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Meredith McQuaid and Chris Jin at the Great Wall

U dean for international programs Meredith McQuaid (right) and Chris Jin, education program associate with Fazheng Group, visit the Great Wall during the University of Minnesota Law School's summer program in China.

Global imperative

A push toward deeper international engagement promises to take the U to new heights

By Gayla Marty and Jim Thorp

Nov. 14, 2006 (updated April 3, 2007)

Innovation in and beyond traditional liberal arts is a hallmark of the University of Minnesota's international profile. Last summer, 22 law students traveled to China for a month-long study of Chinese economic, legal and political systems through a new program offered by the University of Minnesota Law School.

Their classes--taught in cooperation with the prestigious China University of Political Science and Law (CUPL)--were led by top Chinese and American law faculty. Students visited the National People's Congress, the Supreme People's Court, the Beijing city planning office and worked to learn Chinese.

The new program got rave reviews, with one exception: The students wanted more contact with their Chinese counterparts.

Next summer, they'll get their wish. In partnership with CUPL, the Law School will become one of the first in the nation to open a master of laws (LL.M.) program at a university abroad. The new Beijing program will enroll Chinese students in 18 months of professional training; it and the now-annual summer program for J.D. (juris doctor) students will put Chinese lawyers and American students into the same classes and lunchroom for a level of immersion virtually unheard of in professional legal training.

Long-standing leadership
The LL.M. and expanded summer programs mark the next step in a University-wide push toward deeper international engagement across professions, problems and disciplines.

Meredith McQuaid is one of the people spearheading the effort. An alum and law school associate dean who first went to China as a U student in 1980, she now serves as interim associate vice president and dean for international programs--a job with U-wide responsibilities and an ambitious agenda.

In her new role, McQuaid will be leading the central University Office of International Programs, including:

McQuaid and Allen Isaacman, assistant vice president for international scholarship and director of the Interdisciplinary Center for the Study of Global Change (ICGC), are charged with implementing the recommendations of the International University strategic positioning task force.

"The task force report goes beyond the recognition that sending our students abroad will make them more well-rounded and better informed, or that bringing foreign students and scholars here will enrich our local community," McQuaid says. "It suggests that if we work across borders and include other minds and perspectives, we may be able to solve otherwise unsolvable problems."

Isaacman, a Regents Professor of History who co-chaired the task force with law professor Ruth Okediji, agrees.

"One thing we know is that to be a great university, we have to be an international university," says Isaacman. "When we started the ICGC 18 years ago, international education was important. Now it's imperative."


An advisory committee of 23 faculty from across the University are working with Isaacman and Brown to stimulate innovative, interdisciplinary research that addresses critical global issues.

High-priority areas for new funding to effectively internationalize the University include:

>> Interdisciplinary research circles

>> Transnational institutional partnerships

>> Fellowships to support graduate student research, artistic endeavors and internships.

Requests for proposals can be found at

For more information on these initiatives, e-mail Isaacman or Brown, or call (612) 624-0832.

A broader "abroad"
Equally important, however, is that these international programs hold true to the U's historic land-grant mission and address the needs and concerns of the general population.

"We need to define international in a variety of ways," McQuaid says. "The scope of [faculty] activities can range from what everyone would traditionally see in the liberal arts (for example, studying the history of an indigenous group in South America) to collaborations that work across national boundaries and advance the frontier of scientific inquiry. ... [And] of course, to adequately prepare all students for global citizenship, the University must create international experiences for those who remain on campus."

On her first day as associate vice president, McQuaid received an impressive 15-page listing of current international programs and initiatives from colleges and campuses systemwide--a new requirement of the compact process for 2006-07. While she and Isaacman are excited about the level of activity, it's clear that coordination and collaboration are critical to the University's aspirations.

Isaacman, together with ICGC associate director Karen Brown, is leading efforts to address three key task force recommendations. The first is a call for faculty and staff to submit proposals to create interdisciplinary research circles that will bring scholars together to explore innovative research agendas with a global focus. The second is a call to identify prospective institutions with which to form deep, transnational partnerships that link teaching and research. The third initiative supports the international work of graduate students through a set of fellowships, internships and small grants.

"We have a strong faculty and pockets of real excellence, but we don't have a clear vision or a way to bring people together," Isaacman says. "This is an effort to do that."

McQuaid is also eager to help define an institutional vision.

"International education is not always about culture and language," she says. "It can be a Chinese scientist and an American scientist working on pandemic flu resistance. It can mean a better use and employment of the resources each of the many countries of the world already have."

Editor's Note: Meredith McQuaid was one of three winners of the Award for Global Engagement in 2006. For more on the award and her co-winners, see "Teach locally, act globally." RELATED LINKS: Office of International Programs International University Task Force Executive Summary (PDF 158 KB) International University Task Force Full Report (PDF 734 KB)