MANKATO — Minnesota State University officials say the college will be looking closer to home for its next batch of international students, focusing not only on the neighboring country of Mexico but the city of Owatonna.

A group of Mexican delegates visited the campus Thursday, the same day MSU announced a new partnership with the nearby city's Riverland College campus. Like the partnership with South Central College announced Wednesday, it will be referred to as “Future Mavericks,” said Steve Stoynoff, dean of international affairs.

“But what's unique about it is we're talking about future international Mavericks,” he said.

The hope is that students from Pillsbury Prep, a new boarding school in Owatonna open to international students, will attend Riverland, then transfer to MSU.

Stoynoff said as many as 50 to 100 students are expected to take advantage of the program, boosting the university's international enrollment.

“It would really make a difference here,” he said.

A new initiative

At the same time, the university is exploring new partnerships with a number of colleges and universities in Mexico. Leaders at MnSCU invited several delegates to Minnesota this week to discuss ways to further the “100,000 Strong in the Americas” or “Proyecta 100,000” initiative, introduced in 2014 by U.S. Department of State and Mexican government.

It seeks to increase the number of Mexican students studying in the U.S. from 14,000 to 100,000 by 2018, a move that officials say would help cement both countries as global leaders.

“Basically, it comes back to moving students, faculty and staff from higher-ed institutions to each other's countries,” Stoynoff said. “Mexico is committed to moving 100,000 students to the U.S. by 2018. And President Obama has committed to moving 50,000 U.S. students to Mexico by 2018.”

MSU is the only institution in Minnesota receiving a Proyecta 100,000 grant. In November, the university played host to a group of 30 Mexican students, who came to the U.S. to participate in a monthlong English language training program.

The university has proposed hosting additional cohorts this summer and fall.

“It's just one example of what Minnesota State University, Mankato is doing to become a global, international institution,” Stoynoff said.

Exploring partnerships

The group of delegates came to explore how to partner with MnSCU. As well as visiting MSU, they visited SCC and several other colleges and universities

Representing one of Mexico's largest universities was Daniel León, coordinator for internationalization at the Universidad Veracruzana. It has 75,000 students on five campuses as well as 32 separate research centers, six language centers, a school for foreign students and four intercultural university centers. Its main campus is in the city of Bella Cruise.

León said the university is interested in teleconferencing with universities in the U.S., bringing American faculty and students to Mexico via the Internet — the delegates received a demonstration of MSU's telepresence technology Thursday morning.

“We know it's impossible to sent abroad 75,000 students, so we do what we call 'internationalization at home,'” he said.

Luz Olea, said her university wants to start sending more students north. Part of the private La Salle University system, the Universidad La Salle Noroeste has a sister institution in Winona and is in northwestern Mexico.

“Our students are starting to travel to Europe and South America for exchange programs, and we are really interested in having more partnerships with the U.S.,” she said.

Luz Navarez is president of a small college called the Universidad Politécnica de Santa Rosa Jáuregui. It is in the state of Querétaro and is the second “100 percent bilingual institution in Mexico.”

“We really need our students to be bilingual by the end of their studies,” Navarez said, stressing how important it was for the college to partner with institutions in the United States. “... We really need help because our students have nothing in English. They don't study English in our elementary schools.”

At least two of the six Mexican students studying at MSU are also from Querétaro.

“When I got here, I was the only one,” said sophomore Rudy Correa, adding that it was surprising that more Mexican students don't come to the U.S.

He found out about MSU when a faculty member visited his high school in Mexico. The next summer his friend Macarena Garcia visited him here in Minnesota before deciding to come to MSU. She is a freshman.

“It's a good opportunity for a Mexican student to study in the U.S. because there are more opportunities for work,” she said. “And every day I learn something new.”

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Jessica here, doing some coffee-fueled reporting for the Mankato Free Press. My beat? Education, colleges, LEARNING. Feel free to contact me with questions, comments and story ideas.