Geneseo establishes new exchange program at Jamaican university

Beginning Fall 2007, Geneseo will offer an exchange program with the University of the West Indies' Mona campus in Jamaica.

The exchange, made official on Jan. 30, is based "on a memorandum of understanding" regarding an exchange of students and faculty across both campuses, said President Christopher Dahl. Initially, the program will be within the chemistry departments of both schools. About five Geneseo students will go abroad to the Mona campus in the upcoming Fall and Spring semesters.

Geneseo chemistry professor Ruel McKnight acted as a liaison between Geneseo and the University of the West Indies. Born in Jamaica and having received his bachelor's degree from the University of the West Indies, McKnight is familiar with the University's chemistry department.

When the program was first proposed, McKnight said "I got excited about it. I did part of my education in Jamaica and benefited a lot from the two different cultures."

McKnight said that the short term goals of the exchange include an expansion into other departments and disciplines, such as other sciences and the humanities.

The exchange program functions differently than standard study abroad efforts because the Jamaica and Geneseo campuses will receive about the same numbers of students from each other. It is based on "mutual benefits," said McKnight.

The criteria examined for the selection of students admitted into the exchange program may become more rigorous as demand increases. "We want the best students on both ends," said McKnight.

Dahl expressed excitement at the opportunities available with the University of West Indies. "It is a serious, good chemistry department. They do some very interesting research."

The chemistry department at the University of the West Indies, which includes an entire graduate and Ph.D. program, has about double the faculty of Geneseo's chemistry department. As a result, it offers many electives not available at Geneseo. "It is exciting because of the additional academic and international experience," said Dahl.

Dahl said that Jamaica provides an interesting setting for an international experience because it is composed of a mixture of backgrounds and cultures, similar to the United States. McKnight noted that receiving "two culturally different versions" of material provides a "more profound knowledge of the subject."

Students involved in the program will be able to use the courses toward completion of their degree. Additionally, participants will pay normal SUNY tuition plus the cost of travel. "It is nothing but good," said McKnight.

The University of the West Indies exchange program is one of several Geneseo initiatives to expand dual degree and international experiences for students. These other projects include exchanges and programs with Turkey, Russia and Mexico. Dahl said it is part of an effort to increase the international experience of Geneseo students. "Part of becoming an honors college is the need to involve an international perspective. It is an opportunity to enhance and diversify the student body," explained Dahl.

The international exchange programs are part of what Dahl expects will create a "more sophisticated and interesting applicant pool." Geneseo recently switched over to the Common Application, which puts it in line with many Ivy League schools and other tier one schools for the application process. "We are always trying to provide undergraduate education at the highest possible level."