Montana State University Billings and Japan’s Prefectural University of Kumamoto (PUK) extended by three years on Monday a long-running agreement that includes exchange student programs, immersive language programs and faculty education opportunities.
During a brief ceremony at MSUB’s Student Union Building, Chancellor Mark Nook and Paul Foster, executive director of MSUB’s Office of International Studies, met with PUK President Minoru Koga and Kiroaki Tsusumi, a professor in PUK’s Department of Ecology and Environmental Resources, to sign the new agreement.
“It really is a way for us to highlight the work that we do together and the fact that we want to strengthen that relationship,” Nook said.
Monday’s signing extends an agreement that’s been in place between the two universities since 1997, with the first students from PUK heading to MSUB in 1998.
Located in the town of Kumamoto, a city with a population of more than 730,000, PUK is a public university that was founded in 1947. It serves about 2,200 undergraduate and graduate students and has right around 100
Speaking to Nook and a group of faculty and students — including a handful from PUK studying in Billings — Koga said that he appreciates the relationship the schools have fostered and that Monday’s agreement will help “to promote more intensive relationships.”
Each summer, PUK students spend three weeks at MSUB in a full-immersion English program, while others attend a full school year as part of an exchange program.
“Every year, we send two or three students here for nine months to study and also some for the summer session,” Koga said.
Foster said that MSUB sends similar groups to PUK, with the next — a group of about 10 students and Scott Harris, an MSUB business professor — likely heading over next year for several weeks after a semester in Billings studying Japanese culture, language and business.
Both Nook and Foster said that the agreement lines up with an increased push to grow MSUB’s international programs, both for students and faculty.
Nook said that it’s important for the MSUB community to know about the relationship with PUK and expose it to other cultures and nations.
“We need to be able to educate our students about the world and the international community,” he said. “We can do that by sending our students abroad or by having students from other universities study here. The thing that (MSUB and PUK) want to get out there is that it’s not just the students. We’re really interested in increasing the faculty exchanges, too.”
The link between the universities also goes beyond an educational swap, as Montana and Kumamoto Prefecture, the statelike region in which the city of Kumamoto resides on the island of Kyushu, have a formalized sister-state agreement that dates back to 1982.
It started with a push beginning in 1979 from Mike Mansfield while he served as the U.S. ambassador to Japan. The relationship includes visits between government officials and numerous clubs and organizations on both sides, as well as cultural exchange and educational programs.
Montana maintains a state trade office in Kumamoto while the prefecture had its own Helena-based cultural resource center, which closed in 2008 due to budget issues.
However, Lonie Stimac, with the Montana Department of Commerce’s Office of Trade and International Relations, said that Kumamoto has contracted out with a Montanan to maintain the program and that both regions keep a close relationship.