It was meeting of presidents that seemed to make the biggest impression on the leader of Georgia Southern University.
University President Kyle Marrero last week presided over the first meeting his office has held with a foreign head of state when he met with Irish President Michael D. Higgins in Wexford, Ireland.
Mr. Higgins was among the many Irish local and national government officials on hand as Georgia Southern opened an Irish learning facility housed in an 1812 building situated in a county with has historical and current ties with Savannah. Dr. Marrero, who joined Georgia Southern earlier this year, called it a “moving, once-in-a-lifetime visit” in a news release.
Shipping companies in the mid-1800s offered services across the Atlantic to Georgia’s port city, bringing Irish settlers who became the ancestors of thousands of Georgians. More recently, Wexford and Savannah have formed a partnership centered around trade, education and exchange as part of the World Trade Center Savannah’s strategic plan for global outreach.
Georgia Southern University built on these links in opening a facility that will include dorms and new classrooms hosting scholars of international relations and humanities. The facility will be a destination for study-abroad participants from Georgia Southern and eventually other state institutions, as well as Wexford students looking for an international experience.
The initial courses, opening to honors students over four weeks next summer, will focus on the diaspora links between the two locales, a topic that has already been researched widely back in Statesboro. Wexford will open its county archives and other primary sources to students, who will present their findings publicly.
Ireland sees the opening as a model for other universities to follow into the future, said Simon Coveney, TD, deputy prime minister of Ireland and minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade.
“This is going to work for everybody, and in my view, it may become a template for other universities in the US to build a footprint and create an international hub in Ireland based on partnership, on trust, on friendship, and on research and education,” Mr. Coveney said, according to the Georgia Southern release.
Beyond the first phase, the new facility figures to be a broader entry point for Georgia Southern students into Europe — giving them the international experience that recent University System of Georgia research is showing correlates with better and faster graduation rates and higher grades while improving readiness for entering the workforce. The opening came during International Education Week in the U.S.
Georgia Department of Economic Development commissioner Pat Wilson was also on hand for the opening, giving a hint as to how the state sees education tied in with investment recruitment and trade connectivity.
Georgia Southern University has 26,000 students on three campuses in southern and coastal Georgia.