The Institute of International Education selected Dr. Joshua McKeown of SUNY Oswego to mentor physician-educator Dr. Myint Oo from the Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar (also known as Burma) during an intensive 20-week course designed to build skills for developing and managing an international education office.

McKeown, Oswego's associate provost for international education and programs, recently welcomed Oo (pronounced "oh") to campus for several days as part of a second-level "Connecting with the World" training course for international professionals in Myanmar, a country that began emerging from a half-century of military dictatorship and adopting democratic reforms in 2011.

"I knew that Myanmar was a country currently undergoing processes that have led to some change in government and openness with the outside world, including the United States," McKeown said. "While its path to democracy is incomplete, I thought this was an important time to engage with it, and it was an honor to have been chosen."

McKeown, whose office has been honored nationally for innovative programming, was selected to mentor Oo based on expertise in such topics as the history of internationalization/international offices, building an international office, proposal writing, international rankings and how to be an internationally ranked university, and higher education finance, among others.

Oo is one of 54 Myanmar professionals in the IIE program, and one of only two selected to visit the United States this summer. He sees establishment of a thoughtful international education program in the nation's higher education sector as an important step in his long push for democracy and improved medical training in his native nation.

Arrested three times over the years, Oo in the past sought "academic sanctuary" in several nations overseas, including the United States, where he had an appointment as a Humphrey Fellow at University of North Carolina in 2003-04. He has participated in the Scholar at Risk and Scholar Rescue Fund programs.

'Deeply committed'

Oo, founding president of the Myanmar-United States Friendship Exchange, said he has an ultimate goal of helping Myanmar establish a system of private medical universities. Ministries of the government retain control of higher education for the medical professions, he said. In his own field, family medicine, Oo said, "There is no formal training yet in a clinical setting."

McKeown said of his experience with Oo, "For me, this was a challenge both rewarding and interesting. To mentor a scholar from Myanmar at a distance was difficult, but we shared the common language of international education, which helped us overcome our language and cultural barriers."

He added, "I had no idea Dr. Oo would be my mentee, but I feel lucky; he was a sincere and deeply committed person, not only to this course but to positive social change in his country. I learned from him as much as he learned from me, probably more actually. It was my pleasure to help him, the IIE, and I hope it leads to good outcomes for SUNY Oswego and the United States-Myanmar relationship down the road."

There is not yet any educational exchange between SUNY Oswego and universities in Myanmar, McKeown said.

"We are interested from an institutional perspective in any exchange that would be fruitful," he said. "We've done some amazing things in (other) places where it has been difficult to proceed."

'Banner for all'

Oo, who two years ago completed the Harvard (Medical School) Program on Refugee Trauma, said he plans to continue to educate leaders in Myanmar on medical issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, tuberculosis and prison syndrome among refugees and political prisoners. Poverty, low literacy rates and religious beliefs remain challenges associated with health care nationwide, he said.

"Health care is a banner for all," Oo said. "It is a good entry point for humanitarian, democratic principles."

While he was in Central New York, Oo met with McKeown and his staff, SUNY Oswego deans, and representatives of Interfaith Works in Syracuse, among others. Prior to travel to Oswego, Oo and McKeown met with Allan Goodman, IIE's president, in New York City to sum up results of the mentorship. IIE administers the Scholar Rescue Fund as well as "Connecting the World."

IIE launched "Connecting to the World: International Relations for Higher Education Institutions" as an essential step to enable universities in Myanmar to connect with institutions in the United States and other countries so they can build institutional capacity and prepare their students to meet current workforce needs and support rapid economic development.

McKeown holds a Ph.D. in higher education from Syracuse University, and has over 15 years of experience working in the field of education abroad, international student recruitment and services, and campus internationalization. He regularly publishes in the field, including a book, "The First Time Effect" (SUNY Press, 2009). He has made numerous presentations at international education conferences, including NAFSA, Forum on Education Abroad, and Diversity Abroad, among others.

SUNY Oswego's Office of International Education and Programs sends abroad over 400 students per year, from both SUNY Oswego and other campuses, on more than 80 overseas academic programs to over 30 countries. The study-travel opportunities include short-term faculty-led programs embedded in on-campus courses, research abroad under Oswego faculty members, student teaching and internship programs, and summer/semester/academic year programs. The college won the 2016 Andrew Heiskell Award for Innovation in International Education, from the Institute of International Education.

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Allan Goodman (left), president of the Institute for International Education, meets in his New York City office with Joshua McKeown, director of international education and programs at SUNY Oswego, and Dr. Myint Oo, physician and educator from Myanmar

International mentorship -- Allan Goodman (left), president of the Institute for International Education, meets in his New York City office with Dr. Joshua McKeown, director of international education and programs at SUNY Oswego, and Dr. Myint Oo, a physician and educator from Myanmar whom McKeown has mentored in an intensive, 20-week course designed to prepare professionals to establish international offices in their home country.