Wisconsin reaches around the world as one company exports education in the state to places like China, Ukraine and Portugal.
US University Pathways, 821 E. Washington Ave., an international educational preparatory service, exports Wisconsin’s education to three countries to prepare international students for their time in the state, and later, to take advantage of opportunities here. Its founder, Bing Liang, saw a gap in how international students are prepared for their time in the U.S., especially Wisconsin, and with his work in education, knew that there was a chance to bring them up to speed and avoid many of the snags on the way.
Originally from China, Liang came to Wisconsin to attend UW-Platteville for his master’s and later Edgewood College for his doctoral degree. In 2016, after working as an international recruitment adviser, Liang started US University Pathways with his wife Sara and mentor Bette Lang with one goal — bring Wisconsin education and culture to schools overseas to prepare students for their time in the U.S.
“I really started this company based on my own journey as an international student coming to Wisconsin, and I realized there are many challenges I faced when I was a student,” Liang said. “I wanted to create a company so that we can better equip future international students and prepare them for their journey to the U.S.”
Liang faced a myriad of challenges as a student that he sees other international students experiencing. English language, Wisconsin culture and navigating the educational system in the United States are at the top of the list.
Liang started with high schools. He knew that if he could prepare students before they hit college, then some difficulties could be mitigated, but capturing that true Wisconsin feeling was where he wanted to focus on.
“That’s playing a huge role here — starting at the high school level. We want to bring that culture piece ahead of time to prepare them back home (to) feel more comfortable,” Liang said. “When you graduate from our high schools, you come to the US., come to a Wisconsin university or a U.S. university, you are more prepared because you’re familiar with that environment already through the high school experience.”
Existing schools in China, Portugal and Ukraine, with a desire to add the reputation of U.S. education, approached US University Pathways to help adopt a Wisconsin-style curriculum, Liang said. Each country now has one Wisconsin school with a total of more than 100 students across the three. US University Pathways has partnered those schools with local high schools in Watertown, Stevens Point and a few others. The partnership has the students in the foreign countries receive diplomas from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction.
The schools are staffed with Wisconsin teachers and administrative staff. Teachers impart the feeling of being in Wisconsin with students and give them a feeling for how education in the U.S. operates. Teachers are recruited via US University Pathways’ website with some educators teaching at the schools for four years.
Liang recognizes that there is a solid basis for why international students come to the U.S. There are currently over 1 million international students in the U.S., according to the Institute of International Education’s most recent figures from November.
When a student graduates from one of the high schools, the partnership continues further with five universities in Wisconsin. Edgewood College, St. Norbert College, Madison College, UW-Platteville and UW-Green Bay offer generous scholarships to help ease the costs of attending as an international student.
“We are committed to make education more affordable, and to bring that access to students,” Liang said. “Education is not a privilege for a few but a right for all.”
While access to education, and making it affordable, is important, Liang acknowledges the head scratching that comes with why promote Wisconsin education instead of other states.
“They [students] may have heard of states like Florida, but they never heard about Wisconsin,” Liang said. “Why promote Wisconsin?”
For Liang it’s obvious.
Liang was inspired by his time in Wisconsin, which he calls “transformational,” as he pursued higher education and built his life here. He finished out his education in Wisconsin, he found his career in education in Wisconsin, he married his wife and had two kids here in Wisconsin.
Liang points to the continued growth in the state and the potential for more careers to flourish. One more recent example Liang mentioned, was the recent designation by the Biden administration for Wisconsin as a regional tech hub.