Dr. Mark Wilson resigned from his position as dean of NU's College of Business Administration last spring so that he could enlist in the AmeriCorps. It turns out that when it comes to serving others, his interim replacement is no slouch either.
Dr. Tenpao Lee, the man assuming the college's leadership role while university administrators search for Wilson's successor, has become integral to a developing southeast African nation's effort to establish a much-needed institution of higher learning.
Selected as a Fulbright Scholar in 2000, Lee was chosen by the Council of International Exchange of Scholars to act as a Fulbright Specialist at Blantyre International University, Malawi, in July 2009. The purpose of Lee's visit was to assist the university with the development of its curriculum and to help it earn accreditation. During his four-week stay, Lee shared his expertise in the field of supply chain management, developed and assessed academic curricula, and conducted teacher training and faculty development seminars.
By the time Lee was set to return to the U.S., an accreditation committee had reviewed BIU. A year later, the university was fully accredited by the government of Malawi.
The importance of Blantyre International University to the people of Malawi is significant. Approximately 83 percent of the nation's 13.9 million residents are involved in the agriculture industry, according to 2008 census data. An illiteracy rate of 34.1 percent punctuates the fact that only 3.5 percent of Malawi's high school students will attend an institution of higher learning. Furthermore, due largely to the country's dense population, it is estimated that secondary school enrollment will increase by 126 percent by 2017.
"We absolutely need higher education for the economic and social development of Malawi," stated Dr. Charles Chanthunya, the man who founded BIU in 2008.
On Oct. 15, 2009, Chanthunya, who serves as BIU's chancellor, signed a 10-year academic cooperation agreement with Niagara University. The nonbinding agreement was formed to "recognize the mutual benefits to be gained through a cooperative program promoting scholarly activities and international understanding" between the universities.
As part of this relationship, Chanthunya made the 32-hour trip to Monteagle Ridge this August in hopes of attaining additional insight from NU faculty and staff members as to how BIU can effectively enhance the quality of its educational offerings. Chanthunya met with officials in several of NU's administrative offices during his Aug. 23-24 stay, including academic affairs, records, information technology, institutional advancement, academic support and study abroad, as well as the deans of Niagara's four specialized colleges.
"This gentleman wanted to learn how to run a university in two days," joked Lee, a full professor of supply chain management at NU, who traveled to Taiwan as a Fulbright Scholar in 2001.
In all seriousness, Lee is enthused about the way that Niagara's relationship with BIU correlates with the university's Vincentian mission.
"The student in Malawi cannot afford many of the educational resources that we take for granted in the United States," he noted, while alluding to the possibility of some sort of future tuition exchange program between NU and BIU. "Helping out these people is true to our mission, and seeing this will reinforce the notion that our students should appreciate what they have here."
Case in point: Chanthunya was pleased with NU's willingness to share course materials, modules and even textbooks when new editions are published.
"To us, the materials would still be new, even if they were 20, 50 or even 100 years old," he said.
BIU also leverages its partnership with Niagara University to recruit students, as evidenced by a prominent area on the university's website, www.biu.ac.mw, that links to NU's home page. Lee has received several emails from prospective BIU students inquiring about the affiliation with Niagara.
Blantyre International University is making steady progress. Although it is still renting space from a former high school, BIU has a purchased a lot and architectural renderings have been drawn for the future site of its campus. The institution offers bachelor's degrees in a dozen fields, including accounting, community development, counseling, economics, IT, journalism and tourism. What began as a venture with 35 students in 2008 now enrolls close to 900, and the university is preparing to graduate its first class in February 2012.
Chanthunya has invited a Niagara University representative to speak during the graduation ceremony, either via a taped video message or through a live feed. It's one way that he can offer NU a token of his - and his country's - gratitude.
"We are extremely grateful to develop a relationship with this esteemed university," Chanthunya said. "We are confident that, with your help in the various areas that we discussed, we will get fully and firmly established and thereby contribute immensely to expanding access to university education in Malawi. We are thankful for Niagara offering to help us become the university that we want to become."