By Abra Bennett
Writer in Residence, Walla Walla Community College
Forty years ago Walla Walla was much less cosmopolitan than it is today, yet even then WWCC was opening its arms to the world.
The first international students arrived at WWCC in 1978. In that year Charles Cottingham was the Director of Admissions and Registrar. As he remembers it, “Our college president, Pete Dietrich, wanted to increase diversity at the school, and told me ‘We need to recruit some international students to give our students, who are mostly Caucasian, an idea of another way of life.’”
Dietrich appointed him the first International Student Coordinator and soon Cottingham was shepherding 18 students from Nigeria through a year of studies at WWCC. Soon thereafter there followed students from Mexico, then later from Iran.
All was not smooth sailing though. Cottingham recalls that at the time some community members were incensed, and demanded to know why taxpayers’ money was being used to bring students of color to Walla Walla. Fortunately, times have changed in that regard. WWCC’s current contingent of students from Rwanda, whose view of the United States prior to coming here had been largely shaped by Hollywood, arrived in Walla Walla expecting to encounter racism. They now report that they are impressed by the friendly welcome they have received in the community here.
In 1979 Nancy Maxwell-Rich became the first WWCC staff member to travel to China. At the time she was an administrative supervisor in the family and consumer studies program, and she was invited to travel to China as part of an adult educators’ study tour organized under the auspices of the National Committee on United States-China Relations.
There she observed that, “Adult education was a combination of formal academic teaching and hands-on, experiential learning in the technical and professional areas like engineering, construction, healthcare, and education.” In other words, an approach that was very similar to the model we have adopted in our state community college system.
In pursuit of that approach WWCC’s then-President Steve VanAusdle initiated an exchange program agreement in 1995 with the Tianjin Vocational and Technical Teachers’ College (TVTTC) in Tianjin, China. Later that year Bai LiMing, a faculty member in TVTTC’s English department came to WWCC on that exchange program to observe the English as a Second Language program.
Following that visit WWCC’s Ann Daly, Assistant Library Director, and Ellen Harley, an ESL instructor, went to TVTTC on a reciprocal exchange. Nanqi You, currently the owner of Walla Walla Web Weavers, who taught information technology at WWCC for 21 years, accompanied all of the WWCC visitors on their trips to China.
Most recently WWCC President Derek Brandes traveled to China, along with Jerry Anhorn, Dean of Workforce Education, Darlene Snider, Dean of Transitional Studies and High School Programs, Dave Stockdale, Director of the Water and Environmental Center, and Lindsey Williams, Marketing Coordinator for the Agriculture Center of Excellence.
There they visited schools in the Beijing area and in Shandong Province, establishing new avenues of international cooperation and opportunities for exchange.
“Our goal is to grow our international program at WWCC to about 100 students in the next five years,” said Brandes, upon their return. “Many Chinese students are interested in studying abroad. The purpose of our trip was to start building relationships with Chinese high schools and vocational institutions that have indicated interest in exploring partnerships with Walla Walla Community College. We hope to invite several of the school officials we met with to visit Walla Walla in the next year.”
In a recent interview Maxwell-Rich, who later went on to earn a doctorate in education, with an emphasis on community colleges, shared her view that, “International exchange programs are absolutely essential as we grow more integrated and connected in this world economy. I believe,” she continued, “that we achieve our best results when international exchange students share family, and the everyday experiences of community, education, and work. Young adults have a great capacity for learning, social justice, and environmental stewardship. Social media, textbooks, and novels alone will not help us meet the global workforce needs that can be achieved through real life experiences. International exchanges promote the required cultural competency for a 21st century workforce.”
The college continues to be fully engaged in our long tradition of enriching the lives of our own students by giving them the opportunity to connect with students from other countries and cultures. And by introducing foreign students to our community we help them connect to our customs and way of life.
The bonds forged between students, and between countries, may well yield business and cultural opportunities in the future, proving that although WWCC is a community college, the community it serves is a global one.