Sounds of GPP’16

The Global Perspectives Program is an intellectually stimulated and academic enriching experience.  GPP is about growth, both personal and professional.  It is a social and community or relationship building experience including elements of sharing space, finding place, and communicating.  GPP is a collective and individual journey that can be enjoyed through our multiple senses.

The GPP’16 experience has been documented through multiple venues and media.  The many visuals (e.g., tweets – #gppswiss16 and @gppvt, instagram, Facebook) and narratives (e.g., tripvis, tweets, blogs, posts) will capture the essence of GPP’16.  The GPP experience also includes a variety of tastes (e.g., coffee, food, wine) and smells (e.g., chocolate, bread, cheeses, flowers).  The kinesthetic sense was definitely experienced by walking 5-10 miles/day, often achieving more than 15,000 steps/day (as determined by Fitbits and other such devices), and climbing stairs regularly.  And the particular motions of the trains.

Another sense we experienced – sound.  Inasmuch as sounds were so much a part of our daily lives in the past two weeks yet relegated more to the background than the visuals, tastes and smells, I will take this opportunity to reflect upon and highlight some of the sounds of GPP’16.

Church bells.  One of the first things that we noticed is the regular ringing of the church bells.  They are ever-present in announcing the “time” in fifteen minute intervals – a special chime once for 15 minutes after the hour, twice for 30 minutes after, three for 45 minutes after and four at the top of the hour.  The hour is announced with a different bell chime and the numerical ringing for exact number appropriate for the time.  Although there are some variations and the timing for each church might vary slightly, the church bells are a constant of the sounds of Switzerland.

Trains.  Trains (and trams) are everywhere as well.  Given the Swiss trains “run on time” or at least mostly on time, we hear the trains passing by on a regular schedule.  The sound of the train varies by the type of train (e.g., local, regional, tilt train, fast train) and its destination.  There were also the cargo trains that sped rapidly through the train stations.  The differing sounds included the unique opening and closing of the doors which are dependent upon the train type – buzz or clicking type sounds and rolling out of the steps. Short whistles are blown when some trains are ready to depart as the conductor rushes onto the train.  Announcements are made in 4 or 5 languages (Swiss German, French, Italian, Romish, English).  And the sounds of the train stations themselves are like small cities with the hustle and bustle of shopping, eating and catching trains.

Sounds of the city (e.g., Zurich, Milan, Basel, Strasbourg) are similar to other large cities. The sounds produced by the trams, buses, cars and pedestrians (especially tourists) are abundant and contribute to the overall sound of the city and traffic.  Bicycle traffic is apparent and contributes mightily to intensity of people moving about the city.  Because the 2016 UEFA League Championship were held in Milan, this year the sounds were especially loud and focused on the upcoming finals and team rivalry.

Sounds in Riva San Vitale, Bellinzona and Lugano were less intense.  Sunrise (and even sunset) brought the sounds of birds and other natural events.  Rain and wind were common this year although the sounds varied with the extent of rain and the intensity of the wind. Sounds came from the lake and seemed to bounce from the mountain sides. Even the sunrise seemed to have a sound – a quiet unfolding of blue skies.  Early morning gatherings of local residents and their dogs were common.  Although I don’t understand Swiss Italian, there was pleasure in listening to the conversations of greeting and sharing among friends and neighbors. I felt as if I was allowed to ease-drop into the conversation and witness a moment without the disruption caused by outsiders.  (We don’t intend to disrupt but our presence changes the dynamic – another topic for the future is “ethical sightseeing”).

Throughout the trip, the differing accents, words and inflections associated with regional dialects and languages were fun to detect and try to understand.  When we listen carefully, the ways in which English was spoken helps us understand more about the native language of the speaker.  As part of our education, we must thank our colleagues for speaking English and listening to us try to speak their language.

Less obvious as “sound” perhaps were the sounds made by the GPP participants during our travels.  I can still hear conversations of participants as we walked toward a destination spanning at least two blocks.  Some voices carry more than others; some are not easily heard.  Others walked in silence, listening intently or saving our breath while ascending steps to ETH and UZh or Castlegrande in Bellinzona. Beyond the human voices, there were different sounds associated with walking on the cobblestones, rocks in the Villa’s garden and other types of pathways we encountered.

Our voices increased in volume and intensity as the trip unfolded and we became more connected and comfortable with each other.  It was very clear to outside observers that we were “tourists” traveling together although our purpose was not known. The volume of our voices revealed our enthusiasm and excitement about the trip (and perhaps the loudness of individuals from the U.S.).  The volume and intensity varied across the days depending upon our daily schedule and extent of our activities.  There were times when we became silent or slept.  I noticed this during times of fatigue and toward the end of the trip as the transition back to our ‘former’ lives became more of a reality.

A sound highlight this year was music.  Many participants shared their musical talent. Throughout the trip, we would hear music from the keyboard played in the villa’s main room or a guitar played in the fireplace room, or a spontaneous chorus of voices during some of our excursions.  There were sing-alongs in the village after hours and serenades to our wonderful benefactor Lucy after dinner and the marvelous Director Daniela.  An original song entitled “A rainy day in Riva San Vitale” was composed and performed by Willie Caldwell.  Thanks.

It is somewhat difficult to capture the essence of sound in this blog but the sounds were real and provided wonderful additions to the experience.  In previous years, I have encouraged participants to observe the “windows and doors” and beyond.  Now I will add to “listen” carefully and to discover sounds that surround us. The GPP experience is truly about the sights and the sounds and much more.

Eve of departure: GPP’16 Year 11

Once again, I find myself on the “eve of departure” for the Preparing the Future Professoriate: Switzerland program also known as Global Perspectives Program (GPP).   This year marks the 11th trip to Switzerland with brief side trips to Italy and France or Germany in some of the years. In addition, there have been ‘eves of departure’ to Latin America; once to Chile and several now to Ecuador.  These represent some of the efforts of the VT Graduate School to encourage graduate students to embrace a global perspective and become global citizens.  Personally and professionally, I value a global perspective and want the same for VT graduate students.

On this ‘eve’, I think about the graduate students (15) who will participate this year and the colleges and universities (8), the countries (3), the UNESCO cultural heritage sites (2) and the Embassies (U.S., Swiss) we will visit.  We will meet and interact with professors, students and administrators.  Together with UniBasel and University Zürich (UZh) participants, we will explore aspects of the theme this year focused around the “EU’s Modernisation Agenda” during the GPP Seminar at the Steger Center in Riva San Vitale.  Our work in Riva San Vitale will be in preparation for the discussion at the Global Summit at the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC in June.

Our days will be full (and long) and rich with knowledge and greater understandings. The graduate students will pursue their individual topics to share their findings at our final seminar and in the digital GPP manual.  We will be briefed about the universities we visit as well as the cultural experiences.  We will debrief about our visits and experiences.  We will travel by airplane, trains, bus, and trams at least.  We will walk miles (kms) every day.

We will observe. We will listen. We will ask questions.  And throughout, we will reflect.  Reflection is an important component of the GPP experience. Participants are asked to keep a journal of their reflections including questions that I pose before departure and during our trip.  Journal prompts include entries about expectations and anticipations, what is a global university, surprises and reflections about Switzerland, learning outcomes, observations, and more.

There will be photos, videos and more photos. Group photos. Selfies. Photos of universities. Photos of food. Photos of castles. Photos of the Alps, windows and doors and more.

We will use social media: Twitter, FaceBook, Blogs, Snapchat, and more.  (I expect that I will learn to use other platforms this trip).  Our hashtag is #gppswiss16. And our trip will be captured in route through http://tripvis.org and via Storify upon our return.  So follow us as we share our individual and collective journeys.

The time will pass quickly and already has.  Our journey started in January five months ago and now it is time to “meet me at 15.00 (3pm) in Hotel St. Josef in Zürich on Sunday May 22nd”.

Envisioning a 21st century university

What defines a 21st century university?  How do we envision a vibrant university for (of) the 21st century?  How can we transform traditional universities?

Although these discussions began in the 1990s, focused attention on change for today’s universities is happening now as institutions of higher education find themselves at a metaphorical “fork in the road’. Change has happened in higher education throughout time but the pace of change in society today is far greater than it has ever been – so rapid that it is indeed difficult for universities to keep up let alone anticipate change.

Through my lens as an academic administrator and professor, the university of the 21st century must be adaptive, innovative and agile. As technology continues to evolve and the complexity of societal problems increase, the nature of work (and life) changes and jobs are changing more rapidly than degrees. There seems to be a growing gap between the university curriculum and the knowledge and skills needed for the 21st century employment. Thus, one example of significant challenges for the university is to prepare graduates for jobs (work) that don’t yet exist. To meet this challenge, the traditional university curriculum approach must become more inclusive, adaptive and individualized with emphasis upon interdisciplinary and integrative thinking as well as experiential learning with real-world projects.

Currently, Virginia Tech President Timothy Sands has issued a challenge and engaged the university community in a conversation about transformation and changes facing the university entitled “Beyond Boundaries“.  Beyond Boundaries is a “visioning process to support two interrelated goals: advancing Virginia Tech as a global land-grant institution, and strategically addressing the challenges and opportunities presented by the changing landscape of higher education”.  Four thematic areas of inquiry provide the context for change: advancing a global land grant, preparing students for the future world,discovering new funding models, and envisioning the campus of the future. The initiative has been in part framed around the anticipation that “a generation from now:

  • life and work will be more global, mobile, technology mediated, interconnected and less steady/stable
  • students will seek knowledge, expertise, opportunity, flexibility
  • campus will comprise heterogeneous networks and innovation hubs facilitated by technology”  (from Beyond Boundaries presentation March 31, 2016)

In conjunction with this initiative and as other institutions of higher education engage with transformation and envisioning a 21st century university, it will be important to examine existing structures and functions of our universities today.  As described in “An Avalanche in Coming” (2013), some university traditions and practices might need to be “unbundled”.  Examples include how outputs are measured (e.g., research, degrees, learning), how the people (e.g., faculty, staff, students) will be connected to the university (e.g., locations, networks), how curriculum is developed and how teaching/learning is delivered/received. Specifically, it will be important to contemplate questions such as:

  1. What if we rethink knowledge acquisition without or beyond degrees?
  2. What if we rethink access in terms of access to skills not just the university?
  3. What if  we rethink the education of students for the ability and skills to undertake projects rather than for specific jobs?
  4. How do we evaluate interdisciplinary and integrative learning?
  5. How do we implement a funding model that decreases costs and student debt?
  6. How do we envision partnerships to prepare the future generations for the workforce?
  7. How do we achieve authentic globalization and adopt a global perspective?

These are just some of the questions to be asked and topics to be explored.  They are likely to be viewed as somewhat controversial or with skepticism but they will foster lively and informative dialogue about transformation of institutions of higher education (IHEs) into 21st C universities.  The challenges are real and so are the opportunities that follow when IHEs are willing to take some risks.

Continuing this line of thinking more related to my role in graduate education – what will graduate education look like in the future? How can we transform graduate education so that graduate students develop the intellectual and professional skills meaningful for complex problem solving needed for the 21st century workforce?  What is the future of the dissertation?  More on these in an upcoming blog.

 

 

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Being Futurisktic

Institutions of higher education (IHEs) have often been viewed as slow to change and to prefer, and even perpetuate, the status quo or the “way we have always done it”.   Thus, IHEs often appear to be (or are) risk-averse and reluctant to change.  But change is clearly needed amidst the many challenges facing higher education today.  In addition to the challenges, there are many and varied opportunities and possibilities.

In thinking about the future for higher education and working toward transformative change (evolution and especially revolution), the challenges tend to visible immediately and the associated risks often become the reasons that we question if we can or if we should move forward. Even though progress is always possible, change is often limited by the risks or the perception of risk and possible failure. Some academic leaders are risk-averse or take actions that appear to be risk-averse, but I would argue that risk must be acknowledged and welcomed as a part of our growth individually and professionally and institutional change.

To effect change we must adapt our thinking to be futuristic and simultaneously embrace risk as a critical element for significant progress to be made; that is futurisktic.  Futurisktic thinking can also be seen as a way of thinking not just about the future but as a mindset for engaging with today’s challenges and associated risks in pursuing the opportunities that emerge.

A few thoughts about being futurisktic relative to graduate education. Graduate deans and graduate schools can be agents for change by taking the risk and leading the way in challenging the status quo.  For graduate education, the status quo has played out in many ways but only two are mentioned here: assumption that ‘surviving graduate school’ is the norm and the way to evaluate performance is primarily through known markers of success while ignoring or dismissing failure.

Obviously we should strive for success but still note that much can be learned from failures. For graduate education, academic leaders should accept the responsibility to create the space for encouraging graduate students to take risks in pursuit of greater understanding knowing full well that failure is possible. As we know well, failure is a critical component of learning and research.

Surviving graduate school has been the recent rhetoric about the graduate student experience and I advocate to change the rhetoric and reality from surviving to thriving. Thriving provides an alternative metaphor for the experience and should guide us toward to the future. Thriving doesn’t mean lowering of quality or expectations. It is about empowering graduate students and providing the space to seek opportunities and take risks. Thriving allows for more creativity and innovation within the graduate education experience.  As a Graduate Dean, I encourage us to think differently about graduate education for the future (that’s a topic of a future blog), take some risks and encourage being futurisktic.

Futurisktic: of the future that includes risk (that’s okay) and taking risks (that’s good)

InclusiveVT initiatives: Graduate School updates

InclusiveVT was developed in July 2014 as a framework for Virginia Tech to become a more inclusive and diverse university.  An overview of the effort, recent report and events can be found on the website, the inclusion and diversity blog and through social media (twitter, Facebook, Instagram and more).

As part of the effort, senior leadership was asked to develop three initiatives for implementation starting during the 2014-2015 academic year. As one of those administrative units, the Graduate School had previously developed many programs and opportunities focused on diversity and inclusion including an office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives (ORDI) and wanted to develop initiatives that would promote pervasive change and actively engage constituency groups across the university in transformative change.

In this post, I will report specifically on the progress made on the Graduate School’s three InclusiveVT initiatives:  holistic admissions, inclusive Graduate Life Center (GLC) and affirming environment for graduate education.

Holistic admissions in graduate education

In preparation for action, Graduate School staff investigated the use of holistic admissions at selected universities in the U.S. to identify promising practices. The next step was to survey departments and programs to determine the admission practices already in use at VT.  After reviewing the results of the surveys and wanting to identify admission criteria beyond the typical GPA, GRE scores (or other standardized test scores) and reputation of the university, we decided to make changes to the Graduate School application and the letters of recommendation process. Based specifically on information provided by our departments and programs we modified the application so that applicants could provide additional educational experience for consideration in admissions: community involvement and/or service; leadership; overcoming social, economic and/or physical barriers; personal and/or professional ethics; recognition of achievements over time; and research and scholarship.

In alignment with the personal attributes critical to academic success studied intensively by Educational Testing Services in its development of the Personal Potential Index (PPI), we modified the letter of recommendation form to include specific questions about the following: communication skills, ethics and integrity, initiative, innovation and creativity, planning and organization, and teamwork. Letter writers are asked to evaluate the applicant on these attributes and then provide a brief statement about the most compelling reason to admit the candidate. Full letters of recommendation are still to be submitted.

The changes in the application and the letter of recommendation form were designed and built in such a fashion that departments/programs can “sort” by the additional educational experiences and personal attributes as well as GPA and other measures departments wish.  Admissions committee are encouraged to use these experiences and attributes systematically in determining qualified candidates and not just “sort” by high GPA and high GREs. Specifically, department are asked to “sort” initially and then revisit the applicant pool to “sort” at least two more times to expand the pool by the addition of those who were rated high on the pertinent additional educational experiences and personal attributes of value for academic success. We have collected data on the demographics of the pool of qualified applicants (admissible or admitted) in the last three years and will compare these with the data to be collected starting for Fall ’16. It is anticipated that these changes will allows for an increase in the size and diversity of the pool of qualified applicants. Beginning in mid Fall’15, we have conducted workshops and information sessions about holistic admissions and I am personally holding college-level meetings to discuss holistic admissions and affirming environment for graduate education.

Inclusive GLC and Affirming Environment for graduate education

These two initiatives are both focused on creating an affirming and welcoming “space and place” for graduate education; the first initiative is focused on the Graduate Life Center (including the Graduate School) and its people, program, place, policies and more and the second is focused more broadly on the broader university departments and programs. Specific activities have included the establishment of a GLC advisory committee to define inclusivity in terms of the physical space, attributes and policies of the Graduate Life Center. Also in the mix is an examination of the GLC promotional materials, evaluation mechanisms, and future programs. Educational programs and workshops have been initiated for GLC and Graduate School employees for understanding unconscious bias and micro-aggressions along with a commitment to the Principles of Community and inclusivity in hiring of new employees and in the annual review process of current employees.

Many efforts are directed toward creating more affirming and welcoming environments for graduate education. Among these are an revised entry survey and an exit survey developed to understand why individuals chose to enroll (or not) at Virginia Tech and to gather information about their experiences at VT upon completion of their degree. These have been helpful in enhancing the graduate experience at VT. We have also conducted “mid” surveys and more recently “climate surveys” to evaluate the climate for graduate education and wherever possible to determine why individuals chose to leave VT. With the goal of retention and provision of pertinent services and programs for our students it is important to understand more about their characteristics, varying attributes and multiple identities. Thus, we developed a post-admissions, pre-enrollment survey so that they can provide additional information about their needs and desires so that we can provide meaningful support services and programs.

Throughout this year and beyond, we will be conducting workshops and information sessions and gathering data about affirming practices and information about the graduate students’ experiences.   We are working with departments/programs to assist faculty and graduate students in dialogue about understanding privilege, unconscious bias and micro-aggressions. In support of these efforts, I have authored a series of blogs on academic bullying, expectations for graduate education, understanding stress and more to share my reflections and offer resources for others to create or enhance affirming environment for graduate education.

The most recent endeavor is to change the rhetoric and reality of graduate school from surviving to thriving. Stay tuned – more to come on Thriving in Graduate School. Your thoughts and comments are welcomed.