WBU diving into international recruiting efforts

Note: This is the third in a three-part series on international students and recruiting efforts at Wayland, presented during International Education Week, Nov. 14-18.

PLAINVIEW – This year, Wayland Baptist University became the temporary home to two new freshmen from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Likely the first from the country to attend the university, these two came specifically in response to a recruiting trip just a few months earlier by Debra Sherley, Wayland’s international student advisor.

In Sherley’s eyes, the two are only the first fruits of what is likely to be a positive endeavor for Wayland as the university begins to explore recruiting possibilities overseas. That her first trip in this effort was to the Middle East is no accident to Sherley, but the culmination of several divine appointments.

“In 2004, the Mar Thoma church in Lubbock approached Wayland about a partnership,” she explained. “A doctor there knew of families who wanted to send their kids to a Christian school and he thought we should visit the United Arab Emirates.”

Sherley said the university met with Dr. John Lincoln and began talking about the possibilities of an overseas visit, discussing the similarities in the culture there and in the U.S.  Wayland president Dr. Paul Armes then handed Sherley information about the American Education Conference, which was being held in Dubai in a few months.

“We saw this as a call from God to walk through the doors he had opened for us during the meetings with Dr. Lincoln,” Sherley recalled, adding that plans immediately began for travel to the conference and visits with churches there.

Just a few weeks before leaving for Dubai, the second highest ranking official in the Mar Thoma church, the Right Reverend Dr. Joseph Mar Irenaeus Suffragan Metropolitan, visited the Wayland campus in Plainview under the urging of Dr. Lincoln. The visit with WBU officials provided additional information on the Mar Thoma church and its theology and the Bishop was able to learn more about Wayland’s culture of academic excellence and Christian atmosphere.

The partnership began thriving as connections were made with pastors in Mar Thoma churches across the U.A.E. The two week trip began taking shape, with plans to not only attend the conference but to speak in churches in several other cities and visit with families about Wayland.

While in the U.A.E., Sherley said she made contacts with pastors at Indian, Syrian and Orthodox churches, as well as a Baptist church whose pastor was a native of Texas, and the Indian Cultural Center in Doha, Qatar.

“The pastors were excited that a Christian school was reaching out to their students. None ever had,” she said. “In one church, they even let me speak to the congregation from the pulpit, and I later learned that they rarely ever allow a layperson to speak to the church. The response was overwhelming, and we were inundated with questions, words of appreciation for our visit and requests for business cards and brochures.”

Sherley said she felt the entire trip was blessed because, “God’s hand was in everything we did there.” Though the country claims a population that is 96 percent Muslim, Sherley was constantly meeting other Christians and families who were interested in the university.

Overall, Sherley left with the impression that the area is ripe for recruiting to the Plainview campus. Though there are several universities in Dubai’s Knowledge Village – a large state-of-the-art campus set aside by the government for universities to offer programs – none are American or Christian. While students there often go out of the country for an education, most go to the United Kingdom, Canada or Australia, all of whom recruit the U.A.E. heavily. Though there is interest in the United States, parents want their students in a safe environment where they can grow spiritually as well, and they are not aware of many options.

Since students typically leave the U.A.E. for their education, the country is experiencing somewhat of a “brain drain,” Sherley said, since those students sometimes do not return. Non-nationals must leave the country at the age of 18 unless their parents are paying for their education in the country. While visas from the U.S. have been difficult to obtain given the Middle Eastern situation, Sherley said the embassy there has promised to be more accommodating for students wishing to study here.

Wayland’s international student population has, in large part, traditionally been athletes. But Sherley said in order to be a truly international university, Wayland must recruit both academically-driven and athletic students in order to grow in diversity and retain these international students.

Sherley said her dream would be to create an international programs office that would recruit international students and promote exchange study programs for American students, as well as providing services for local resident aliens and immigration referrals.      

“Was this a call from God to take an international step of faith or just an interesting experience for me?” she asks hypothetically. “Wayland has always been known as a trailblazer. Look at the bold move the school made in the early 1950s when it opened its doors to black students. Did that move cause it to lose status or money? Not in the long run… and that’s what we’re about, the long run to eternity.”

Sherley plans another trip to the area in the spring of 2006 for future recruiting efforts. She is also considering the possibility of visits to India to make contacts with Mar Thoma churches there.