Effectiveness requires psychological safety: Musings for higher education

Team work is not a new concept but is likely taking on greater significance in the 21st century.  Working in teams is needed not only to understand and address the complexity of the issues facing society today but to recognize the importance of and to engage actively with diverse perspectives in the conversation. The key to success is the effectiveness of these teams as investigated by Google in their study of team effectiveness and described in the Guide: Understand Team Effectiveness in 2015.

Although it is important to have particularly knowledgable individuals on the team, the “who is on a team matters less than how the team members interact, structure their work, and view their contributions”.  The study revealed the following five key factors were important to successful and effective teams:

  • Psychological safety – feeling safe to take risks and be vulnerable
  • Dependability – getting work done on time and meeting expectation
  • Structure and clarity – having clear goals and roles
  • Meaning of work – meaningfulness and personal
  • Impact of work – work matters and positive change

Google found that the psychological safety was the most important key factor and the foundation for the others.

Higher education can take lessons from these findings as we conduct much of our work in teams throughout the university (e.g., faculty research teams, task forces and committees, administrative units pursuing strategic goals, organizations and associations, and more).  In addition, the context of the 21st century university lends itself to an interactive and innovative learning environments at the core of our mission.

The “work” in higher education is often undertaken in teams or in collaborations with others. The “work” as demonstrated through the missions of the university (e.g., teaching, research and service) and seen in our outcomes (e.g., education/degrees, research findings) must be meaningful and relevant not only to the individual(s) but to society as well. Inasmuch as colleges and universities are preparing the next generations of professionals, it is important that we do so as global citizens who will work in an increasingly more collaborative contexts.  As I have argued before, the university (especially the 21st century university) is a social institution with responsibility to society and therefore our “work” must matter and be about positive change.

Following in the spirit of academic freedom and liberal education for students, U.S. universities tend to subscribe to principles that guide our words and actions (e.g., principles of community) and actively promote inclusion and diversity.  Universities must actively encourage inclusive pedagogy and ways in which to undertake the difficult dialogues.  Although challenged by the rhetoric and divisiveness that appears in society today, institutions of higher education must continue to situate themselves to provide a welcoming and affirming environment for all where differences are respected and valued. Further, colleges and universities have an obligation to create a “space” where all (faculty, staff, students and administrators) know that diverse perspectives are valued and feel safe about taking risks, being vulnerable and learning from failure.  Innovation and creativity depend upon this and our universities must become futurisktic in our thinking and our actions.

Higher education should build and sustain a strong sense of community and adopt a philosophy of “thriving” not simply surviving. To do so, requires leadership (throughout the university) that in words and actions demonstrates that it values diverse perspectives, actively encourages the sharing of differing views and welcomes individual voices to the table.

And of course, we must continue to value and respect independent work and scholarship and at the same time value collaboration and teamwork.  The relevance of universities today depends upon the meaningfulness of our “work” and how well and effectively we work individually and together in teams and through interdisciplinary and innovative collaborative environments.

International context for higher education: Opposing realities

Although I frequently travel internationally, regularly engage with international students and colleagues and ponder global issues, a recent flurry of international experiences and in contrast, some vivid examples of opposing realities in higher education has prompted me to reflect once again about the importance of global engagement.  Higher education’s global engagement is more critical now and higher education must assume responsibility and leadership for engaging the public about the importance and value of developing a global perspective.

The series of international experiences this spring began with a trip to selected Chilean universities to help promote graduate education at Virginia Tech and to confirm a partnership with CONICYT (National scholarship organization in Chile) to recruit highly talented individuals into graduate degrees at VT.  We visited the University of Concepcion and the Austral University of Chile (long standing partnership) and engaged with their faculty and academic leadership.  In Santiago, we met with Sharapiya Krakinova from CONICYT, who is facilitating the program for graduate education and research exchanges.  We also connected with VT graduate alumni and representatives from other universities (UTEM, U DE VALPO, U De TALCA , U Católica del Norte) interested in developing more formal relationships with VT.  And yes, the earthquakes were real.

On May 21st, the Future Professoriate Global Perspectives program (GPP’17) trip started in Zurich for visits to eight universities (Switzerland, France, Italy) plus a global summit and ended in Riva San Vitale on June 1, 2017. The Virginia Tech group traveled to Switzerland (and beyond) and returned to the U.S. in June. Two participants of GPP’17 from University of Zurich visited Blacksburg and VT before joining the participants from University of Basel in Boston. The Global Seminar at the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC was held on June 23rd with Dr. Mary Sue Coleman (President, Association of American Universities) as the plenary speaker and presentations from the GPP’17 groups.  Lively discussions on “Higher Education as Public Good” ensued along with a hosted by Swiss Ambassador Martin Dahinden.

 

Between the GPP’17 travels and the Swiss Embassy seminar, VT was host to the second one week visit of faculty from USFQ as part of the 21st century faculty program entitled SHIFT.

During this same time frame, administrators from Shandong University in Tinan and Qingdao China arrived in Blacksburg for a brief visit about the VT-SDU partnership.

And then, I traveled to Daegu, South Korea for sport science professional meeting and a day trip to PyeongChang and the site of the 2018 Winter Olympics and Paralympic Games.

Many countries, many people, many perspectives.  Enhanced global understanding and engagement!

So easy to travel internationally (except some irritating flight delays, cancellations and missing then damaged luggage) and to engage with individuals around the world.  Yes for me and others like me but it isn’t the reality for many others, especially now.  The value of international experiences in higher education (e.g., study abroad, exchanges, Global Perspectives program) are well documented and many possibilities exist.  For years, international students enrolling in U.S. higher education institutions have provided the opportunity for greater global awareness and understanding.  But things have changed recently and opposing realities have become clear and increasingly more visible in 2017.

Since the “travel ban” and its various iterations, uncertainty and a “chilly climate” have loomed large. The impact is seen not only in the United States but from abroad.  There remains great uncertainty and angst among the international communities.  The Chronicle of Higher Education has published recent articles about the impact upon international students currently and the concerns that they face. University World News also continues to report on the outlook for international students in the U.S.  As a consequence to recent actions, applications from international students have decreased (especially from the six countries) and Fall enrollments remain uncertain at this time.

It’s a tough environment for international students studying or wanting to study in the U.S. Two specific examples come to mind that are “close to home”.  A VT graduate student went home to Iran and couldn’t return to the U.S. for the spring semester due to travel restrictions.  She was finally able to return but it took an entire semester to do so.

Although all of the other GPP’17 participants were able to come to the U.S. for the program, one individual from Sudan was not.  His visa application submitted early in spring semester is likely still pending although the visit has long been over.  It wasn’t denied because it is possible for individuals from Sudan to come to the U.S. but it wasn’t acted upon in time.  Unfortunately he was unable to participate in the GPP’17 group presentations at the Swiss Embassy.

Upon reflection, I suggest that these represent but one example of a disconnect between higher education and broader societal interests and values in understanding of the meaningfulness of global experiences and global engagement.  Mary Sue Coleman stated emphatically that higher education is a public good.  Agreed and this must include a global perspective.  I believe that it is the responsibility of higher education to communicate with citizens unfamiliar with our academic world about the value of international students to higher education and the value of global understanding to the workforce and global citizenry.  We must find ways to encourage society to embrace culturally different views and communicate clearly the value of international students.  Clearly, we need more ‘global perspectives’ not fewer.

On the eve of departure for GPP’17: 12 + 4

Once again I’m on the eve of departure for another VT Graduate School’s Global Perspectives Program (GPP) experience.  This year marks the 12th year of the Future Professoriate: Switzerland (GPP’17) program. It is hard to believe that 12 years have passed since we started the program in 2005.  Many miles have been traveled, universities visited, meals consumed and most importantly, many wonderful memories and connections have been made that have changed lives and will last a life time.

The program in Switzerland (with visits to nearby Italy, France and Germany) has continued to evolve over the years.  New university visit were added and new partnerships were developed (University of Basel, University of Zurich).  The global higher education seminar at the Embassy of Switzerland in Washington DC has become an annual event. Although each year has similar elements as well as new additions, the dynamics of the group make each experience unique.

The success of the Switzerland program led me to develop some additional opportunities and the +4 refers to these programs. Two additional programs were offered in 2012 – Future Professoriate Program in Chile (GPP Chile)  and the Global Perspectives: Graduate Deans program.  In 2015, we developed and offered a modified version of GPP offered in partnership with University San Francisco de Quito in Ecuador which has been held for the last two years.  While each of the GPP programs serves a difference purpose, the foundation for all 12 + 4 was the development of a program through which participants could expand and enhance their understanding of higher education in a global context.

I remember the first “eve of departure” in 2005 and recall a sense of uncertainty and unknown along with the excitement about the initial program. Thankfully the program was a success and was the inauguration of programs to come.  The positive experiences and the change each of us felt only fueled my commitment to global higher education and continuation of the program.  Having personally known the value and importance of international travel and benefited from a “study abroad” program  (attending the University of Copenhagen during my sophomore year), I could only hope that I could develop and lead a program that offered others a life-changing experience as mine had been.

Each program brings excitement and yet some uncertainty as well.  And most of the uncertainty is around the group dynamics and interpersonal relationships.  And there’s the intention that each participant will grow professionally and personally.  Although others might view international experiences more along the lines of “vacation” and fun, GPP is anything but a vacation.  Yes, having fun and enjoying the experiences are goals but more importantly are the knowledge and understanding of global higher education, cultural experiences, group dynamic and formation of community, and personal development.

The details and logistics of the trip are set and will guide us from place to place.  So on this eve of departure, I once again wonder more about and ponder the journey that each of us will travel.  I’m looking forward to this 12th year of GPP.

GPP’17 will meet at Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland at 15.00 (3pm) on May 21, 2017.  Follow us to learn about our individual and collective journeys (blogs, twitter @gppvt, #gppch17, tripvis, and more.

Higher education as public good from a global perspective

International students and higher education around the world are definitely on my mind given the most recent Executive Order issued on March 6, 2017 by the Trump administration (“Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the U.S.”) (more information, see FAQs) and dealing with the impact of such actions at Virginia Tech.  On a national level, the news and social media are filled with stories of those impacted and in response universities create ways to communicate clearly and directly with the various constituencies. As one example, Virginia Tech created a website and specific email address to share updated information and invite correspondence and assistance on an individualized basis.

Also in response, universities as well as national educational organizations/agencies and international associations are taking a stance and issuing their statements broadly.  among those with such statements are the Council of Graduate Schools, APLU, American Council on Education, Association of American Universities, European Universities Association, and more.  These are very helpful in disseminating the important message of the value of international students and the significant upon higher education.  Arguments in support of the value and reports about the economic impact of international students are being shared including a recent one from the UK available through the University World News.

Although not always the case, higher education seems to have been quick to respond to this growing challenge to internationalization (e.g., immigration, globalization) and to express concerns about the negative impact upon higher education. There remains much work to do to reverse the course of action (beyond what might come through the legal system) but the responses described above and more to come do provide examples for how higher education is accepting the challenges and taking the opportunity for addressing the recent populist movement (e.g., post-2016 U.S. election, Brexit).  Perhaps this will be the impetus that encourages higher education to truly engage in a revolution.

In an essay published in University World News entitled “Revolutionising the global society” (March 6, 2017), Blessinger wrote that “higher education systems around the world are currently undergoing an academic revolution that is primarily the result of globalisation, democratisation and lifelong learning as a human right. As we move further into the 21st century, these factors will continue to play an important role in revolutionising the global knowledge society.”

As I wrote in a previous blog – “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’.”  With this responsibility, universities must not only understand and embrace higher education as a public good but to do so in a global context.  Earning a post-secondary degree (bachelors and graduate degrees) is often considered a private good (for individual and personal benefit) but in the United States and elsewhere it has also been viewed and must continue to be viewed as a public good; that is, the education of individuals to become well informed and productive global citizens for the betterment of society.

For the first time in the United States, the Times Higher Education (THE) World Academic Summit was held at University of California Berkeley in September 2016.  The theme and speakers were focused on “world-class universities and the public good”.  Academic thought leaders and leaders from government, policymaking and industry around the world attended to learn from each other, to  share best practices, to debate the value of higher education and the costs, and challenge ourselves to forge paths forward in “making the world a better place” (Baty, 2016).  As a participant, it was enlightening to hear from academic leaders, government officials and policy-makers about the importance of higher education around the world and its impact locally, regionally and globally.  As anticipated, the conversations transcended nations and cultural boundaries. The results are captured in a podcast available on the Times Higher Education World Academic Summit website which includes additional information about other summits and meetings around the world.

Building upon the 2016 Academic Summit’s theme of ‘world-class universities and the public good’, the theme for the 2017 Global Perspectives Program (GPP’17) was formulated – “Higher Education as Public Good – the Global Landscape.”  It seemed logically to bring the conversation of current academic leaders from the world stage to the future academic leaders participating in the diverse and international global perspectives program. The focus of GPP’17 will be to examine higher education as public good and to explore the issues and challenges from a global perspectives.  Although the topics will likely continue to evolve in response to ongoing events and actions in the U.S. and the around the world, the initial focus will focus three: (a) massification of higher education: smart solutions for open global higher education, (b) global higher education in the post truth era: importance of fact finding and critical thinking skills, and (c) communicating science in global higher education.

After attending the 2016 Summit, realizing the post-2016 election impact on higher education, reading extensively from the Chronicle of Higher Education, InsideHIgherEd, World University News and more, it became apparent rather quickly that higher education needs to be engaged in and assume leadership for the dialogue around the roles and responsibilities of higher education and the public good especially in the global context.  This was reinforced by the questions, comments and concerns raised by the students in my current GRAD 5104 Preparing the Future Professoriate class (Virginia Tech) and in discussions with colleagues and students in the Transferable Skills course offered spring 2017 through the University of Basel.  Even though the students who enrolled in the class came from the University of Basel, University of Zurich, and University of Strasbourg in France, they also came many countries including Sudan, China, Korea, Germany, Switzerland, France, United States, India and more. Their perspective on higher education shaped by their lived experiences created wonderful opportunities for learning and sharing across nations and cultures and the beginnings of the conversation about global higher education as a public good. Those enrolled in this course also included many who will also participate in the 2017 Global Perspectives Program from the University of Basel and the University of Zurich and will join with the GPP’17 group from Virginia Tech.  The conversation has begun and will only get better and richer.

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.

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.

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.