Communicating scholarly endeavors

James Duderstadt, President Emeritus of University of Michigan, is reshaping higher education.  He has written and spoken about a university as a social institution with social responsibility as described in his book entitled A University for the 21st Century published by the University of Michigan Press in 2000.

Social responsibility is especially important for a land grant university like Virginia Tech. One of the ways in which a univerity can exercise its social responsibility is through sharing the research and scholarly endeavors of the faculty and the students, especially graduate students.  The “open access” movement is a possibility for sharing university’s research but I’ll save that discussion for another blog.  Instead, I wish to reflect about the ways in which a research land grant university like Virginia Tech can meet its responsibility to share the results of research.

As faculty and graduate students we have historically been educated and trained to communicate our research/scholarship to those within our discipline primarily.  We learn how to prepare powerpoint or keynote presentations.  We prepare posters and practice our 15 minute research presentations.  We practice reading and sharing our scholarly endeavors through other media.  But we have not typically been provided with opportunites to learn and therefore we are not as skilled in communicating our scholarship to others outside our discipline and especially not to the public in general.

Enter actor Alan Alda and “communicating science”.   On the occasion of the annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools in 2010, attendees had the opportunity to learn about and experience the Communicating Science initiative offered through the center at Stony Brook University.  Many of us were in agreement that the initiative is a powerful program that helps “scientists” and scholars to develop communication skills.

Realizing the importance of this work, Virginia Tech has embraced “communicating science” and initiated a program here.  Within the context of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative of the VT Graduate School, Professor Patty Raun from the Theatre Department has offered sessions within GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate graduate course and has established a new graduate course on Communicating Science.  Through this program and others we will engage VT graduate students with the social responsibility of the university to communicate science.


Gathering at CGS

A few of us were able to gather at the most recent CGS annual meeting in Washington DC and of course, we enjoyed some time at the first dinner.  Photos were taken of the food and of the Global Grad Deans and me.  It was special to see everyone and to share some of our memories.  Thank you.

Please keep posting updates on your global adventures!

Back to Basel

For the fourth time this year, I has the wonderful opportunity to visit UniBasel regarding the Global Perspectives program.  The “Input Seminar” as the beginning of the UniBasel GPP’12, the VTGPP ’12 visit to UniBasel, the Graduate Deans Global Perspectives visit in July and the November GPP ’12 Alumni event.   It feels so comfortable being in Switzerland and Basel.

The Alumni event focused on Careers paths in academia: How well do we select?  In attendance were GPP participants from all three years of the UniBasel program.  What a delight to see the alumni and to catch up with their lives – degrees finished, post doc positions, new jobs in academia and graduate studies in progress.  The visit enforced the desire to keep in touch with all Global Perspectives program participants – VT and UniBasel.  Stay tuned for the LinkedIn alumni site to be developed soon.

The Global Perspectives Program has a way of changing lives.  We meet  new people from different countries and cultures.  We explore topics facing global higher education.  We learn about our own higher education systems.  We share our thoughts in writing and through presentations and ongoing dialogue.  We learn more about ourselves and our ability to help make change in the world.  It was a privilege to watch the alumni offer their reflections on “access to and within higher education”, diversity and the purpose of the university.  Thanks for sharing and thanks for being a part of GPP!  It was a good trip “back to Basel”.

Seeing the unobvious: Fed Ex and other visuals

In higher education, we are taught to find meaning and to make sense of “our world”.  We work with data (although described differently by different disciplines).  We analyze and synthesize information.  We look for patterns – we look for trends.  We reconcile differences.  We identify the obvious and even sometimes we are encouraged to look beyond the immediate and the apparent to that which is unobvious.

Images and visuals are a part of our everyday lives.  Sometimes, they are ubiquitous; so much so that we might no longer see the obvious let alone the unobvious.  One visual that comes to mind is the FedEx logo.  The FedEx logo has become a relatively common sight.  It appears on packages, trucks, offices, and websites.  It comes in different sizes, shapes and colors.  And so you ask, why am I writing about FedEx?  (This is not a product endorsement but it does provide a good example).   Brief background.

FedEx logo design

I heard Daniel Pink, bestselling author of A Whole New Mind and Drive, speak at an annual meeting of the Council of Graduate Schools and would shortly thereafter invite him to VT as the 2006 Distinguished Graduate School Speaker.   Pink argued convincingly that we have entered the “conceptual age” in which the “whole mind” is needed to excel in today’s society.  His more recent work shares some “surprising” insights into what truly motivates us.

There’s much to learn from Pink’s work but a simple story about his son’s observation gives opportunity for reflection about the importance of that which we might not be able to see.  In his presentations, Daniel Pink often shares a story about his son viewing the FedEx truck and describing it as “the truck with the arrow on it”.  In this case, a child’s view reveals that which is obvious to him but not necessarily so obvious to others.

FedEx Home

It is easy to see the obvious (the words FedEx) but until encouraged to do so, we might not see the “arrow” (space between the E and the x).   As readers, we often tend to see and focus on the words and attend less so on the visual representation that appears in the “white” space.  There are many other examples but two are included here.  In the examples below, one can definitely see what is meant to be obvious but the unobvious – the Bronx skyline and the outline of the Australian continent – requires greater attention to the visuals.

Yoga Australia logo design


Our challenge is to have the unobvious become as real as the obvious.


Invent the Future – The Future is Ours

Twice in as many weeks, an incoming graduate student asked me (and other admnistrators) what Virginia Tech’s tagline “invent the future” meant to us.  While “invent the future” can and does have multiple meanings and various interpretations, the video by Michael Marantz entitled “the future is ours” visually represents what “invent the future” means to me.

Michael Marantz created the video to inspire and it does.  I share Marantz’s view that the future is exciting and holds “immense” possibilities.  He challenges us to commit to possibilities and work hard to achieve them.  Further, I believe that his message has particular relevance for graduate education today, especially at a university with a tagline of “invent the future”.  For graduate students are indeed the future scholars, teachers, leaders, artists, entrepreneurs and more.  Their innovations and imaginations will continue well into the 21st century. They will help solve the grand challenges facing a global society and they will serve society (in keeping with VT’s motto ut prosim).  Graduate students independently and often in collaboration with others (faculty, staff and undergraduates) can and will “invent the future”.

“Invent the future” has been VT’s tagline for many years now and has helped to frame the university’s agenda.  Invent the future served recently as the foundation upon which the work of the Task Force on Instructional Technology: VT 2020 was designed.  In its report, the Task Force articulated its vision of the possible and next steps for technology at Virginia Tech.  The blog format allows for readers to engage with its critical reflections and commentary, informative narratives and perspectives, and of course links to timely videos and relevant materials available on the internet.  This report and others provided  the initial backdrop to the planning process for the university.  In its commitment to a “progressive agenda”, Virginia Tech recently prepared A Plan for a New Horizon Envisioning Virginia Tech 2012-2018.  The path forward to inventing the future is articulated in the plan and incorporates growth and expansion of graduate education at VT among its foci.  Graduate education is a critical component for the future of Virginia Tech.

Graduate education is about discovering and advancing knowledge and preparing for life and work as citizens in a globally diverse world. Graduate education is about innovation and creativity; it is about exploring possibilities and embracing change.  It is about knowing that the future is ours, truly.