UB leadership travels abroad to India

The Value of Meeting Face-to-Face

UB leadership travels abroad to build better connections at home.

As we tread through a new technological revolution and on the heels of a global pandemic that forced many to work remotely to keep the world turning, is there still a need to meet people face to face?

For University of Bridgeport President Danielle Wilken, Ed.D., the answer to that question is a resounding, ‘Yes!’

Colleges and universities are navigating emerging technologies disrupting the classroom and the increasing demand for online learning modalities — all compounded by the impending drop in graduating high school seniors. In response, educational leaders and decision-makers are analyzing their strategic plans and considering innovative ways to engage with their current and prospective students. Against the backdrop of a genuinely out-of-the-ordinary higher education landscape — and just three years into an even more unique relationship with Goodwin University — UB leadership is working to foster critical international partnerships.

During a recent visit to India, President Wilken and her VP of Innovation, Strategy, and Advancement, Elena Cahill, visited consulates and embassies, met with university students, sat for interviews with the media, and experienced the breadth and depth of the Indian culture during a five-day trip that took them from Delhi to Agrabad.

The purpose of this trip? Officially?

The two women traveled together to India with a packed 5-day agenda, representing University of Bridgeport abroad. They shared with the international community what makes UB an extraordinary place to learn, grow, and prepare for one’s career.

The primary goals of the trip were to ask and answer questions about the student visa interview process, which has recently stalled in India, especially for students looking to begin classes during the summer semester. “You see, UB is different in that we have a robust summer semester,” explains Cahill. “The folks in charge of opening and closing the visa interviews for the summer didn’t realize this about UB. We were able to explain to them why the summer semester was so important to our students.”

According to Cahill, UB’s retention rate for international students in the summer of 2023 was around 96%. Visa interviews are critical for students looking to begin classes at UB. Being allowed to start classes in the summer is important for many students, and this is especially true for international students who may need more time to acclimate to the culture and learn to live independently in the United States before their coursework ramps up in the fall.

In addition to the diplomatic goals of this trip, Wilken and Cahill’s itinerary involved visiting and connecting with UB’s international partners in India to explore innovative ways to enhance the UB experience for both domestic and international students.

For Cahill, who grew up in Bridgeport and graduated from UB, the international connections the University is strengthening have been a part of the school’s ethos for nearly 100 years. Cahill led a successful career in business ownership and law before returning to the University, first to teach in the School of Business and then eventually to become a member of UB’s cabinet. “As the child of immigrants and a first-generation college student myself, this is who we are,” says Cahill. “We have always been a diverse, international university. We’re not just checking boxes and saying we are diverse.”

For Wilken, whose career in academia first saw her as a faculty member at Goodwin University, then Goodwin provost, and now UB president, you can’t understate the value of meeting people face-to-face. While President Wilken’s personal and professional experiences differ from Cahill’s, the two are in sync regarding the importance of fostering these international connections. “We absolutely could not have accomplished what we did in those five days over Zoom,” adds Wilken. “I have a perspective on our international students that I would not otherwise have had I not made this trip.”

Sharing the UB story abroad

Aside from experiencing Indian culture and meeting with university and government officials in the country, Cahill and Wilken met with students who were engaged, curious, and wanted to learn more about the UB story. “I was particularly impressed with the students we met,” shared Cahill. Wilken added, “They were extremely prepared with their questions. They wanted to know UB.”

Nearly 45% of new UB students during the 2023-2024 school year were international students. Right now, a large percentage of those students come from India to study in Bridgeport. Another purpose for this trip abroad involved exploring creative partnerships with universities in India, including potential faculty exchange or student exchange programs and joint academic ventures. President Wilken signed Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs), symbolizing how seriously her office takes the fostering of international and global experiences for all UB students. In today’s increasingly interconnected world, global citizenship is a competitive skill for all students to develop as they look toward careers in a global economy.

For many of UB’s international students, the dream of going to school in the United States and the hope of one day having a career in the U.S. is transformative. By earning their degrees at UB, many of these students can change their families’ futures.

The inverse of that notion is also true.

University of Bridgeport’s international student population, who come from more than 31 countries around the globe, transforms UB’s campus culture for all students, faculty, and staff alike. In that way, the University is a microcosm, demonstrating how essential collaboration among cultures is. Ultimately, the diversity of the campus population makes the UB experience extraordinary for anyone who experiences it firsthand. Those experiences are enriched by the synergy between UB and our international partners — and for Wilken, those partnerships are deeper and more meaningful because of these face-to-face connections.

To Cahill, the experience of working with and supporting students, much like herself, resonates with her most. “International students are usually first-generation students as well,” said Cahill. “I think that’s the commonality. There’s a drive there, no matter where you come from.”

Working with international students comes with unique requirements not only from the United States government but also from the students’ home countries. Staying current on immigration laws in more than 31 countries isn’t new for UB, which is nearing its centennial in just a few short years.

The effort is well worth the payoff for everyone involved.

“Leading this university with all these international students is such a gift,” said Wilken. “Whether you are a domestic or international student, this is what our global economy looks like. You’re talking about people who can come together in the classroom and share ideas, cultures, and concepts. There is a huge benefit to everyone at the University.”
Cahill also leads the UB Advancement team and regularly interacts with UB alums. “So many benefit from our international dynamic. It’s what people remember and take with them even 40, 50, or 60 years later.”

While #UBelong is a clever slogan, it’s also become a bit of a throughline for UB students, even popping up in this year’s undergraduate speaker’s commencement speech. Still, it wouldn’t truly resonate without the efforts of University leadership, faculty, staff, and students to maintain our inclusive and culturally diverse community, allowing everyone to feel like they belong at UB. These efforts start at home, on UB’s campus, but extend across the world to face-to-face meetings with partners and students who also belong at UB.


To see international coverage of Wilken and Cahill’s trip to India, visit bridgeport.edu/admissions/international.