Wayne State University received a $100,000 grant from the United States Embassy in the United Arab Emirates to support the university’s partnership and programs with the American University of Ras Al Khaimah, according to WSU’s Office of International Programs. A virtual signing ceremony was held on Oct. 6.

AURAK is an independent, public non-profit, coeducational institution offering undergraduate and graduate degrees based on the North American model with a focus on local culture, according to the university.

WSU and AURAK originally established the 3+2 Transfer Student Program for engineering students in 2017, allowing students to earn engineering degrees from both universities simultaneously, according to AURAK.

Students in the program study at AURAK for three years to complete a bachelor’s degree and then study for two year at WSU to earn a master’s degree, according to the WSU College of Engineering.

The grant supports furthering reciprocal student exchange and dual degree programs, said Ahmad Ezzeddine, WSU associate vice president for Educational Outreach and International Programs. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the universities are developing and supporting new virtual exchange offerings, which connect WSU and AURAK students through projects and courses taught by faculty from both universities.

The college of engineering and schools across the country saw a decrease in international student enrollment because of the pandemic and U.S. sociopolitical climate over the past several years, said Farshad Fotouhi, college of engineering dean. The college hopes the grant can gain the trust of AURAK and other institutions in recruiting international students and conducting research.

Virtual programs are helping maintain and build on the partnership between WSU and AURAK until in-person exchanges and collaborations resume, Ezzeddine said. This also allows the participation of those who have been unable to participate in a study abroad experience.

“COVID-19 put a halt to all travel, and as result, pushed us to consider other ways to support global education,” Ezzeddine said.

The college of engineering is in the process of creating two online master’s degrees, said Fotouhi, one degree in computer science with a concentration in autonomous technologies and one in biomedical engineering with a focus in injury biomechanics. 

Expanding the universities’ partnership provides “opportunities for faculty to collaborate on research and joint initiatives that could help strengthen the linkages between our two institutions and allow for more in-person faculty and student engagements in the future,” Ezzeddine said.

The most important aspect of the collaboration is fostering an “intercultural understanding” between residents of the UAE and the U.S, said Stephen Wilhite, AURAK provost and vice president of academic affairs and student success.

“Despite the pandemic, the world will continue to become ever more interconnected,” Wilhite said. “It is essential that university students emerge from their studies with increased knowledge of other cultures.”

Many WSU students are familiar with the Middle East, Ezzeddine said, but not many have personal experience, or even a significant awareness, of smaller countries in the Persian Gulf region.

“UAE has an incredibly diverse population and AURAK reflects that diversity,” Ezzeddine said. “It will be a unique way for students to connect with their peers in a place they may not know much about.”

The funding of this partnership is not just for engineering programs, but for the broader WSU campus community, Fotouhi said. It will help introduce WSU’s campus and programs to AURAK students and faculty. 

“This grant is one of many initiatives that the Office of International Programs is pursuing in order to provide our students with global and intercultural competencies,” Ezzeddine said. “We encourage students to take advantage of these opportunities and to connect with us to learn about how they make a global experience part of their WSU journey.”

Ursula Krause is a contributing writer for The South End. She can be reached at ursula.krause@wayne.edu.

Photo provided by WSU Office of International Programs.