Post-2016 election challenge and opportunity for higher education

Fifty years ago, Robert F. Kennedy introduced the phrase that “one may live in interesting times”.  He stated that “like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also the most creative of any time in the history…” (speech given in Cape Town, June 1966).  It appears to me that today, we are also living in ‘interesting times’.  For most, uncertainty and danger for many are clearly perceived for 2017 and beyond. There is so much that is unknown at the moment that it becomes unsettling. But perhaps these post-2016 election times might also challenge us, the words of RFK to be “creative”. That is, to ponder, reflect and act.

In her book entitled Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit (2015 reissue of 2004 book) writes  about ‘hope’ but not as optimism per se but rather that “hope locates itself in the premises that we d9781608465767-f_mediumon’t know what will happen and that in the spaciousness of uncertainty is room to act. When you recognize uncertainty, you recognize that you may be able to influence the outcomes.” (from her Facebook page in November 2016).    “Optimists think it will all be fine without our involvement; pessimists take the opposite position; both excuse themselves from acting. Hope is an embrace of the unknown and the unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists. It’s the belief that what we do matters even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things you can know beforehand.”   As she proposes, recognizing uncertainty allows us to recognize that we might be “able to influence the outcomes”.  Thus, it appears that now is the time to take action.

Although a rather simplistic statement, the 2016 elections revealed so much more about the current state of U.S. society and higher education’s connection (or lack thereof) to that reality for many. Higher education has been often accused of being elitist and out of touch with society and I would argue that sometimes we have been. University towns are sometimes called a ‘blue bubble’ in an otherwise red state. A recent article from the Chronicle of Higher Education highlighted the phenomena of “blue bubbles”  and provided some perspective on why universities are sometimes isolated from the surrounding communities. And this is where change must begin.

From the perspective of higher education, I would argue (along with many others) that higher education has not only a role to play but a responsibility to get involved and even to assume a leadership role.  As educational institutions, colleges and universities must continue to educate our students as well as our faculty, staff and administrators about social justice, equity and civil discourse.  We must be intentional about engaging with the dialogue around difference, encouraging all to speak up and speak out and to do so by understanding difference and through listening and hearing the voices of others.  It is also important that we focus our attention to communicate with clarity and to enhance our skills and ability to determine the accuracy of information and seek truth.  Articles about programs, strategies and workshops as well as analyses, opinion pieces and reflections are found frequently in publications including the Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHigherEd, and Times Higher Education to name only a few.

Let me offer a few examples.

In the days following the 2016 election, an increase in hate motivated campus-climate incidents occurred and was reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education.  The data were compiled by Southern Poverty Law Center which issued a report including historical context and detailed information about type and location of the hate-related incidents.  I believe that in part these data provided the impetus for the call for higher education to respond and a focus on citizenship was one such response. Although there are many others, recent articles suggest how colleges can teach students to be good citizens and urge colleges and universities not to retreat but rather to teach citizenship.  Examples of programs and initiatives for understanding difference, increasing awareness of micro-aggressions and implicit bias and sustaining affirming campus-climate environment appear regularly in the higher education news and social media.

Given the rhetoric of the 2016 election campaign, it has become very clear that “racism still exists and can appear” on university campuses according to racial-equity scholar Harper (2017) in a recent Chronicle of Higher Education article.  “The polarizing nature of the 2016 campaign makes improving the racial climate a more urgent matter for higher-education leaders.”  Once again,this speaks to the opportunity and the need to act and educate.

Education is critical and universities must do their part.  Universities can provide opportunity, programs, space (real and metaphorical) for dialogue, and messages that foster inclusion.   A recent example of a timely message is the address provided by Andy Morikawa (Blacksburg, Virginia) at the December 2016 Virginia Tech Graduate School Commencement.  (Note: his remarks begin at minute 35 on the recording).  Morikawa encouraged us to get involved, get engaged in civic life and community engagement, to be attentive, to listen, to have tough conversations with those who don’t share the same views and to do so regularly in community.

As we know education is a primary mission of higher education and for many universities, research is also a primary mission.  Science, discovery and the search for truth are critical and remain even more so in the post 2016 election era.  Besides ‘teaching citizenship’ and encouraging civil discourse, how do we engage our students with determining facts and uncovering ‘fake news’?  A recent article from Times Higher Education (THE) suggests that it is education not regulation.  Seargeant and Tagg (2016)  wrote that “the heightened need for critical literacy skills in tackling fake news and media manipulation highlights the central role that higher education can play for society as a whole.”  Further, Virgo (2017) writing in Times Higher education suggests that the university must accept its “role as critic and conscience of society”.

In this post-2016 election era, faculty and academic administrators have much to contemplate not only about our defined missions in research, teaching, and engagement but also as critic and conscience of society in accepting the responsibility of the university as a social institution and to do so with “intentional and ethical scholar activism“.

Higher education has the responsibility to be ‘creative’ and innovative in these ‘interesting times’ and to embrace the unknown and act so we can ‘influence the outcomes’.  Let us work individually as well as collectively.

Global Perspectives Program’16 Ecuador (GPP’16): Reflections beyond

The Global Perspectives Program in Ecuador (GPP’16) occurred during the week of Thanksgiving break in November, 2016. This was the second year for graduate students to visit Ecuador in partnership between the VT Graduate School and the University of San Francisco de Quito.  Most of us (7) were able to travel spend the week starting with a day long visit to the Mindo Cloud Forest, comprehensive visits to two universities in Quito (USFQ and the National Polytechnica School or EPN)  and to the Galapagos (USFQ-G); one was able to extend her visit to Tiputini in the rainforest of Ecuadorian Amazon.  The trip is documented through tweets via storify and will be shared in VT news story in January 2017.

As with other GPP programs, the Ecuador trip was indeed a very informative and enriching visit.  As intended, we learned about higher education in Ecuador from a public and private university perspective.  We gained knowledge and understanding about the environmental diversity of Ecuador including the cloud forest, Galapagos, Ecuadorian Amazon rainforest and life near the equator at 10,000 feet elevation.  We were introduced to the vast array of cultural diversity and rich history of Ecuador. GPP was once again a wonderful educational opportunity for professional development.  And as usual, opportunities for personal growth and development presented themselves throughout the trip.

Although this blog post was initially conceived as a posting about the Ecuador experience, the contemplation and writing are triggering reflections that extend beyond GPP16 Ecuador to the VT Graduate School global perspectives program (GPP) in general.  Yes, these trips are about learning about higher education, visiting universities and cultural sites,interacting with university personnel (administrators, faculty, staff and students), sharing local food and beverages, and more.  It is about gaining knowledge and understanding and it is also about building relations and sharing time and space.  It is about professional and personal growth and development.

Based upon my experiences in leading the Global Perspectives Programs within the umbrella of the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative,  I am convinced that it is possible to transcend and transform the typical graduate education experience in meaningful and significantly beneficial ways.  Graduate Deans can make a difference and should be engaged with the academic preparation and professional development of our graduate students as well as the personal growth and development important for life and work in the 21st century.

The experiences provided through the Global Perspectives programs for the past 12 years have allowed me to witness the development of strong connections between and among participants during each trip. (Note: the participants come from a variety of disciplines and usually do not know each other prior to the trip). Each GPP group tends to develop a special connection and bond which continues to evolve (visibly) across the days of the trip and exists well beyond.  And I am thankful for the opportunities to enhance my knowledge and learn something new every time.

This was the case for GPP’16 Ecuador.  We enjoyed our unique experience and shared some very special moments. As we came together from our different academic worlds and lived experiences, we spent time together, really listening and hearing each other, sharing stories and views and feeling “safe” enough to be brave in asking questions and engaging with difficult dialogues and challenging topics. Although not particularly articulated as outcomes, honesty and authenticity were anticipated and were realized.  The conversations were real.  There’s something to be said about getting away from our daily (and typical) environments to sitting on a large balcony with a view of the ocean to stimulate conversation and communication. It is important to note that communication and connection occur not just as a result of conversation but occur in other ways. We were comfortable with silence as important in sharing time and space and connection. This become evident during our Ecuador experience. The connections were and are real.

Given the strength of our connection, we were able to engage in authentic discussions of serious topics which continued throughout the trip.  At one point, I was asked to describe the “whys” of the decision-making process for the GPP experiences. The question led me to reflect upon the intentionality of the process and the principles by which the experience evolves. There is reasoned and reasonable intentionality behind the logistics, sequence, the visits, expectations and anticipated outcomes. As a result of the question and conversation that followed, I have continued to examine the underlying philosophical underpinnings and the principles for the program. This is the easy part for these can be described. The more challenging part of the answer rests in the process of decision-making which unfolds organically, and mostly goes unnoticed, throughout the trip and lies at the essence of the GPP experience. It is this essence and genuineness that creates the long-lasting connections among the GPP participants.

Shortly after our return from GPP16 Ecuador, the Fall semester came to a close with graduate commencement ceremonies. This year like previous years, there were several graduates who have participated in the Global Perspectives Program (GPP) and are now not only VT alumni but also GPP alumni.  As each one crossed the stage to receive their degree, we shared a moment in which the special connection of the GPP experience was present and very real.

Intentional and ethical scholar activism

The issue of ethics–ethical choices, ethical decision-making, and ethical action–is a longstanding topic of concern for academics, both as scholars and teachers.  When we think about ethics in higher education, we usually think first about scholarly integrity (e.g., plagiarism and scientific misconduct) and then perhaps codes of conduct and standards for professional behavior.  But there are additional aspects of ethics that should be discussed especially ethics associated with teaching and the ethics of service or engagement.  In this blog post, I will share briefly some musings about the ethics of service or engagement and scholar activism (e.g., scholar-advocate, citizen scholar).

Derrick Bell (2002Ethical Ambition), author of Ethical Ambition: Living a Life of Meaning and Worth, wrote that ethics requires us to think deeply about our positions on issues, and to take principled stands as a result of those positions” (p. 50).  In this statement, Bell didn’t reference academia specifically but the application to those of us in higher education (faculty, administrators, students) should be clear.  There are many issues facing higher education in general (e.g., accessibility, affordability, student debt, relevance, null curriculum) in addition to matters that might arise within a discipline (e.g. controversial research topics, methodology), but “taking principled stands” is not necessarily something that has come easily or often to many of us in academe. On the other hand, there are disciplines (e.g., sociology, counseling, Ethnic studies) in which “taking principled stands” is common and perhaps even a foundation for scholarship and teaching/learning.

In addition to the research and teaching/learning missions of the university, “taking principled stands” also applies to the service mission of the land-grant university or more generally the social responsibility of the university.  At land-grant universities, we are quite familiar with the “service” or engagement mission and regularly have employees with strong ties to the community (e.g., extension agents, service learning).  In some disciplines, faculty who engage with society are identified as scholar-activist or scholar-advocate.  But faculty from most disciplines are not and wouldn’t necessarily identify as scholar-activist or advocates but faculty could take “principled stands” on issues.

Whether or not one identifies as scholar-activist (advocate or citizen scholar) directly, I believe those of us who work in higher education have an ethical responsibility to society. In our roles as faculty (and graduate students) or administrators we are often seen as an “expert” and having “expertise”.  And we are sometimes asked to share this expertise beyond academic circles and within the broader society. We need to respond to such requests but acknowledge that acceptance of these requests comes with additional responsibility; that of understanding the perceived and real power associated with being viewed as an expert and to understand the ways in which we can ethically interact and engage the public and with the public. It is a given that there are various ways to solve problems.  When sharing our expertise, it is also important to acknowledge the involvement of others with differing roles and associated responsibilities and explore how best to invite, interact and engage with others to share their expertise.  It is important that we do not intentionally or otherwise allow our academic expertise to silence others.  So where do we begin the process of thinking about “principled stands”, being intentional and taking action, and becoming citizen scholars or scholar activists?  Graduate School provides a good starting place.

Through the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative offered by the VT Graduate School, graduate students have multiple opportunities to compliment their academic disciplinary degree and better prepare themselves for future and perhaps multiple careers. Two examples of many opportunities seem applicable here: Future Professoriate graduate certificate and Citizen Scholar engagement program.  Graduate students who wish to become future faculty gain knowledge and understanding about what it means to and to prepare to become faculty for 21st century universities through GRAD 5104 Future Professoriate course in which ethics and scholarly integrity are addressed.  In this class and in keeping with Bell’s premise above, we discuss what it means to think deeply about issues and to take principled stands as future faculty members.  In advocating for strong connections between academia and society, we have also developed a citizen-scholar program where graduate students can explore, learn and demonstrate their commitment to and be recognized for engagement with society.  These are relevant and fairly straightforward ways to encourage “ethical ambition” and “living a life of meaning and worth” as an integral part of graduate education.

In Ethical Ambition, Bell (2002) offers some reflections and personal stories that can guide us toward success ethically. In particular he challenges us to “live a life of passion” and to have the courage to take the risks for what we believe in.  He shares the importance of community (family and friends) for “support in hard times”.  And he indicates that humility should be our watchword and that we should have ‘humility to know when our best intentions go awry”.

An “ethical life is not a life of sacrifice; it is a life of riches. The satisfaction of choosing ethically enriches the fabric of our daily lives in ways we might have otherwise thought impossible” (Bell, 2002).

Be thoughtful and intentional. Engage honestly and ethically with society.

Edward Bouchet: Changing U.S. higher education forever

Sometimes there are individuals who by the nature of being oneself and moving forward make history and influence change. One such individual is Edward A. Bouchet, PhD (1852-1918).

Higher education in the United States prior to the early 1800s was accessible primarily to white males of some social and financial privilege.  Women’s colleges (e.g., Oberlin, 1837) would be founded in the early19th century.  Two HBCUs (Cheyney University of Pennsylvania,1837; Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, 1854) were established for blacks before the American Civil War although the vast majority of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) were established post civil-war.  The Land Grant university was developed in 1862 and shortly thereafter land grant universities were established throughout the United States including the addition of the 1890 HBCU institutions in the formerly segregated South.  As is evident above, very few individuals of color and women were provided access to seek higher education let alone an opportunity to earn a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) prior to the 1870s.  Edward A. Bouchet would change that history.

Edward A. Bbouchetouchet was born on September 15, 1852 in New Haven, Connecticut.  According to Dr. Curtis Patton, Edward Bouchet “became a man of exceptional intellectual and emotional courage, undaunted by the barriers of the day”.  He attended the Artisan Street Colored School and New Haven High School prior to entering the Hopkins School in 1868 where he studied the “classics, Latin, Greek and Greek history, geometry and algebra and graduated valedictorian”.  Bouchet entered Yale in 1870 to study physics and mathematics and graduated with highest honors in 1874.  Two years later, he earned a Ph.D. in physics from Yale becoming the first African American in the U.S. to earn a Ph.D.  He was one of the first African Americans to be elected to Phi Beta Kappa Honor society.

In 2005, Yale University and Howard University established the Edward Alexander Bouchet Graduate Honor Society (Bouchet Society) to recognize outstanding scholarly achievement and promotes diversity and excellence in doctoral education and the professoriate . As the co-founding chapters, Yale University and Howard University succeeded in honoring Dr. Bouchet’s pioneering contributions to doctoral education and established an ever increasing network of scholars and advocates for students who have been historically underrepresented in the professoriate. Since the founding, additional chapters have been established (Cornell University, Rutgers University, the Chicago School of Professional Psychology, the George Washington University, University of California, Los Angeles, University of California, San Diego, University of Miami, University of Michigan, University of Wisconsin, Madison, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Washington University, St. Louis) and many deserving emerging scholars and faculty have been inducted to membership. At Virginia Tech, we are honored to have been recently invited to develop a chapter and induct VT PhD candidates as members.  This year, VT President Timothy Sands delivered the keynote address at the 11th Annual Edward A. Bouchet Forum at Howard University and received the Legacy Award.

Edward Bouchet lived during a challenging time period for African Americans and he persevered. He expected much of himself and achieved even more. In addition to the Bouchet Graduate Honor society, his achievements and legacy are celebrated through numerous fellowships and awards such the Bouchet undergraduate fellowship at Yale, Promising Scholars fund, Bouchet Leadership award, American Physical Society Bouchet Award, and more.

Edward Bouchet served as a role model throughout his life and does so today. His legacy continues through the work of the Bouchet Society and especially the fellows selected annually by the chapters for their academic excellence, leadership, character, service and commitment to inclusion and diversity in the academy.  Challenges still exist today and there is much work to be done. The scholarship conducted by the Bouchet Fellows gives great value and meaning to society and their commitment to an inclusive academy helps continue the change that Bouchet started more than century ago.

VT-shaped individual: graduate student focus

Shortly after his arrival at VT, President Timothy Sands established an initiative entitled Beyond Boundaries and challenged the university to envision the future for Virginia Tech informed by four concepts: VT-shaped discovery, communities of discovery, nexus of discovery, and continuous innovation.  The key messages associated with Beyond Boundaries include the following (adapted from www.beyondboundaries.vt.edu):

  • purpose driven and person centered approach
  • disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary capacities
  • flexible curricular design and research addressing complex needs of communities and society
  • land grant mission of outreach and application of knowledge with commitment to service through “Ut Prosim”
  • inclusive and diverse communities

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 12.14.01 PMIn keeping to the conceptual framework and key messages, the VT shaped student was born. As shown in the figure, the “T” represents the disciplinary depth (3) as well as transdisciplinary knowledge (1).  The “V” represents the informal communal learning (2) and the guided experiential learning (4).  The graphic lends itself nicely to the VT symbol that has come to represent Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.

While much of the internal conversation has already focused on the undergraduate student, the concept applies to graduate (and professional) students. Specifically, “the challenges of the future require the capacity to work in interdisciplinary teams, engage in critical and creative thinking, collaborate with diverse people, communicate effectively, and conduct oneself with a deep sense of ethics.”  And indeed these “requirements” are key elements of the Graduate School’s initiative entitled Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) developed in 2003.

Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 9.41.07 AM

As is shown in the figure and articulated on the website, the transformative graduate education (TGE) initiative “pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and provides the philosophical underpinnings for a truly innovative graduate education experience.”  TGE is framed by four cornerstones (pillars): knowledge, scholarly inquiry, leadership, and social responsibility.  Our efforts and activities are grounded within the fundamental principles of interdisciplinarity, inclusion and diversity, ethics, innovation (technology) and global perspectives.

Beyond the myriad of courses and programs offered, let me Screen Shot 2016-08-13 at 10.51.00 AMhighlight a few examples of the ways in which the TGE initiatives contributes to the preparation of the VT-shaped graduate student as described above.

To address the “deep sense of ethics”, all graduate students must demonstrate understanding of academic integrity and satisfy an scholarly integrity and ethics requirement officially recorded on their graduate plan of study.  For more information, see ethical pursuits in academe and ethics requirement.

In order to help graduate students “communicate effectively”, the Graduate School offers a variety of approaches:  two graduate courses – Communication Science (2 cr) and Citizen Scholar Engagement (3 cr) and recognition as a Citizen Scholar.  In addition, the Graduate School also offers a course entitled Inclusion and Diversity in a Global Society (3 cr) and actively promotes an affirming and welcoming graduate community and the Office of Recruitment and Diversity Initiatives (ORDI).

The “T” educated individual stresses both disciplinary depth and interdisciplinary breadth and the VT Graduate School has actively engaged in developing initiatives and opportunities to foster interdisciplinary programs and interdisciplinary thinking.  Among these are the Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Programs (IGEPs), the development of the individualized interdisciplinary PhD program (iPhD) and support for the Interdisciplinary Honor Society (IDR) established by VT graduate students.  These are fine opportunities but it is time to extend beyond boundaries even more.

For many years, I have advocated for interdisciplinary thinking and proposed the “pi” metaphor for interdisciplinary or transdisciplinary graduate education.  Picture5In this graphic, disciplinary depth in more than one academic area is stressed and strong connections across the disciplines are emphasized depicting transdisciplinarity.  I would argue that expanding beyond the “T” to the Pi (π)-educated can be seen as a valuable approach in the preparation of graduate students to become the adaptive innovators needed for the 21st century workforce.

By adopting this philosophical approach in alignment with the VT Beyond Boundaries initiative, the goal of a VT-shaped graduate student can be realized not only through the opportunities to become Pi (π)-educated but also for graduate students to gain valuable knowledge, skills and abilities through the programs offered via the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative.

 

Responding to tragic events

Recent world and national tragic events have prompted me to reflect on the responsibility of the Graduate School to reach out to those impacted by such events.  And the importance of doing so for the individuals as well as for the broader graduate community.

Graduate Schools tend to be places in which graduate students from many walks of life, social identities, nationalities, and cultural perspectives exist within the university.  A very diverse community which Graduate Deans should build to be more “inclusive” especially to counter the existing university culture of academic silos and lonely journeys through Graduate School.  An inclusive community which can be characterized by understanding and caring.

Although valuable throughout the graduate education journey, an understanding and caring community is especially important in times of tragic events, political uprising and natural disasters. When these happen, the experience and impact of these events vary depending upon the particular connection of the individuals to the event(s).  Not everyone responds in the same way or with the same emotions but the responses are real and deserved to be acknowledged.

Recent events within the past few months have definitely impacted the graduate community (and more) at Virginia Tech and beyond. Tragic events in Paris and Nice, Baton Rouge (2), Orlando, Minnesota and Dallas are but a few examples that have impacted the lives of VT graduate students and the communities with which they identify (e.g., black, gay, Hispanic, international, law enforcement and more).  Reaching out to individuals from these communities directly (e.g., email), statements of support and information sharing via social media, in-person gatherings, and dialogue sessions are strategies that we have used here under our GLC Cares program.

In addition to understanding the individual impact, it is very important to recognize the value of the “learning” (teachable) moments for others in the graduate community.  Even though the tragic events might be acknowledged within the university community, active engagement with the underlying issues (e.g., racism, terrorism) and impact upon individuals are often not.  As Graduate Deans, I believe that we should to take the opportunity to create a space to encourage meaningful and relevant dialogue about the issues and events to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the world.  In doing so, we can engage as global citizens in a world that so desperately needs greater cultural  understanding and the willingness to communicate.

It seems a simple thing to do to reach out and engage with graduate students.  It is and it’s so important.

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.

 

 

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)