Ohio to focus on international students

Joseph Pratt

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As part of Ohio’s effort to position the state as a premier destination for international students, Lt. Governor Mary Taylor and Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey kicked off a new Global Reach to Engage Academic Talent (GREAT) Initiative Wednesday.

Many officials of Ohio higher education were present at the unveiling of the program and website launch during a presentation at the Atrium Ohio Statehouse in Columbus. Some of the professionals present included Lt. Governor Mary Taylor, Ohio Department of Higher Education Chancellor John Carey, Ohio Development Services Agency Director David Goodman, Ohio Board of Regents Chair Vinod Gupta, and Ohio Department of Higher Education Globalization Liaison Lauren McGarity.

The effort grew from Governor John R. Kasich’s Mid-Biennium Budget Review in 2014, which focused on new reforms to increase recruitment and enrollment of international students and to encourage them to remain in the state after graduation.

Currently, the 29,488 international student-visa holders enrolled in Ohio’s colleges and universities support 11,337 Ohio jobs, and contribute $827 million to the state’s economy, making post-secondary education of international students Ohio’s 15th largest export.

“Many institutions of higher education within Ohio have exemplary international programs, which invite students from abroad to study here while sending Ohio students to expand their education across the world,” Carey said. “Our goal is to expand Ohio’s international visibility in higher education, and leverage economic and workforce development potential.”

A goal of the new initiative is to increase the share of international college students in Ohio from 4.1 percent to 6 percent, which would generate an estimated $1.2 billion and support 17,000 jobs.

As of July, Ohio had more than 3,800 international establishments employing 215,650 Ohioans in a global capacity.

Vinod Gupta, chair of the Ohio Board of Regents, spoke about how powerful he believes Ohio education is, stating he believes no other state can deliver what Ohio can. He also spoke about the reputation of American education in foreign countries, as well as how eager students and families in foreign countries are to travel and experience America and its educational system.

“The greatest industry in America is the higher education institution. There is no other country, I repeat, no other country, that will ever match the education system of America,” Gupta said. “When you take a poll, and ask students across seas who would like to go to the United States of America, 95 percent would raise their hands. If you ask parents who would like their children to go to the United States of America, 100 percent would raise their hands.”

Gupta explained that he believes Ohio has a lot of potential, especially with higher education.

“We need to look at what is so great about Ohio values. We have not done very well, as a state, at marketing what we are good at, and I think it is about time we do so,” Gupta said. “The infrastructure is in place. We just need to put programming together to embrace Ohio education.”

Gupta has been traveling a lot in recent months, in order to prepare for the GREAT Initiative. Throughout his travels, he has heard of an effort to make Cincinnati the most immigrant friendly city in the country. He said that he has learned a lot from Cincinnati policies and would like to take their effort further.

“I say let’s take that one step further,” Gupta said. “Let us make Ohio the most immigrant friendly state in the country.”

A website devoted to the GREAT Initiative was launched during the kickoff event, which also featured the national release of a whitepaper about Ohio’s program from the Partnership for a New American Economy. The website can be accessed at www.ohio-great.us.

A walkthrough of the website was held at the conference, as the education officials explained that the site has a plethora of organized resources for possible exchange students to use. The site also has a dedicated page for a majority of Ohio universities, in which they discuss the various perks each offer.

Shawnee State University (SSU) was discussed as a player in Ohio education, and a demonstration of the website reflected the institution’s various strengths.

Shawnee State even had a presence at the event, with Ryan Warner, SSU’s new director of the Center for International Programs, and SSU graduate Eva Gitome.

Warner discussed the benefits of having international students in Ohio and Gitome expressed what it was like to be one.

Gitome traveled to Ohio from Kenya to pursue higher education. She majored in business and has since pursued graduate schooling. She works as an accountant and controller of Compass Community Health. During her time in Portsmouth, she has worked as an auditor for various Ohio institutions through Caudill and Associates, as well as a teaching assistant at Bowling Green State University. Gitome also sits on the panel for the GREAT Initiative.

“I chose Shawnee State University after much help and coaching,” Gitome said. “Shawnee was affordable and was small enough that I could make an impact in the community. I had small classes and professors who helped me arrange internships.”

Gitome described her time at Shawnee as a successful one and she plans on staying in the area as long as she can.

“When you hire an international student, you are getting someone that is first and foremost, dedicated to their education and their career,” Kevin Blevins, VP and CFO of Compass Community Health, said. “They’ve made great sacrifices to get to this point. So, we’ve seen a very strong work ethic.”

Blevins works as Gitome’s manager and says he is happy to be working alongside her. He also said her presence is beneficial for Compass.

“Secondly, from an executive level, I think an international student brings a different perspective that makes the organization stronger. Often times, we view things through our own lens and life experiences. So, having someone at the table who has a vastly different life experience really brings a unique element to our decision making process and reminds us to think outside of our own box, and to view things from the perspective of all of our stake holders,” Blevins said. “I think that makes us better decision makers.”

The GREAT Initiative will be organized so that all international students are benefited by the organization’s work, while local students also benefit from the experience as well. The presence of more international students is also speculated to bring more jobs to the area, as well as international talent to the local job market.

“This is a collaboration that one institution or one individual in the state cannot achieve alone. This [GREAT Initiative] talks about the leverage education has in business and prosperity in the global market,” Lauren McGarity Ohio Department of Higher Education Globalization liaison, said.

Reach Joseph Pratt at 740-353-3101, ext. 1932, or by Twitter @JosephPratt03.

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