Indiana University President Michael McRobbie on Thursday welcomed a delegation of education leaders from Malaysia, including its minister of higher education, to IU Bloomington.
For many in the delegation, including Dató Seri Idris Jusoh, Malaysia’s top higher education official, it was their first visit to beautiful IU Bloomington.
But for one visitor, Dr. Asma Ismail, it was a return to a familiar place, the campus where she earned a master’s degree in microbiology in 1981-83.
When asked how the campus looks after 32 years, she replied, “Some parts of it are still the same; some parts have changed so much … But the beauty and the serenity and everything about IU is there, the spirit of being a Hoosier is still there.
“It’s nice to be back,” she added with a beaming smile.
This summer, Ismail – Malaysia’s director general of higher education — was one of two IU alumni who received the Thomas Hart Benton Medallion at the 2015 IU Asian-Pacific Alumni Conference in Bali.
Today, nearly 120 students from Malaysia are studying at IU Bloomington and at IUPUI. Many from her country also have been enrolled at IU South Bend. Nearly a dozen visiting scholars from Malaysia are now conducting research at the university.
Three years ago, McRobbie visited Malaysia as part of a broader trip to Southeast Asia. The alumni association there is among IU’s largest and most active alumni chapters worldwide. Today, nearly 2,700 Malaysians are IU alumni.
One major reason why so many Malaysians are IU alumni is because the university was the lead institution for the Midwest Universities Consortium for International Activities in the 1980s and 1990s. The Malaysian government underwrote the program, in coordination with its Institute Teknologi MARA (today the Universiti Institute Teknologi MARA).
From 1985 to 1995, nearly 5,000 students completed the two-year ITM/MUCIA program. Most of them earned an IU associate degree and then continued their studies at more than 160 universities and colleges across the United States. They included about 800 people who earned bachelor’s degrees at IU Bloomington and IUPUI.
Over the life of the 10-year program, 350 faculty and their families, mainly from IU and other Big Ten universities and their regional campuses, lived and taught in the program in Shah Alam, the capital of the Malaysian state of Selangor.
In addition to Malaysia’s minister of higher education, seven other education officials also joined Ismail. The delegation met with McRobbie, IU Vice President for International Affairs David Zaret and several members of his team.
They toured areas of the campus, including the Old Crescent area and Jordan Hall, where she spent most of her time as a student (she also fondly recalled watching IU basketball). She visited with her faculty advisor, Eugene Weinberg, professor emeritus of biology.
They wrapped up their visit with a lunch with members of the Malaysian Student Association.
The purpose of the meetings was to discuss more ways to collaborate on academic initiatives, including how more Malaysian professors might become visiting scholars. Also, as IU has becoming a magnet for international students from more than 35 countries, it is envisioned that even more young people will elect to come to Bloomington to study.
Ismail noted that many Malaysians are studying in the acclaimed Kelley School of Business, but she would like to see more people from the Southeast Asian country come and, and like her, study the fundamental sciences.