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Scores of Dominican Republic students coming to WMU

Feb. 5, 2008

KALAMAZOO--An open-ended agreement signed Jan. 23 is bringing scores of students from the Dominican Republic to Western Michigan University.

The agreement formalizes a relationship that began Jan. 7 at the start of the spring semester, when 60 undergraduate Dominican students enrolled at WMU in anticipation that the pact would be signed and they would receive full-ride scholarships from their government.

A delegation of University representatives led by President John M. Dunn traveled to the Dominican Republic for the signing ceremony. Ligia Amada Melo de Cardona, secretary of state for higher education, science and technology, signed the pact on behalf of the Caribbean nation.

"This is a significant partnership with a country that has made a nationwide commitment to higher education," says WMU President John M. Dunn. "Our program mix, our Midwest location and our focus on student success and service fit the needs the Dominican Republic identified for its next generation of leaders. We're looking forward to a strong relationship that will grow over the next several years."

Accompanying Dunn to the Dominican Republic were Juan M. Tavares, senior international student admissions counselor and a key architect of the WMU-D.R. scholarship agreement, and Donald G. McCloud, dean of the Haenicke Institute for Global Education, which spearheads the University's internationalization efforts.

While in the Dominican Republic, members of the campus delegation met with government officials, WMU alumni and parents of currently enrolled students. They also conferred with the chief executive officers of several large American companies that do business in the country and plan to hire many of the Dominican scholarship students once they graduate.

The WMU-D.R. agreement is based on an ongoing initiative called the Dominican Scholars Program, which was launched in 1996 by Dominican President Leonel Fernandez Reyna.

Fernandez lived in the United States for several years and attended grade school in inner city New York. He aims to eventually help some 10,000 of his academically talented countrymen obtain post-secondary degrees by providing comprehensive government scholarships that cover everything from tuition and housing to meals and computers.

The only caveats are that the students must live in on-campus housing and return to the Dominican Republic after they finish their studies. Large groups of Dominican students already are enrolled at the City University of New York, Farmingdale University and Utah State University.

"The Dominican educational system doesn't have as many high-quality programs as we do in specialized fields like engineering, technology and business," says Tavares, a naturalized U.S. citizen and D.R. native.

"Sending students here is all about improving the economy for years to come. U.S.-educated students will bring new skills and new ideas into the work force."

McCloud says WMU's new partnership with the Dominican Republic grew out of connections made last year after Tavares recruited six undergraduate Dominican students, and some of their parents accompanied them to campus in August.

"The parents were so taken with the Haenicke Institute's orientation program for international students that they thought some of their country's national scholarship students should come here too. They told their government that, and a draft agreement was set up," McCloud explains.

"WMU in terms of international education is focused and well structured, so it's ahead of the game. We're unified and have less bureaucracy. The Haenicke Institute houses all of the University's major international offices and initiatives. Officials can get together immediately, so we can move more quickly than other universities."

Plans called for the scholarship agreement to be in place at the start of this semester, but the pact took a little longer than expected to execute. Now that it has been finalized, WMU officials predict that 30 to 60 more undergraduates will enroll this coming fall. As many as 200 D.R. students, including many graduate students, could be enrolling annually within a few years.

Tavares says the influx of new students benefits WMU by boosting enrollment, further diversifying the student body and adding to the number of international alumni, only a few of whom are Dominican.

Meanwhile, he says the Dominican Republic wanted to partner with a Midwestern school and saw several advantages to choosing WMU.

"A major benefit is the Haenicke Institute's rare ability, and willingness, to process all of the incoming students' paperwork, including sensitive U.S. immigration documents. Usually, the Dominicans have to hire consultants to do this," Tavares says.

"We also have a strong academic community and focus here, but we aren't overwhelmingly big. In addition, they found our residence halls appealing, and they view the American Midwest and Kalamazoo as being a safe place to send their students."

McCloud adds that the national D.R. scholarship program is notable not only because of the comprehensive funding assistance it provides, but also because of the unusual way the country's secretary of education is implementing the program.

"It doesn't dictate which programs students can enroll in and it targets the country's best students, whether or not they're in public or private schools. This means a wide range of students are coming to WMU, not just the most affluent or those in only a few disciplines. It also means students are more likely to go into fields they have a passion for," McCloud says.

"The whole idea is for students to become the best they can be and then bring back both their expertise and their passion. Frankly, that's a very enlightened view from a senior education official in a government bureaucracy. It's really exciting to support the scholarship because the philosophy behind it makes so much sense."

For more information about the WMU-D.R. scholarship agreement, contact Juan Tavares at juan.tavares@wmich.edu or (269) 387-5879.

Media contact: Jeanne Baron, (269) 387-8400, jeanne.baron@wmich.edu

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