The Rev. James Maher, C.M., Niagara University president (fourth from left) with Dzung Dang, president and CEO of HungViet and former visiting professor at NU (left); Dr. Deborah Curtis, executive director of the Brennan Center (third from left); Duong Tri Thanh, president and CEO of Vietnam Airlines (fifth from left); and other airline employees.

As a binational institution, Niagara University places significant importance on the globalization of its campus and on educating its students as citizens of the world. The Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., Niagara University’s president, has made the recruitment of international students a priority. Under his leadership, the Office of International Relations and the Edward A. Brennan Center for Language, Culture and Leadership have been established to meet the needs of international families and students while cultivating leadership opportunities among both students and professionals in addressing global needs.

Due largely to these two initiatives, Niagara University has seen a significant increase in the number of its international student population. This fall, the university welcomed 700 international students, 82 more than the year before. This increase in campus diversity helped the university earn the number three position for “Best Foreign Student Factor” in U.S. News and World Report’s annual survey of “America’s Best Colleges,” the only local institution included in this group.

Partnerships with academic institutions, corporations, and governmental agencies in Asia and Saudi Arabia has led to an influx of students from these countries; of the 200 non-Canadian international students who study on the university’s Lewiston, N.Y., campus, half are from Vietnam, China, South Korea, and Saudi Arabia, areas where the university has made a dedicated effort to extend its international outreach. This outreach has included agreements with organizations including the Foreign Trade University in Vietnam; Shanghai Lixin University of Accounting and Finance and the Hunan First Normal University in China; the Imperial Group, which oversees the five-star Imperial Hotel in Vung Tau in Vietnam; and the Saudi Arabian Cultural Mission.

Niagara University has also worked in collaboration with the Vietnamese Ministry of Education and Training on the National Foreign Languages Project 2020, the first large-scale effort by the ministry to improve instruction of foreign languages (primarily English) within its educational system. As part of this project, Niagara opened its campus twice for a total of 40 Vietnamese teachers, who spent two weeks learning about the American education system and techniques to teach the English language.

Dr. Deborah T. Curtis, executive director of the Brennan Center, notes that the entire university community works to make international students, and their families, feel welcome from the moment they first step on campus by establishing programs and opportunities to embrace their varied cultures. For example, special on-campus events that share the food, music, and culture of different countries are sponsored and promoted.

“We spend a great deal of time making our international students feel welcome and appreciated, and they see that we enjoy having them on campus,” Curtis said. “Niagara’s domestic students are welcoming and happy to have a diverse student body; they love to … take every opportunity they can to experience the world. They realize that we live in a global environment and that their future workplaces will be international.”

Some of the ways Niagara University fosters opportunities for American students to learn more about their international counterparts are exchanges such as the one sponsored by the university’s Muslim Student Association to answer questions about their clothes, customs, and culture.  Opportunities like these, said Curtis, prepare our students for the workplace.

“All of our students are either going to work for someone from another country, work with someone from another country, or sell to someone from another country,” she said. She added that, although Niagara University students can study abroad in 36 different countries, not everyone is able to take advantage of the program. Having international students on campus gives all students the opportunity to better understand other people and perspectives. 

Niagara is the largest private institution in terms of international students in the region, and the second largest overall in this area, according to Business First of Buffalo, and the impact they are making goes beyond the university’s campus and classrooms. Niagara’s international students have an economic impact of $16.2 million, supporting 102 jobs in the Western New York community, according to the NAFSA Association of International Educators.

“We educate global citizens,” Curtis said. “Our students will go on to work internationally and they’ll have international colleagues. International education serves all students and it absolutely fits Niagara’s mission. It is, literally, our opportunity to contribute worldwide.”