Bringing the world to Mizzou and Mizzou to the world (1-19-12 St. Louis American)
Dr. Handy Williamson Jr. was preparing for a visit with Indonesian officials on Jan. 5 when TheSt. Louis American called.
“Indonesia wants to become more competitive,” said Williamson, the vice provost for international programs and strategic initiatives at University of Missouri–Columbia.
Indonesian officials were proposing MU as a partner to help them improve their higher education system. The proposal aligns with a 2010 agreement President Obama signed to encourage such partnerships with Indonesia.
On Jan. 13, Williamson was supposed to depart to Indonesia with the St. Louis WorldTrade Center and former Senator Kit Bond, who was leading a trade mission to Indonesia to help Missouri companies enter into that market.
Williamson cancelled because he had to receive a representative from China at MU during that time.
This thick list of delegation engagements came out when Williamson was asked a simple question, “What is your typical day like?”
Williamson does a lot of traveling around the world, and he’s often called to serve as an international trade and agriculture expert.
Williamson leads the university in providing MU students faculty with study abroad opportunities. Yet he also has his hands in building international career opportunities for his students when they graduate. And on top of that, he helps with global development efforts around the world.
In the fall, Williamson was appointed to serve on the Sub-Saharan Africa Chamber of Commerce, which is a trade and investment promotion organization whose mission is to enhance mutual partnership, and trade and investment with Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The most important thing is to be in a position to help improve the life of other people, and that includes Missouri as well,” he said.
As a graduate student at MU in 1969, Williamson never saw this life coming.
“When I was a student here, my focus was on the needs of African Americans in the South – in rural sections and in agriculture,” he said. “I was approached by a team to go to Nicaragua, and I adamantly said ‘no’ because I needed to focus on my people. Tuskegee exposed me to the international development arena.”
Williamson says it was serendipity. His first job was at Tuskegee Institute, serving as associate director and assistant professor for the Center for Rural Development Research (1974 to 1977). While there, he was tapped to speak with international delegates about Tuskegee’s historical role and what the institute was doing in agricultural development. He was then invited to go to Swaziland to do a human-resource assessment in 1976. Since that time, he has done consulting assignments every year somewhere in Africa or around the world, in addition to his “day job.”
Williamson arrived at MU one year after Martin Luther King Jr. was killed.
“It was an interesting time,” he said. “While I was here, I was able to recruit. The department provided a supportive environment back then. To jump forward, MU has been successful in increasing African-American students. We have the highest enrollment ever in the history of enrollment for African-American undergraduate students.”
And in his office, he sees many African-American students explore foreign countries as part of the study abroad program.
One of the most enriching parts of his life right now is his collaborative work with peanuts.
Two days before Christmas, he returned from Malta, where he participated in an international workshop on peanuts. For 20 years, he has been an advisor for the Peanut Collaborative Research Support Program.
Contaminated peanuts can compromise the immune system in people, he said. The group works to improve quality, increase production and increase products of peanuts around the world. The project is sustainable as schools are purchasing the products, and students now have improved diets.
“I have a chance to assist in small ways with improving the conditions and prospects of people around the world,” he said. “That gives me great satisfaction. I never imagined I would be able to do that.”
MU has students enrolled from 109 countries around the world and 1,400 international visiting scholars. It has partners with over 200 universities around the world.
“We have vast study abroad programs around the world,” he said. “And we are enabling Missouri businesses to get better traction in China and other places."