Fort Hays State professor lives in China for a year to expand global growth

Dan Kulmala

By Sophia Rose Young
University Relations and Marketing
HAYS, Kan. -- Before Dr. Daniel Kulmala left the country for the 2015-2016 academic year, leaving behind his three kids and a wife, he opened up in a personal interview about Fort Hays State University's intentions in China.

"Students here and alumni know about our connection to China, but now we are going to expand," said Kulmala. "I think we have a lot of opportunities in Southeast Asia. We are looking at Cambodia, and I have some connections in Malaysia and Taiwan. "

Kulmala recently accepted a position as interim special assistant to the provost for academic affairs in China. He will live on FHSU's partner campuses at Sias International University and Shenyang Normal University and work closely with the university presidents and various deans to improve FHSU's international programs.

Kulmala has been with FHSU since 2001. He has served as assistant dean of the Graduate School, director of the Master of Liberal Studies programs and chair of the Department of Modern Languages. He is currently a professor of communication studies and often refers to himself as a professor of Global English.

What follows is a partial transcript of the conversation with Kulmala, slightly edited for clarity.

Q. Why China?
FHSU kind of just fell into the opportunity. There is political history that is problematic with China, but they are very eager to work with the United States and a highly educated culture.

For example, Sias was looking for a partnership with a United States university, and by good fortune, the connection was made with FHSU. It was not something that FHSU was seeking or looking for but heard about and jumped into the opportunity.

There is potential for more growth. I had heard that the founder, Shawn Chen, is currently in the process of hiring 400 more professors. Sias started off small in 1998, but it has grown, and I think they might be up to 30,000 students, and they are anticipating even further growth.

Q. Do you have specific goals?
The main goal is to expand our program offerings and recruit more students. Other goals involve problem solving, but extending our global reach is something that we want to do, and I think it creates more opportunities for American students and Chinese students.

Q. Why is global reach important?
What I see happening for the future, in terms of how we are all becoming very global--the impact of the internet and social media networking and the ways in which mobile technology and other technology has made us more connected--is that it's never going to end. It will only continue to grow. So for me, thinking globally is the direction we must go in and avoiding it or resisting it isn't going to work.

Q. What kind of students will you be working with?
I'll be primarily working with students who are studying English and want an American degree. I have given recruitment presentations in China before, so I've had the chance to work with a variety of students.

Q. Why make changes to the international program?
We are looking at an integrative approach that is more connected with global learning rather than seeing the programs as strictly international learning between China and the United States.

Q. Will you only be spending time in China?
I am going to Taiwan first before I go to China.

Q. What will you do in Taiwan?
I will be visiting with a new possible partnership at the Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages. They are a very tech-friendly and U.S.-friendly nation, and we are looking for not only student exchanges, but also some boarder partnerships.

I will fly into Taipei, take the high-speed rail down to Koahsiung, visit the university, and then spend the night in Taipei before flying to China.

Q. Who will you meet in Taiwan?
Some delegates from the university, people who are deans and professors in charge of the programs. They visited FHSU last August and met with President Martin and the provost.

Q. You created the Global Business program at Fort Hays. What motivated you to do that?
There is a degree program that international students recognize, which is Business English. It's something we don't teach in the United States, unless you go through business communication. I really just see it as a great opportunity. It was something new, and I could see how it could grow.

Q. How many times have you visited SIAS and SNU?

Four times.

Q. What was the experience like?
I personally and professionally enjoy China. I really enjoy Chinese culture, and I think that explains why I have such a good relationship with my students and why I have good relationships with the administrators in China. The relationship I have with them is genuine. I love the food. I feel extremely comfortable around the people, and I enjoy the feel of the atmosphere.

Q. Will you be traveling alone?
Yes. If I keep traveling in this capacity, I would like to take my family. My daughters would definitely like to go, but I don't know what I will be doing a year from now.

Q. How old are your children?
I have a 14-year old son named Jonah, a 10-year-old daughter named Spenser and a daughter named Ripley, who is 6.

They understand my reasons for going. The teenager will survive while I'm gone because he is into his video games, his laptop and Facebook. The two girls will miss me the most, but we will Skype and communicate as much as possible. I will miss my wife as well, but she's an adult, you know we can survive, but the children are always something very hard to be separated from.

Q. Do you know how long your interim position is planned?
I'll be working at least until the end of June or early July of 2016.

Q. Do you speak any Mandarin?
I know enough Mandarin to make my way through airports and order food. I anticipate expanding my Mandarin skills by the time I return to Hays in late June. Mandarin is the primary language in China, yet a sizable portion speaks Cantonese.

Q. Where will you stay in China?
I will find out when I get there. I know I will be staying on campus at Sias in Peter Hall, but I am not quite sure where I will be staying at in SNU. They will have some quarters for me, and they will have a FHSU office for me.

Q. Where did you grow up?
Northern Ohio in the Great Lakes area. I was born in Cleveland but grew up on a small farm south of Cleveland.

Q. What did you do on the farm?
It was just a small farm with goats and chickens, and we grew hay and oats. I mostly worked at the large surrounding dairy farms.

Q. Since there are a lot of agricultural students at FHSU, what would you say to one of those students wanting to go to China?
It is a very fertile area. From time to time I have taken scooter rides outside of the city, and especially where Sias is, there are a tremendous amount of farms. When you walk the streets of the city, fresh food is everywhere, and the restaurants themselves usually have farm-fresh foods.

I'm surprised we don't do more with agribusiness or agriculture in China, and maybe that is something that we can really explore when I am there this time, because one of the objectives of my position is to expand our academic delivery.

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