U.S. Embassy selects Wayne State to lead higher ed collaboration initiative between U.S. and United Arab Emirates

The U.S. Embassy in the United Arab Emirates has awarded a $100,000 grant to Wayne State University to build on its partnership with the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, expand U.S.-UAE higher education collaborations and strengthen relationships between the two countries.

A virtual signing ceremony for a memorandum of understanding was held Oct. 6 at American University of Ras Al Khaimah (AURAK) in Ras Al Khaimah, UAE, featuring U.S. Ambassador John Rakolta, AURAK President Hassan Al Alkim, Provost Stephen C. Wilhite, and WSU President M. Roy Wilson via video. Ahmad Ezzeddine, associate vice president for educational outreach and international programs, led the project in Detroit and joined the ceremony live.

The grant will provide financial support to build and maintain an infrastructure for virtual exchange opportunities and online programming, while allowing the universities to expand current collaboration efforts that already include student exchanges and joint/dual degree programs.

WSU will lead efforts to pursue new initiatives to further connect the campuses and countries, such as joint research between faculty and staff and non-degree programs. Future plans include guest lectures, short visits and a Visiting Faculty Program, with each facet contributing to the broader goal of furthering mutual understanding between Americans and Emiratis through educational and cultural exchange.

The agreement will benefit more than just AURAK and WSU. Although AURAK is the primary partner in the project, programming will extend to select Emirati and American universities.  WSU will also partner with the State University of New York’s Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL) Center to provide workshops customized to suit the needs of participating faculty and staff and build institutional capacity for developing and supporting virtual exchanges. 

“While we already have our partnership with AURAK, with this agreement we will now be able to pursue other initiatives that will connect our campuses, students, and faculty,” Wilson said. “Committing to the creation of this framework for virtual exchange is exciting, and this really only came about after a conversation in July. The fact that we are ready to begin work today demonstrates how important we all believe this initiative to be.

“We look forward to creating a robust and wide-ranging plan that will benefit students and faculty at both of our institutions. In turn, they will take their new educational and cultural experiences out into our communities to share with others, helping to make our world smaller and, I hope, a more welcoming place.”

Al Alkim observed that “AURAK is confident that the proposed initiative will contribute importantly to furthering the objectives of both universities to provide to students, faculty, and staff increased opportunities for furthering mutual understanding between residents of the UAE and residents of the United States.” Wilhite noted that “the agreement furthers AURAK’s mission to provide our students with life-changing education with a global reach. Being part of an expanded network of collaborating institutions in the UAE and the U.S. will increase meaningful intercultural educational experiences, promoting the development of participants’ skills for navigating successfully an ever more interconnected world.”

Ezzeddine says AURAK is similar to WSU in that both have a diverse student population, high quality academic programs and strong leadership committed to preparing students to have a positive impact on their local and global community. 

“In the spring, as higher education around the world transitioned to mostly remote and online instruction, we saw a unique opportunity emerge for expanded student participation within the partnership framework via virtual exchange activities,” Ezzeddine says. “Through those discussions, we also identified other ways to deepen our existing partnership activities. International experiences, such as the ones we intend to pursue through this grant, are enriching and arm students with global competencies, skills, and a new level of understanding to succeed in today’s global society. 

“We are grateful for the support from the U.S. Embassy staff and Ambassador Rakolta for believing in our proposal and giving us the opportunity to pursue this exciting project,” Ezzeddine says. “We are extremely proud of this collaboration, and know that it is just the first step toward bringing our institutions and two countries closer together.”

The Office of International Programs leads Wayne State’s global engagement by creating opportunities that foster international education and research, facilitate the exchange of individuals and ideas that promote global competencies and citizenship, and provide resources that support the expansion of the university’s global agenda. Follow us @WayneOIP.

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