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University of Nizwa Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Abdulaziz bin Yahya Al Kindi (second from left) and Chancellor Ahmed Khalfan Al-Rawahi tour the Sage Hall construction site on July 11

Oshkosh, Wisconsin and Nizwa, Oman may be half a world away from one another  – the former, seeing winter temperatures plunge below 0 degrees F and the latter sizzling beyond 100 degrees F in its summers.

But there is more in common between these two diverse cities than uncommon — namely, both boast growing universities, with each institution turning to innovation to enhance academic programs and expand access for thousands of their respective citizens.

At the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh, a new, dry fermentation anaerobic biodigester will combust the gases from rotting campus food waste and locally-sourced agricultural plant refuse into revenue-generating, institution-powering energy. It’s only the most recent example of the institution’s “greening.”

In Oman, at the University of Nizwa, administrators, faculty and students collaborated on the engineering of an innovative, high-heat-tolerant concrete made from one of the country’s great, often overlooked natural resources: Sand. The product is literally building the university’s completely new, multimillion dollar campus several miles from Nizwa.

“This is cutting cost and maintaining the quality,” said Prof. Abdulaziz bin Yahya Al Kindi, secretary of the general board of trustees and vice chancellor for academic affairs at the University of Nizwa.

Two countries. Two cultures. Two campuses.

One shared commitment to academic excellence and sustainability in all their facets.

Al Kindi and University of Nizwa Chancellor Ahmed Khalfan Al-Rawahi joined University of Wisconsin Oshkosh leaders this week as part of a summer campus and community cultural exchange, culminating in the Omani group’s meeting with UW System President Kevin Reilly and other UW Oshkosh counterparts later this week.

Long-standing relationship

The administrators joined a contingent of 15 students from the growing University of Nizwa participating in week three of a five-week cultural exchange at UW Oshkosh. Their visit to campus, and the exchange program itself, furthered a years-long cultural and academic partnership between UW Oshkosh and the University of Nizwa.

The relationship begins with UW Oshkosh Chancellor Emeritus John Kerrigan’s mission to Oman as a consultant in the mid 1990s, conducting a workshop on the U.S. higher educational system for the country’s leadership. Years later, a UW Oshkosh professor visiting the country became involved in a conversation with a counterpart about the founding of a new university there. The idea blossomed, a plan and funding coalesced and the University of Nizwa was born in 2004, ever since benefitting from UW Oshkosh’s academic and strategic guidance.  

The 7-year-old university’s enrollment has surged, growing from 1,000 to about 7,000 students in the last several years in a temporary campus. Meanwhile, construction continues on the new University of Nizwa campus outside the city of Nizwa.

Students benefit from partnership

The connections with UW Oshkosh have strengthened a long-standing cultural relationship between the two institutions, providing opportunities for professors and academic staff from both institutions to visit respective programs. It also means, for the first time, University of Nizwa students are immersing themselves in Wisconsin’s higher education system and U.S. culture.

“What I see here are the professors are very friendly to students,” said Mohammed Al-Maawah, a University of Niwaz staff member who joined students in the program the institution titled “Global Horizons.”

UW Oshkosh College of Business Professor Jeff LaVake led the students in courses concentrating on business, finance and accounting, marketing and strategic planning.

“It has been a real learning experience on both sides, I think,” LaVake said, during a Q&A catch-up session between the students and the visiting University of Nizwa leaders on July 11.

For the fifteen students, with majors ranging from electrical engineering to accounting, the cultural immersion in the U.S. is just as important as the academic one.

Beyond business and marketing classes, students had opportunities to learn more about local culture. That meant excursions to a local, modern dairy farming operation, trips to area museums and opportunities to see the behind-the-scenes machinations of corporate and family-owned manufacturing businesses in the Fox Valley.

In developing Global Horizons, the University of Nizwa emphasized a longer, deeper experience for students, favoring five weeks to several days.

“We wanted them to go and taste real life inside and outside of the classroom,” Al-Rawahi said.

About 80 percent of the University of Nizwa’s current student enrollment is female. Academic programs range from engineering and architecture to pharmaceutical science – fields that have proven high demand in the job sector, Al-Rawahi said.

The university has been housed in temporary facilities in the city of Nizwa since its opening. The new campus, about eight kilometers – five miles – outside of Nizwa will facilitate the institution’s further growth. Enrollment is expected to surge beyond 10,000 students upon its completion.