Lisa Hawkins had never spent any significant amount of time outside the United States while she was growing up in Seattle. She participated in a couple of school field trips to Canada and took a “random cruise to Mexico” as a nanny for her sister’s baby. Even then, she says, “I didn’t get off the boat.” She doesn’t speak a foreign language, had never given international news much thought, and considered herself a typical American teenager, spending most of her free time on her high school dance team.
After graduating from high school two years ago, though, she came to the University of Utah, where she soon decided she was ready for an adventure. She signed up for a global internship through the Hinckley Institute of Politics, and it led her to India. She spent three months this past summer working for Maitri India, a nongovernmental organization based in New Delhi that advocates for India’s most vulnerable, including children, the homeless, and elderly widows. The internship took her half a world away from the comforts of home, and it was eye-opening. “So many things I’ve grown up with, things that seem so basic to me, are never attainable by people in India,” she says.
In the area around Alleppey, she witnessed the resilience of villagers drawing water from rice fields after a devastating monsoon. In Vrindavan, she held the knotted hands of a few of the more than 15,000 widows who have escaped to the city after being ostracized following the death of a husband. In New Delhi, she placed broken eggshells around her apartment to keep the lizards away. And in many places, she struggled to comprehend the reality of starving children begging in the streets.
“It opens up a whole part of you that you didn’t know you had,” she says. “You can’t experience something like that and not be changed by it.”
Hawkins’ transformative international experience is an aspect of education that University of Utah President David W. Pershing wants for all U students. As a key initiative of his presidency, Pershing in 2013 appointed Michael Hardman BS’71 MEd’73 PhD’75 to be chief global officer for a new U Office for Global Engagement. The office, which was unveiled at an open house in the fall, is charged with bringing together under one umbrella a variety of international programs that previously had operated independently, and expanding on them. The U’s international strategy also includes a new Asia campus at Songdo Global University in South Korea, scheduled to open this spring.
“The Global U initiative is a campuswide commitment to the importance of developing international citizens through teaching, research, service, and engagement,” Pershing says. “Our goal is to create truly meaningful learning and service opportunities.”
The new initiative will serve U.S. students, many of whom have had little exposure to global issues and the larger world around them, as well as international students navigating the challenges of leaving their home country to study at the University. The connections that international alumni have formed across the world also are “essential to achieving the Global U vision and goals,” Pershing says.
The U services that the office will oversee include the Learning Abroad program, which last year helped about 600 students, representing 76 majors, study in 42 countries. The U also has an English Language Institute, which enrolls about 900 students a year from 43 countries in its noncredit program aimed at improving English-language proficiency. The Hinckley Institute’s Global Internships Program has placed 400 students in internships in 51 countries during the past seven years. The U’s International Student and Scholar Services assists the 9 percent of the University’s 31,000 students who come from foreign countries to study on the Utah campus and contribute an estimated $75 million, including tuition, to the Utah economy. And the University of Utah Alumni Association connects more than 5,000 international alumni worldwide.
Pershing hopes to eventually house all of the U’s international programs in a “new state-of-the-art main campus facility,” currently in the planning phase. “We realize the importance of being a part of the global community,” he says. Development of the U’s global initiative stems from a desire to prepare students for a complex global economy, as well as provide them with profound learning experiences. “We are confident they will view the world with a greater perspective, will generate new knowledge, make a difference, and exemplify educational excellence here in Utah and globally,” Pershing says.
As a young assistant professor in the U’s Chemical Engineering Department, Pershing had the opportunity about 35 years ago to travel internationally as part of a consulting job for a company in California, and he came to realize the educational value of international experience firsthand: “We were working with energy people in various parts of the world, and it certainly changed my views and introduced me to the global nature of business today.” That globalization and its importance for education have only grown in the years since then, he notes.
Sabine Klahr, the U’s deputy chief global officer, says universities across the world are trying to figure out the best ways to suffuse their campuses with international understanding and appreciation, especially as graduates face an economy and workforce that have become ever more global. Klahr also serves as president of the Association of International Education Administrators, whose membership includes about 700 institutions worldwide, a role that has helped hone her perspective.
“All of our students need to develop global competency to be successful in today’s world,” says Klahr, who was born in Germany and came to the United States as a high-school exchange student. The role of the U’s Office for Global Engagement will be to work with colleges and other entities across campus to make sure that happens in substantive ways. “We’re here to make sure it’s not just a buzzword.”
The U’s efforts also will include working with faculty and students at a brand-new satellite campus in Songdo, South Korea. In 2008, South Korean officials began courting universities listed in the top 100 in world rankings as they sought to build an international university campus as part of the $40 billion Songdo International Business District. At the time, the U was ranked 79th in the Academic Ranking of World Universities, compiled each year by researchers at the Center for World-Class Universities of Shanghai Jiao Tong University, China. The rankings are based on the numbers of alumni and staff winning Nobel Prizes and Fields Medals, highly cited researchers selected by Thomson Scientific, and articles published in citation indexes and journals of nature and science, as well as per capita performance with respect to the size of the institution. Invited by the South Korean officials, the U agreed to participate in Songdo Global University, along with Ghent University, located in Belgium; George Mason University, in Virginia; and the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Developed on 1,500 acres of reclaimed land along the port city of Incheon’s waterfront, the Songdo Business District is located in a free economic zone and includes office space, urban housing, museums, a hospital, an 18-hole championship golf course named after Jack Nicklaus, and a 100-acre park patterned after New York’s Central Park.
“It’s a little strange, because we’d never do this in the U.S.,” Hardman says. “They built this city, they built this university, and they said, ‘Now come.’ That’s Field of Dreams.”
In anticipation of the campus opening, Pershing and Hardman led a delegation of University of Utah and legislative representatives to visit South Korea in November. The itinerary included tours of Songdo Global University and the city of Incheon, recruiting visits to area high schools, meetings with Korean officials, and several receptions, including a dinner at the Jack Nicklaus Country Club, where Pershing and U Alumni Association Executive Director John Ashton BS’66 JD’69 spoke to alumni about the historic venture.
The South Korean government and the Songdo Global University Foundation have pledged up to $17 million to the University of Utah over 10 years for operations at the Songdo campus, and they are subsidizing infrastructure costs. No state funds are being spent on the Songdo campus nor is the U investing capital in any facilities there. The U plans to initially enroll about 200 students and expand to 2,000 students by 2020, with tuition set at $20,000 a year. The University is recruiting students to attend from across Asia, including Vietnam, China, Thailand, and, of course, South Korea, which is already home to 900 U alumni. The University of Utah also has ties to South Korea through the College of Pharmacy, which has operated a joint research lab at Inha University in Incheon for the past four years. “Songdo will be a gateway for our students into Asia,” Hardman says.
The changes for the U come as the state of Utah itself has become more diverse and more connected to the international economy in recent years. Salt Lake City was recognized by Global Trade magazine this past May as one of America’s Top 50 Cities for Global Trade, coming in at No. 25 on the list, which noted the city’s $10.7 billion in annual exports. The 2002 Winter Olympics also were “a major turning point for the state,” Hardman says. “I think the Olympics are a perfect example of how we translated where we were as a state into a global context.” The drive to host the Olympics in Utah in part stemmed from wanting to belong to the larger global community, he says. “We wanted to be able to say we are very much a part of the world and engaged in world activities.” Those attitudes have remained among people in the state, long after the Winter Games ended. “We want people to come here and see who we are, and we want to learn from them,” Hardman says.
The University’s new Office for Global Engagement is focused on bringing those international learning experiences to more students. Julie Clark, a U student who grew up in Idaho Falls, Idaho, discovered this past summer during a Hinckley Institute internship to Romania just how connected the world is. Clark was adopted as a baby from Romania. During her childhood in the United States, she had no desire to locate her birth mother, and at the U, she had planned to complete an internship in France. Instead, she ended up in the country where she was born. “I feel like nothing was left to fate,” she says. In Iasi, Clark worked for the Fundatia Alaturi de Voi, which helps people with HIV and AIDS, and its director convinced her to look for her biological mother. While Clark didn’t find her, she did locate her own birth record and learned the name of her mother, who was 19 years old and illiterate when Clark was placed for adoption. Clark says she came to some realizations: “My life could have been drastically different, completely different. For me, it made me think, ‘I can’t waste my life.’ ”
Students who come from a foreign country to study at the University of Utah also learn from being in a new place and culture, says Varun Gowda MBA’09, who was born and raised in Bangalore, India, and now works as chief technology officer at the U’s Energy and Geoscience Institute. “Coming from a city of 13 million people to a place like Salt Lake and landing in Salt Lake City on a Sunday night was quite intimidating.” He says he often felt like “the lone man on the street,” and in 2011, he helped start the U’s India Alumni Club to help other students from his home country who are navigating similar culture shock in new countries. “We live in a world that is so dynamic that education goes beyond geographic boundaries,” says Gowda, who also traveled with the U delegation that went to Songdo in November. “Education is an experience, providing the students an experience, as much as it is training.”
U International Alumni Relations Manager Nelly Divricean BS’09 MS’12, who came to the United States from Romania, says alumni including Gowda who have ties around the world serve as global ambassadors for the University, and they also mentor students and provide connections to internships and jobs after graduation. Divricean started tracking international alumni about three years ago; she has since located about 5,000 alumni from countries abroad and is working to find another 1,000. Divricean, who works for the U’s Alumni Association, helps connect alumni and students through seven international alumni clubs, in China, India, Europe, South Korea, Thailand, Taiwan, and Turkey. She also has plans to work with alumni to open more clubs, in Japan, Indonesia, Vietnam, South America, and Mexico.
Students and professors who come to the University from other countries are aided by the U’s International Student and Scholar Services, which serves about 2,900 students and 500 faculty members and researchers. Its director, Chalimar Swain, says the office is primarily responsible for overseeing their compliance with work and immigration laws, but more importantly, she wants to provide them with a “home away from home.”
“I think a lot of our students deal with culture shock and homesickness and the things that you can expect when you are away from your family and friends,” she says. To help, the office employs several “peer advisors” and supports a number of international student clubs on campus, including the International Student Council and International Women’s Association.
In unifying all of the U’s international efforts, the new Office for Global Engagement is centered on ensuring that all students have “global competency,” whether they are coming from or going to another country or not leaving at all, Hardman says. “We don’t want to lose the fact that it’s a two-way effort. It’s not just our students going out into the international community. It’s scholars and students coming into the University. It enhances our diversity. It enhances our understanding of new ideas within the world.” Ultimately, the U’s global efforts are about helping students figure out where they fit in the world, he says. “It’s how they can contribute, where they would see themselves, understanding not only the bigger global picture but understanding ‘me’ as a person.”
Since completing her internship to India, Hawkins now hopes to someday work in an international capacity, possibly with the U.S. State Department, USAID, or even the United Nations. Her experience refocused not only her professional aspirations but her entire life. In her personal blog, titled “Finding Sahas” (sahas means adventure in Hindi), Hawkins says her months in India were both humbling and transforming. When she reads a newspaper report or clicks on a Web article about India, she doesn’t have a sense of distance. “They don’t tell of global issues, they tell of here issues. Now issues,” she says. “I wish there was a way for me to convey it, but even then, it would be only words. And that wouldn’t be enough.”
—Kim Horiuchi is an associate editor of Continuum.
Note: See this issue’s related article on Maitri India and its CEO, U alum Sonal Singh Wadhwa, here.
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