid $4,264,900 in tuition and fees alone. Their total contribution for that year, including living expenses, was $8,718,800. They also supported a total of 56 jobs.

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Many of the school's 350 or so international students come from China, Malaysia, South Korea, and Taiwan, which are WSU's safe, returning markets, according to Pinar. Her department has identified other areas of the world they would like to expand to — the Middle East, Vietnam, South and Central America - and are now taking steps to recruit in those areas.

Last year, Pinar made outreach trips to Malaysia, Vietnam, and Thailand. She also visited Colombia and Mexico. Next year, she has planned a stop in India, where the school has never done direct recruitment, but still sees a small but steadily increasing number of students from. and Skri Lanka for school fairs and visits.

In addition to that, she works with Study Minnesota, a consortium of universities, colleges, and high schools, and she uses e-mail and social media to connect with Education USA centers abroad and make them aware of WSU's programs.

"I think WSU is a great place for students. For one thing, this is a small and safe city," she says, also noting the niche programs like data science and nursing as attractive aspects to international students, "Sometimes, it's just putting the name out there and making sure that more and more people find out about your school."

This year, preliminary numbers show a nearly 2 percent increase in international enrollment, which will help counteract the downward trend of domestic students enrolling.

The contributions of international students are not just financial — their presence helps provide a more global perspective to members of the WSU community.

"In addition to the economic value international students bring to our communities, they also represent an opportunity for our domestic students to interact with people from very different backgrounds. As one study describes, the "cognitive disequilibrium" that comes from encounters with those who are different can promote intellectual growth," says Dr. Carolyn O'Grady, assistant vice president of WSU's International Programs and Services.

Thanks to WSU's connections with area schools, international students from the university are able to introduce younger students from the community to international languages and cultures. For instance, at the World Tour program at Madison Elementary School, international students talked to second graders about geographic, cultural, and linguistic differences.

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The school also participates in a program put on by the state of Minnesota called Cross Cultural Outreach, which allows international students to pay in-state tuition in exchange for cultural contributions to the community.

"We live in a colorful world, and it is fantastic that international students help WSU model this diversity," says O'Grady.

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Kemale Pinar is the International Services and Cultural Outreach director at Winona State University in Winona.

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