Global challenges, global opportunities
This article is the third in a series that will highlight the progress and challenges of one of our seven Strategic Plan Leadership Teams, each charged with developing action plans for key areas of the strategic plan.
The College of Technology vision clearly states an aim of international recognition. Calls to expand diversity, model excellence in the global technological economy, serve the needs of society, and form fruitful partnerships with global constituencies are evident in the college’s mission and values.
These statements, which serve as the building blocks for the college’s strategic plan, demand that the college’s efforts in learning, discovery and engagement are implemented with an eye toward meaningful global influence.
Recent years have seen growth in international partnerships, student study abroad opportunities, and research into discovering solutions to grand global challenges such security, energy, education, and life sciences, among others.
While many faculty are recognizing the need to offer an international component to their courses and are seeking partnerships with international colleagues to assist in research efforts, more steps are needed to create a global mindset among the rest of faculty. Recognizing and rewarding international scholarship in the promotion and tenure process remains a major obstacle.
The Meeting Global Challenges implementation team has begun the process of establishing metrics to gauge student and faculty involvement in global activities and are working on ways to gather data consistently and accurately across the college. An initial 11-page report offers just a glimpse into how faculty and students have been involved globally since 2008.
We sat down with Don Buskirk, co-chair of the team, to learn about how his team is working on this component of the strategic plan.
Why do we need to have an international perspective to the College of Technology education?
Purdue has one of the largest populations of international students in the nation. Many of them want to stay in the United States [after graduating]. The U.S. is becoming more diverse and there is a growing international influence on business and industry. Indiana is unique in that its agriculture and manufacturing base are both tied directly to international trade. There is great international impact on the economy of Indiana. Ten percent of people employed in the state are with companies that are either internationally operated or have international divisions.
What are the challenges our students are facing in the global economy?
Our students are graduating and competing globally. Companies from around the globe are becoming more interested in a graduate who has some sort of global experience and those who may have a dual degree from a U.S. and international institution.
The benefit for our students is they will be able to operate in a global society. Employability will be greater for companies looking for people with international experience.
We need to teach some of the international technical knowledge to make them somewhat competent when entering their professions. For example, electronics in the U.S. is often different from other countries. The speed at which technology is developed is different. Foreign competition is moving at a quicker pace. Our curriculum has to provide technical expertise that is international in focus.
Our students need to understand that, whatever department they come out of, not everything is operated in the same manner in which they were taught. They will quickly learn that culture and relationships will impact how successful they can be in their professions. On the social side, they need to learn to understand differences, individual differences, company differences, cultural differences. Operations of international companies are different. Management is different. Supervision is different. The nature of why one works is different. For those that can go on a [study abroad] trip, we have to have opportunities for them to explore other countries and cultures, international business and industry. For those who don’t have the opportunity to leave the U.S. while they are students, we need to provide some sort of international component in the classroom.
What types of international efforts is the college currently involved with?
We are focusing on expanding the global footprint of the college, finding strategic partners who are the gateways to certain parts of the world. We need those partnerships in Southeast Asia, Africa, South America. Industry is looking at these areas right now. We are getting more students interested in study abroad. We have identified some grand challenges and we are encouraging faculty to find contacts or collaborations in those areas. Our faculty have written proposals for partnerships with international institutions. On the graduate education side, we are now taking a look at South America and still looking at Southeast Asia as far as developing transfer programs.
Where has the college seen some of its greatest global involvement?
One of the big jumps is the faculty interest in collaborative research projects. That area is growing. Undergraduate team problem solving and collaborative agreements have increased. We have more interest by strategic partners on collaborative research, graduate education, and developing a greater interest among domestic and international industries in offering international internships for our students.
What are some of the roadblocks we run into when it comes to faculty international scholarship?
The biggest concern is the area of promotion and tenure. There hasn’t been a way to tie global involvement into the process. The college administration has to recognize international education and scholarship by our faculty. We need to recognize what that is: papers, team course research, partnerships. Then we have to help faculty to turn their international interests into international scholarship.
We need to nudge faculty and direct them toward an international mindset. We can send information on a SAIL grant or other opportunities, but it needs constant encouragement. The delete button is a bit larger on some computurs. I hope over time to get people interested and that they will see how it applies to them and their work. The key is to build relationships, encourage, guide and educate.
We will also try to get our faculty aware of what other faculty are doing. We have a tendency to operate in a vacuum, even in the same departments. How can we cooperate, collaborate and blend our ideas? Looking beyond the college, between Agriculture, Engineering and Technology, there isn’t a grand challenge we couldn’t handle. We need to develop a mindset that breaks down the silos or schools and colleges competing against each other. The big grants are few and far between. Funding agencies are starting to wake up and see that one division can’t handle this. There needs to be collaboration.
Why is it important to establish a reputation for global impact?
If we can provide a connection between global challenges and our faculty expertise, we will have funding agences and industry coming to us. We are branding Purdue as a top university that provides an outstanding curriculum and does outstanding research. This creates great opportunities for our college and our faculty. We would like that to result in having foundations and funding organizations seek us out, to have them say “we need you to help us.”
Why is an increase in our international student headcount important?
International students who come to Purdue and our college feel very fortunate to study in a sound, cutting edge program. Having these students here is forcing our domestic students to compete and perform better. International students are serious about their educations. It challenges our faculty to have the best curriculum, to always upgrade laboratories. It also challenges the professors to deliver their course content in a variety of ways.
How important is it to have our international students return to their home country to make an impact?
We have to do a better job of maintaining communication with our graduates, especially our international students who go back home. They are our link to that part of the world. They can influence others. Many times we lose a connection and we never hear from them again. We need to find a way to encourage alumni to want to communicate with Purdue. We can be a valuable resource to each other. They are working on research or in an industry where we can form relationships or partnerships.
What’s next for the strategic plan team?
Our team has brainstormed some of the things we can do to draw attention to international education. One is launching the College of Technology Students and Scholars for Global Education, Research and Outreach (see related video). We didn’t want this to just be an international student organization. We wanted students from the U.S. and around the world. This could be a great model for the university.
We need to continue to work with departments on idea development and implementation. How can we help in including international components in curriculum development? We need to work with the development office and find industry interest in giving our students international experiences.
We are pursuing creating a symposium where faculty can share details about their international partnerships, scholarship and research. We hope an event like this could build connections among our faculty. They need to understand what others are doing.
We need to find a good funding source and the administration needs to commit funds to developing international efforts. We’ve done a great job with the limited funding we’ve had. We need to make industry aware that engaging with us and our international education efforts is a true Indiana economic development opportunity