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First CWU Alumni Gathering in China Rated a Resounding Success

Rachel Gordon, OISP project manager, and six students in Shanghai, ChinaBob Ford, Central Washington University’s senior director of Alumni and Constituent Relations, didn’t know what to expect when he decided to host the first-ever CWU Alumni Association event in China on October 21.

However, on the day of the event, held in Liuzhou City, he was pleasantly surprised to find a room filled with 130 CWU alumni, many of whom also brought their families.

“It was one of the larger events we have had on a whole, let alone going all the way to China,” Ford said.

Ashley Gillum, director of program development for Alumni and Constituent Relations, who also went on the trip, added, “The affinity for Central was truly remarkable. Years later having 130 of them attend an alumni reunion shows that the Wildcat spirit is still very much alive, even if they live more than 6,000 miles away.”

The participants were among 185 university graduates who earned their CWU master’s degrees through a program designed specifically for Liuzhou City government employees. Six groups have come to the Ellensburg campus, each for the yearlong study that led to advanced degrees in engineering technology, public accountancy, public administration, or information technology and administrative management.

“This trip provided us with a significant opportunity to connect all of those cohorts [classes] together,” Ford added. “They had begun doing things back in Liuzhou as individual cohorts but they did not have a formalized connection. So, when they got to our event, they were amazed by the people they had some relationships with but didn’t know they were also Wildcats.”

The reunion featured a video message from CWU President James L. Gaudino, and others from university faculty that led the graduate-level coursework. It also allowed some participants to reconnect with Gillum, who studied alongside Liuzhou students as she earned her Master of Science in Public Administration in 2017.

“Being able to visit my classmates and friends in their home was a once in a lifetime experience,” said Gillum. “We may have been learning about public administration in the classroom but the bond we created extended so much further.”

The alumni helped facilitate visits by the CWU group to Liuzhou High School and Liuzhou Railway Vocational Technical College, where they met with some potential future Wildcats, along with behind-the-scenes tours of city municipal offices and facilities.

“We were also able to see the world famous Rare Stone Museum there, which is actually managed by one of our alumni,” Ford pointed out. “It was interesting to witness how much pride they had in their city, how much pride they had in their country, but also how much pride they had for Central and in us being there.” 

Rachel Gordon, project manager for the CWU Office of International Studies and Programs, took part in the two-week long excursion that included six meetings with current and prospective educational affiliates in China, including Anhui University, which has collaborated with CWU for 36 years.

“There are some great collaborations in the works,” she noted. “We also met so many bright, young students. We can’t wait to visit [China] again and to greet our new students once they arrive here at Central.”

CWU has developed educational, exchange, and research programs with 30 higher educational institutions worldwide, including 14 in Asia alone. The university typically enrolls about 500 international students annually for classes in Ellensburg, at a University Center or CWU instructional site, from more than 50 countries.

Ford said, “We talk about connecting our students to a global society. So, as an alumni association, we have decided to help pave that road and build the network of CWU Wildcats locally, nationally, and internationally.”

Gillum added, “The opportunity to connect with the Liuzhou cohort was an amazing educational and cultural experience. There have been many amazing memories during my career at Central, but this will stand out for years to come.”

The CWU trip came during the final week of China’s 19th Communist Party Congress, which included a significant turnover in the country’s top leadership. That situation could pay dividends for Central in coming years.

“You’re seeing elder statesman transitioning out and being replaced by younger leaders that have a little different vision,” Ford said. “They want to further internationalize China, and have more of a global market economy, as a way to provide for the emergence of a middle class. There are more adults seeking higher education for themselves, or their kids, including through study abroad, along with increased interest in bringing students to China on exchange. I see this as a great opportunity for our institution.”

Media contact: Robert Lowery, Department of Public Affairs, 509-963-1487, Robert.Lowery@cwu.edu

Photo: Rachel Gordon, CWU OISP project manager, and some new friends in Shanghai

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