During her first trip to China, President Mary Sue Coleman said in a speech that she was trained to be a biochemist who worked in a lab by herself or maybe with a few other scientists in the same field.
But now that model of research is as “outdated as writing scholarly papers with a brush on rice paper,” she said. Solving the world’s complex challenges demands that academics work across borders — identifying problems and assembling teams of brilliant people worldwide to tackle them.
“Scholarship knows no borders,” she said. “By our very nature, universities are at the forefront of globalization and cooperation.”
A major theme of Coleman’s presidency was aggressively building on U-M’s reputation for global engagement, boldly going abroad and — equally as important — bringing the world to her university.
Apart from visiting China twice, she traveled to South Africa, Ghana and Brazil. Last year, she became the first U-M president to visit India, where she signed agreements with Indian partners to expand research in medicine and social science, as well as create new overseas learning opportunities for students.
“Her focus on finding partnerships that bring us unique capabilities to benefit our missions of education and discovery have helped us focus on truly important work,” said James Holloway, vice provost for global and engaged education.
One major collaboration with a leading Chinese institution — Shanghai Jiao Tong University — launched a joint institute in 2006 for undergraduates studying engineering in Shanghai. It has become an important case study for successful partnership building in China, and this year the institute received the Heiskell Award — one of the highest honors in international education.
Another achievement was the establishment of the African Studies Center in 2008. The center has distinguished itself with a focus on STEM — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — making U-M the leader in this growing field of study.
“President Coleman really helped anchor U-M in the world, while simultaneously internationalizing the university,” said Kelly Askew, director of the African Studies Center.
Coleman also worked hard to make it possible for more students to have overseas learning experiences. During her final year as president, she and her husband, Kenneth M. Coleman, gave $1 million for scholarships for international study.
“What intrigues us so much about education today is the rich variety of international experiences with which students may engage,” she said.