The Ascent of Global Learning

 

Every college and university today wants to prepare students who are global citizens. The aim is spelled out in mission statements and carried out in action plans that engage faculty, administrators, staff, and students inside and outside the classroom in a common purpose. Some global learning initiatives expand upon efforts that have been underway for years. This takes place at large research universities already with an immense global reach and thousands of international students, and small liberal arts campuses with few education abroad offerings and a paucity of students from other countries. It is reality, not rhetoric, based upon the understanding that globalization touches everyone’s life, from smartphones in our purses and pockets to welling concerns about climate changes to watching a refugee crisis in one war-torn country spill across a continent. So, too, does the presence of nearly 1 million international students on U.S. campuses and the hunger that incoming U.S. students and their parents exhibit at orientation sessions for study and work abroad opportunities. But those opportunities, no matter how much they expand students’ horizons, occupy only a portion of their college career and often reach only a minority, which explains why so many global education initiatives emphasize globalizing the instruction delivered across the home campus and helping students recognize and respond to the global dimensions of everyday life in their own backyards. A new survey by the Association of American Colleges & Universities found that 70 percent of chief academic officers say their general education program includes global courses, up from 60 percent in 2008. Nearly nine in 10 point to knowledge of world cultures as one of their topmost, desired learning outcomes.

One of the newest and boldest global learning initiatives is unfolding at Agnes Scott College, a liberal arts college for women in Decatur, Georgia, that has made what leaders call an “all-in bet” on global learning and leadership development as its signature and pathway into the future. Just months after faculty put the final touches on its Summit Plan, the Presbyterian Church–affiliated college enrolled the largest first-year class in its 126-year history and this spring it sent all 270 of those students with faculty for a week to destinations in nine countries at a cost of $2,400 per student. The trips are the centerpiece of semester-long Global Journey courses to learn about global structures, systems, and patterns that influence the world. The students at the highly diverse college (more than half are racial or ethnic minorities and approximately 40 percent qualify for Pell Grants) pay nothing extra for the journey. Trustees voted to use endowment funds for the extra expenses, which Agnes Scott hopes to make self-sustaining by boosting enrollment from 900 to 1,100 by 2020, said Elaine Meyer-Lee, associate vice president for global learning and leadership development. All entering students took a one-credit Global Gateways course in the fall that included global-mapping exercises, lectures, and excursions into nearby Atlanta to explore its global identity, communities, and resources. In the second year, in addition to selecting a major, the Class of 2019 will choose between specialization in global learning or leadership, each requiring two upper-level classes as well as participation in a myriad of cocurricular activities. “Everybody is all in—faculty, trustees, alumnae. There’s nothing halfway or cautious about Summit,” said Meyer-Lee.

Summit isn’t Agnes Scott’s first move in this direction. Nearly 50 percent of Agnes Scott graduates already studied abroad for academic credit. (With the Journeys courses, Meyer-Lee said the college aims to push that to 90 percent by 2020. Two classes go to New York for the arts). An earlier strategic plan was titled “Engaging the Wider World” but a planned Center for Women’s Global Leadership and certificate program never got off the ground. Now with Summit, said President Elizabeth Kiss, a former Rhodes Scholar, Agnes Scott is “reinventing college for the twenty-first century.”

Meyer-Lee, recruited in 2015 from the Center for Women’s Intercultural Leadership at St. Mary’s College in South Bend, Indiana, said, “There was a lot of debate about what we mean by global. What we settled on as a definition was structures, patterns, and challenges that span the globe and shape human lives.” More than two years of strategic planning led the college to settle on global education and leadership development as its hallmarks.

Elizabeth Hackett, a women’s studies and philosophy professor, spearheaded a year-long effort to flesh out the curricular requirements after the faculty and trustees gave their blessings to a broad outline for Summit in spring 2014. Many faculty were involved, including “pop up” committees that hammered out course requirements across disciplines, and the work isn’t finished. “We’ve got a good, basic design in place—Summit 1.0. There’s much to be done in terms of fleshing that out and seeing how it ripples through the curriculum as a whole,” said Hackett.

Meyer-Lee said the college is “investing in faculty development to support new course development and relevant research, as building faculty capacity is critical for the initiative’s future.” It held on-campus workshops and syllabus-writing seminars and arranged a four-day professional development program in Jamaica, as well as risk and crisis management training for faculty who had never led students abroad before.

First-year student Summer Bosley, 18, was headed to Jamaica with her Journeys class, which is exploring race, place, and the ongoing impact of such historical forces as colonialism, slavery, and inequality. She’d only learned about Summit after accepting Agnes Scott’s admission, but views the college’s twin emphases as “phenomenal.”

“We live in a society so greatly affected by globalization. I have a friend in the Ukraine. I can get on the Internet and find 80 people from Russia who suddenly want to be my best friend. That’s the environment we live in,” said Bosley, who is weighing majoring in religion and international relations. “It’s so important to have a track that says, ‘We as a college know that being global is not just important, it’s a necessity.’”

Florida International Started its Global Learning Push for Reaccreditation

For a growing number of universities, the reaccreditation process provides the impetus for new or renewed global learning emphases and activities. That was the case at Florida International University (FIU) in Miami, which made “Global Learning for Global Citizenship” the focus of its 2010 Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP). With “international” in its name and a student body of 55,000 that is more than 60 percent Hispanic, “one would think that we are international,” said Hilary Landorf, director of the Office of Global Learning Initiatives. But a self-study pointed to “an internationalization gap,” Landorf said. “While most departments mentioned international in their mission statements and goals, it was not reflected in their courses and student learning outcomes.”

“We developed three robust, deep, and broad student learning outcomes that became the North Star for our initiative: global awareness, global perspective, and global engagement,” said Landorf, a onetime Peace Corps volunteer in Morocco. “We probably had 75 iterations of the student learning outcomes but boiled it down to these three and they’ve served us well.”

Starting with the freshmen that entered in 2010, students must take at least two courses infused with global learning content, one as part of general education and the other in their major. Even faculty with existing international courses had to revise them to pass muster with a global curriculum committee. They also had to employ active learning strategies, assess the impact, and encourage cocurricular activities. Today more than 160 courses carry the Global Learning designation.

One is Stephen Leatherman’s popular earth science course on coastal hazards. Leatherman is a widely travelled expert whose annual rankings of U.S. beaches have earned him the sobriquet “Dr. Beach.” He is an authority on hurricanes, tsunamis, rip currents, and other ocean hazards that afflict coastal communities worldwide.

“I changed the syllabus drastically. Before it was two pages. Now it’s 11,” Leatherman said. “I don’t talk just about the United States anymore or hurricanes hitting Miami. I talk about typhoons, their equivalent in Japan, or cyclones hitting Bangladesh, which is one of the poorest countries in the world, with millions of people living at sea level. When I tell students that 300,000 to 500,000 people drowned in one event in the 1970s, they’re staggered.” Discussions of why so many live so close to the sea and its dangers “get into politics, economics, social (issues), and even religion” because Bangladesh is a largely Muslim, patriarchal society where if the man doesn’t want to evacuate, “the whole family may drown,” Leatherman said. He was paid to attend a course development workshop. “They didn’t really have to pay me, but the workshop actually was very useful when they talked about what they had in mind for global engagement.” The senior-level course, limited to 20 students, now maxes out each fall.

Through articles and presentations by Landorf and Associate Director Stephanie Doscher, FIU has gained a reputation as a pacesetter in global learning. Their office has a $600,000 annual budget. In 2014 it began awarding Excellence in Global Learning Medallions to students at graduation who have gone beyond the minimum requirements, including taking at least four courses, participating in cocurricular activities, studying abroad, doing a global internship, and taking two years of language or undertaking a global research project. Seventeen have earned the distinction so far.

It was not arduous for Melanie Korner to earn her medallion. Korner, newly graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology, was born in Venezuela to Venezuelan and Romanian parents, grew up in Miami with its cornucopia of cultures, studied abroad through Semester at Sea, led the Hillel organization on campus, and attended youth leadership seminars in Uruguay and Mexico. “The combination of my many global experiences and global learning in the classroom has prepared me to face global issues and the real world head-on,” she said. “Thanks to global learning at FIU, I’ll be able to hit the ground running.”

The Office of Global Learning Initiatives now compiles a “global score” for every college and department, based on their number of global learning courses and faculty participation in professional development.

Georgia Tech’s International Plan Captures Students’ Attention

The Georgia Institute of Technology mission statement sets forth this ambition: “We will be leaders in improving the human condition in Georgia, the United States, and around the globe.” Toward that end students and faculty study, conduct research, and do other work and internships on a global scale. Twenty percent of the 24,000 students and half of the 15,000 undergraduates—80 percent majoring in engineering or science—study abroad. Yves Berthelot, vice provost for international initiatives, said, “At Georgia Tech, we are not just talking about educating global citizens, we are actually doing it. We have a large numbers of programs and opportunities, both on-campus and abroad, designed to broaden the students perspectives in a meaningful, global way.”

Georgia Tech made international education the thrust of a Quality Enhancement Plan for its 2005 reaccreditation and received a Senator Paul Simon Award in 2007. The International Plan (IP) requires students to master a second language and spend 26 weeks studying, working, and doing research outside the United States. It is integrated into more than two dozen majors, from aerospace engineering to computer science to industrial design. The requirements are stringent enough that only a few dozen students each year graduate with the IP designation on their diplomas, but the campuswide impact is deeper with upwards of 700 students each year signed up and attempting to meet the IP’s high standards. “The IP has been very good for bringing the entire campus community together to appreciate and look positively on global learning and competencies,” said Berthelot, a mechanical engineer who is also president of Georgia Tech-Lorraine, the institution’s quarter-century-old campus in Metz, France. “We have a lot of friends over campus actively involved in helping students get some kind of international experience or outlook.”

These future engineers, computer scientists, and business people understand how this will serve them in their careers. “When students come, they don’t ask if they will be doing an international experience. They say, ‘How many and when?’ They all want to do it,” said Berthelot, who often shows a graphic from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer showing all the countries where parts of the Boeing 787 jet are constructed. “Engineers understand even if you work in the U.S., you definitely will interact globally and work across borders with suppliers and vendors.”

The IP was a perfect fit for Hannah Oermann, a 2013 graduate who just completed a master’s degree in mechanical engineering. “When I heard about IP at a workshop during freshman orientation, I said, ‘I want to do this,’” said Oermann, whose mother is German. When her first adviser sounded lukewarm about the IP and the extra work it entailed, “I said, OK, who do I need to talk to?” She switched to a supportive adviser and wound up interning at Bosch in Germany. Now she is starting two years of managerial training with Bosch in Michigan and hopes to spend six months in Asia and learn Japanese.

To earn the IP “you have to be organized. You can’t be a whimsical, go-with-the-flow kind of person,” she said. The IP requires three courses on global politics, economics, and regional studies and requires students not to “burn off your electives on other classes.”

Quinn Campbell managed to graduate on time in 2015 with twin bachelor’s degrees in business administration and applied linguistics even after spending a full year learning Mandarin in Beijing. Now he’s studying international economics at the Johns Hopkins-Nanjing Center for Chinese and American Studies, where all his courses are taught in Mandarin.

Campbell, 23, of Milton, Georgia, may spend a second year completing a master’s at the Hopkins School for Advanced and International Studies in Washington, D.C., or stay in China. “I’m really loving China right now,” said Campbell, the son of an entrepreneur. “There’s so many options for an American coming in with different style thinking to start some companies and make money in China.”

In addition to Georgia Tech-Lorraine, the institute has strategic partnerships in China and several technology centers in Central America. It recently pulled back from a Georgia Tech-Ireland research presence in Athlone, Ireland, with ties to both the Irish government and industry. “We live in a sea of opportunities … (and) we don’t have the bandwidth to do it all,” said Berthelot. “The challenge is to be able to pick the right ones and be able to say no to others. We have some guiding principles: We want to be able to articulate clearly why we want to do it and what’s in it for us, and to make sure it’s an initiative that can be stellar. We don’t compromise on excellence when we go abroad.”

Juniata College Expands an Already Ambitious Study Abroad Program

The globalization efforts at Juniata College in rustic Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, date back more than two decades and reflect peace and social justice traditions of its Church of the Brethren heritage, said Provost Lauren Bowen. The liberal arts college, which won a Senator Paul Simon Award in 2012, also places a strong emphasis on STEM fields, including in study abroad courses. With its rural location, “there’s a recognition we need to bring the world to us,” said Bowen. It is currently rethinking its general education curriculum. The provost foresees moving more from an international frame to a global frame. While half of Juniata’s 1,600 students study abroad, “global engagement can happen in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia or Baltimore,” she said. “It’s not just crossing borders.”

“We’re looking to expand the menu of study abroad sites and to make it more action- and justice-oriented,” she said. “We want to infuse more (with) the experiential piece, whether service learning or internships, as opposed to understanding study abroad in the traditional, academic course-based way.”

Kati Csoman, dean of international education, offered examples of two new interdisciplinary courses aimed at sharpening students’ intercultural competencies. A pair of politics and sociology professors teamed on a class with fall and spring components on campus packaged around a three-week trip to The Gambia in January to explore topics such as women’s rights, press freedom, economic development, health care, and agricultural policy. “The focus was to help the students gain a better understanding of development and humanitarianism and to reflect on how their views may have changed as a result of the experiential opportunities while in The Gambia,” said Csoman.

Another interdisciplinary course taught by environmental sciences and economics faculty began with a three-week trip in January to Taiwan and continued through the spring semester back on campus. “A fundamental goal was to get students to understand differences in environmental regulations and technologies in Taiwan with those in the U.S.,” she said.

With support from Juniata’s Center for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, the professors in that course are currently assessing what was gained from structuring their course that way as opposed to a stand-alone study abroad offering. The purpose is to help Juniata assess whether and how field-based experiential learning in an international context enhances intercultural competencies, and Csoman will be working with the four professors “to implement faculty training that will assist us in developing a common framework for short-term program abroad assessment.”

University of South Florida Stresses a “Glocal” Approach

The first goal enunciated in the University of South Florida’s (USF) 2013–2018 strategic plan is to prepare “well-educated and highly skilled global citizens through our continuing commitment to student success.” Toward that end, a committee of faculty, administrators, students, and others spent two years developing a Global Citizens Project that became the cornerstone of its 2015 reaccreditation Quality Enhancement Plan. USF, which won a Simon Award in 2013, is a metropolitan research university with 40,000 students, half of whom arrive as transfers. Only 3 percent to 4 percent study abroad, which makes globalizing the coursework and experiences on campus paramount toward achieving the QEP’s goals.

Associate Dean of Undergraduate Studies Karla Davis-Salazar, who directs the Global Citizens Project, said, “Our plan is to infuse global learning across as much of the curriculum and cocurriculum as possible so students have opportunities to have global learning experiences within and outside the classroom, and it becomes a habit for them to bring a global perspective to any issues they deal with.” She calls it “glocalization,” a term other campuses use, too.

“We are building the project as we fly it,” said Davis-Salazar, an anthropologist. Davis-Salazar said it will start by revising “a substantial portion of our general education courses to have a global perspective” in the first two years of study. The next step will be inviting departments to infuse global learning outcomes into two courses required for their majors and to expand opportunities for study abroad, undergraduate research, and service learning.

The broad-based, 30-member committee that developed the QEP convened faculty focus groups and canvassed student affairs, housing and residential life, and others that shape campus life to determine which global learning outcomes mattered most. They settled on three primary ones: global awareness, responsibility, and participation.

The university created a Global Citizenship Award that comes with a $2,500 study abroad scholarship that students can earn through coursework, attending global events on campus, and undertaking 90 hours of community service or research. It is awarding 45 scholarships this year and expects to boost that number to 70 or more by 2020. To be eligible, students must declare their intent, attend a workshop, and join one of the many organizations on campus with a global focus. Davis-Salazar’s office tracks their activity. While students could complete the requirements in as little as two semesters, “we’re hoping they spread it out longer so they are really thinking about their global citizenship.” The committee that developed the project decided against a certificate program that would have required students to take extra courses; in Florida, students are charged higher tuition if they take more than 126 credit hours.

“There was a strong sense on campus that we were already doing global,” Davis-Salazar said. “We didn’t create anything new except the award. We’re trying to work as much as possible with what we had so that students become aware in a more meaningful, direct, and intentional way” of the existing global courses and activities.

When the Global Citizenship Award was announced, Davis-Salazar was surprised by how many faculty “came to me and said, ‘My course is perfect for this.’” The project offers incentives to faculty and departments, including stipends and course releases, to develop new courses and global pathways for students to follow in their majors.

A New Strategic Plan for Indiana University

Many other institutions, large and small, are wrestling with how to deepen students’ grasp of global issues, instill a sense of how interdependent people are across borders and cultures, and empower them with the desire and ability to do something to help solve global problems.

Indiana University (IU), an already thoroughly international institution, made becoming an even more global university one of the topmost priorities in a Bicentennial Strategic Plan adopted in December 2014. More than 75 languages are taught at IU’s flagship campus in Bloomington, which has Title VI National Resource Centers that span the globe. (IU was in the first group of Simon Award winners in 2003). The new strategic plan aims to “create a range of international experiences for all IU students, such as study abroad, internships, and other opportunities to engage with other persons and issues from other countries and cultures.”

Hilary Kahn, director of the Center for the Study of Global Change and assistant dean for strategic collaborations in the School of Global and International Studies, said, “It’s the first time at the campus level where we have a clear, definitive call for internationalization of the curriculum and (promoting) more pervasive, global facility for our students and faculty.” The center was created 25 years ago primarily to support young scholars’ interdisciplinary work. “Our mission has changed as international and global studies have become more common as a form of scholarship and teaching and learning,” said Kahn.

Kahn, who has done extensive research on varying pedagogical approaches to global learning, said, “There’s no one-size-fits-all. It depends on the resources you have on your campus, its history, the student body, curriculum, and the scale and scope. It’s not going to look the same for every university, whether it’s (in) general education or a couple of core courses across the entire campus or whether it’s department by department and school by school.” The approach to global learning at IU has been more decentralized, with different schools shaping their own paths forward. “It’s worked for us.” But she added, “With the strategic plan, we will be pulling some of these (school-by-school approaches) together. There are always ways to deepen that internationalization.”

The strategic plan seeks to increase the number and diversity of students who study abroad and increase “global cultural competency across the curriculum.” On a campus with 7,000 international students who play a vital role in globalizing the educational experience for their classmates, IU also plans to increase support services for the international contingent to help ensure their academic success. It’s a comprehensive approach to enhance the global learning environment for all students, Kahn said.

Pursuing Global Learning at Simmons

Simmons College, a women’s college in the heart of Boston, is in the final stages of preparing a new strategic plan. Provost Katie Conboy said an existing requirement that students take a course on diversity has been expanded to focus on global and multicultural issues. Upon arriving at Simmons in 2013, Conboy canvassed deans on what they viewed as the best opportunities for the college to stand out, and global impact was one that emerged clearly. The Center for Global Education has set a goal of increasing the study abroad rate to 15 percent by 2020 while globalizing the on-campus curriculum. Conboy also has asked CGE Director Joseph Stanley to look into letting students apply financial aid to the costs of study abroad, possibly with preference for nontraditional destinations.

But Conboy stressed the importance of building in global experiences for students even if they never leave the campus. Every first-year student now must take a so-called Boston Course that gets them working on problems in the local community. “We want the students to move from that local engagement to thinking about the same issues on a global level.”


Christopher Connell is a veteran Washington, D.C., education writer and author of NAFSA’s annual Internationalizing the Campus reports. His last article for International Educator magazine was “A Quarter Century That Changed the Landscape of International Education” in the November/December 2015 issue.

This article originally appeared in the March/April 2016 issue of International Educator magazine.

March/April 2016

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