Eight years ago in May 2006 my bags were packed and I boarded a plane to meet the 10 Virginia Tech graduate students at the Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland selected to participate in the launch of the global perspectives portion of the preparing the future professoriate program. As it is now called, the Global Perspectives Program is offered within the Transformative Graduate Education initiative developed by the Virginia Tech Graduate School.
First GPP at VT Center for European Studies and Architecture, Riva San Vitale, 2006.
It is now May 2013 and another eve of departure has arrived. In the past 8 years, there have been many eves of departure – nine to be exact and this will be the tenth. Most of the departures were for the GPP experience focused primarily in Switzerland, one was for the pilot GPP in Chile, and one was for the Global Perspectives program for graduate deans.
So much has happened since that first departure. What began as simply an idea, a possibility, has become a reality. A partnership has been forged with the University of Basel. Graduate deans from other U.S. graduate schools are watching what we do and are developing global perspectives programs designed for their home institutions. And I continue to consider possibilities for expanding the program. By many measures the GPP has been a success: 120+ participants and multiple visits to universities in Switzerland, Italy, France, and Germany. Presentations and publications. Strong connections across universities and among academic leaders. Alumni. Collaborations. And more.
The global perspectives program is more than study abroad although it probably falls under the category so identified by the university and described by colleagues. It isn’t just a program, it is an experience and yes, an experience not unlike a study abroad program but yet somehow it is different. It involves graduate students – that’s somewhat unique. The graduate students come from different disciplines – that’s unique. The program is offered by a graduate school and led by a graduate dean – that’s definitely unique. The graduate students’ projects are unrelated to their research. We visit universities to understand more about global higher education – we meet with academic leadership, faculty and students, we visit different academic units (faculties, departments, buildings). We contribute individually and collectively to knowledge and understanding of a shared theme – this year ‘university & society: meeting expectations?.’ We interact across disciplinary perspectives, we reach across cultures and languages. We learn. We appreciate. And we learn to appreciate.
GPP is also about the opportunity for participants to learn more about themselves. And the experience can be a very personal one. Sometimes it happens unknowingly, sometimes reluctantly and sometimes quite willingly.
As a part of the experience, I ask the Virginia Tech participants to keep journals and to write about their observations and personal reflections. As I challenge myself daily, I encourage the GPPers to see new things and to see things in new ways (e.g., the doors and windows) and to see the unobvious.
Once again I am on the eve of departure and looking forward to another wonderful shared experience and an individual journey.
As one of those initial 10 students, this was a wonderful and groundbreaking experience! I fondly look back on this 2006 trip as a real eye-opener on a global perspective of higher education; but I also gained valuable insight on the need for the academies to be reaching across disciplines within the academy and beyond into the realms of industry and research institutes. We truly need the collaboration of professionals and experts from different domains to not only educate the next generation, but also to confront today’s problems. It was a powerful trip that continues to inform my view of education and society. I can only imagine how this experience has evolved.
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