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.

 

 

Understanding stress in context to thrive in graduate school

Graduate school should be challenging but doesn’t need to be overly stressful. Stress can come in many forms. Many graduate students will likely say that they experience stress in graduate school and that’s just part of being a graduate student.  As a graduate dean, I hear this frequently and understand but it is time to change the paradigm from surviving to thriving.

A quick “google” search easily reveals a number of blogs, books and articles on tips for surviving even thriving in graduate school.  One example is the blog entitled Graduate Student Way and a recent post with advice from three PhD students.  It is worth a quick read to understand that one is not alone and the feelings are common among graduate students.  It also points out that warning signs of stress should not be ignored but understood and addressed.

Other examples include an article on 12 tips for surviving and surviving in grad school, a self-published book by David Nguyen which offers some basic tips for surviving graduate school and an archived site from University of Oregon called Survive Grad School that contains some valuable information.  Many Graduate Schools today offer resources and guidance for graduate student success on their websites, at orientations and workshops and through social media (e.g., UNL, UBC, GMU).

Lots of good advice and tips are available but I wish to encourage actions of a more personal nature that are often de-emphasized during graduate education. Here, I pull from the advice offered by University of California at Berkeley (UCB) regarding stress and graduate school.  Please read and consider the four primary points that are encouraged: make yourself a priority, take control of your life, avoid procrastination through time management, and look for social support.  These tend to go counter to the perceived “survival” nature required for graduate school and the toughness and persistence at all costs needed for success. Rather, I would argue that taking time for oneself is critical.  Although a graduate student can sometimes feel as if one doesn’t have control, it is important to exercise one’s agency and control over one’s life.  Further it is important to learn to say “no” and to establish some balance between graduate study and personal life. Of course, time management is crucial to academic progress and when there’s lots of work to do and deadlines, managing one’s time becomes even more important. As is a key component of the VT Graduate School’s experience, establishing a community (communities) and social networks for support are critical.  These are essential within the academic setting as well as beyond the university setting.

In my welcome remarks to incoming graduate students, I share four conditions for graduate study: academic quality, time to fiddle, a baggy idea of truth, and a sense of community.  I encourage the graduate students to reflect upon these throughout their graduate study and to realize that failure is a part of the learning process.  I also encourage them to work hard and to play as well.  To thrive in graduate school is to enjoy the challenge and to pursue opportunities as they present themselves.

One additional thought.  Keep a sense of humor because it helps to keep one grounded and attentive to the richness of the graduate experience.  Visit PhD comics.

Vulnerability

A significant portion of the 2015 Global Perspectives Program has come to a close and yet the impact has not been fully realized.

 

Departing the Villa Maderni in Riva San Vitale Switzerland, the Virginia Tech participants head home and await the arrival of the University of Basel participants to Blacksburg and the culminating event at the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC.  And of course, we look forward to these next events and further establishing connections with those who have become colleagues.

 

We exit individually to re-enter our professional and personal lives but we will always be a part of this group – GPP2015.  During the days of GPP15, information was gathered and analyzed.  Facts learned and recorded.  Photos taken and posted.  Tweets sent and blogs shared.  Friendships formed. Future collaborations and collegial relationships considered.  As academics and future faculty, we value these and appreciate the opportunity to do so.

 

The Future Professoriate: Global Perspectives Program is much more than the professional experiences and knowledge gained.  It is also about intrapersonal and interpersonal growth, introspection and reflection.  As I reflected on the experiences in the last ten years and especially this year, I kept thinking about vulnerability and the GPP moments that we experienced during the time we spent together.   Not only does the program challenge us to learn to live with strangers, get out of our comfort zones, to face our biases and privilege openly and honesty and to deal with conflict and tensions but also provides a “safe” space in which these can occur.  I observed this year that the “safe” space often evolved into a “brave” space which was safe and allowed for ideas, beliefs and hypotheses to be explored, critiqued and more fully developed. From those moments of vulnerability I could see the exploration and emergence of an authentic self.  Inasmuch as authenticity is a valued characteristic of an effective and engaging faculty member, I’m pleased that the GPP experience can create a space for learning more about oneself and allowing oneself to be open to change.

 

Awakening in Riva San Vitale

My morning walk between the Villa Moderni and my apartment revealed the morning rituals of a small town in Ticino region of Switzerland – Riva San Vitale.  Although it is likely that these customs and morning activities are common in other towns I could feel the essence of this town awakening to a new day.  The street cleaner using straw brooms to clear the small trash from the day before.  The postal worker delivering the mail and newspapers to the homes along the alley.  Greetings offered to everyone who passed by including me, a familiar stranger in this town.  The butcher receiving the meat delivery and other cold goods.  The bread and cheese already delivered to be consumed with morning coffee.  Stores and restaurants opening. The rain has stopped and the fog is lifting to what will be another “beautiful day in paradise.”

The day of departure for GPP15 has come and gone and in fact, we’re close to the end of this phase of the global perspectives program.  Over the past 10+ days, we have experienced the awakening of new days, not just with the rituals of the morning but also of new revelations, insights and questions to explore.  Each day we have learned some things new (and anew), passionately discussed issues and examined our own biases and perspectives.  We have continuously reflected on that has been shared with us through our visits to the universities. We have, I hope, learned to see things differently and understand through a different lens.

Today the UniBasel participants arrive in Ticino and the GPP15 experience will expand.  A rich discussion of “global higher education: accountability and relevance” is expected along with lively more social conversation in the garden.  And then onto the Swiss Embassy in Washington DC.

The GPP15 experience began some days ago and it will continue.  GPP provides not only a challenge but also opportunities to effect change in global higher education.  Please join me in finding ways to continue the journey.

I will miss the morning walks to the Villa.

 

Eve of departure – Year 10

The “eve of departure” for the 2015 Global Perspectives Program is rapidly approaching.  And as I contemplate another departure, I’m struck by the fact that this is the 10th year of the program.   For me, each year brings a similar level of excitement and wonder about the journey we will take individually and collectively.  Every cohort is different although each cohort believes they are the “best”.   Better or best are not words I use to describe the various cohorts for each cohort is unique and brings their perspectives to the journey.  Our individual goals and objectives vary; our interactions evolve, a sense of community builds and the experience lasts much longer than our time abroad.  Each trip is terrific producing fond memories and friendships that last a life-time.  To date, more than 120 VT graduate students participated in the GPP program – future professoriate: global perspectives program.  And I have appreciated all of the experiences over the years.

So on the eve of my departure this year, I reflect on the 10 years of the program.   I looked back on two previous blogs about departures for GPP 2012 and for GPP’13.   In both of these blogs, a theme emerges about observation and reflection.  I quote:  “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.”  When we meet at “Hotel St. Josef in Zurich, Switzerland at 3pm (1500) on Sunday May 24, 2015” I will once again talk about looking at the windows and doors, markets and stores, streets and sidewalks, and more.  And I will encourage us to look for the unobvious and see things through a different cultural lens.

The eve of departure always tends to coincide with VT Commencement Ceremonies.  This seems fitting inasmuch as commencement is also a beginning – a beginning of new journey.  GPP’15 is a beginning, a new journey and one that we anticipate.

The fourteen plus Michael and me will travel different routes to Zurich, spend the next 12 days together and on June 4th we begin our return and re-entry.  Please read follow the GPP Switzerland blog, read about the VT participants and UniBasel group along the way, and follow up on social media (Facebook, twitter @gppvt or @kpdepauw, and more).  Please check out #gppswiss15.

A new way to follow our trip and join in the fun – http://tripvis.org.  Stay tuned, there’s more to come.

 

Perspectives

For the last two weeks, the VT Global Perspectives Program (GPP) participants (@GPPVT, #gpp14) have been actively engaged in visits to selected universities in Switzerland, Italy and France. The theme for these visits was the “future of higher education: preparing for change”. Toward the end of our trip, we were joined by our GPP University of Basel colleagues at VT Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland for a global seminar.  Lively discussions and conversations ensued.

Before and during the travel part of GPP, we gather information – “facts and figures”. We talk with academic administrators, faculty and students. We tour the universities – meeting rooms, buildings and “labs”.  We compare and contrast and more. We seek answers to our questions.

Throughout, there were some ah-ha moments, some quiet reflections and musings, shared commentary and most importantly some deep dives into the “head-spinning” information and perspectives which were shared with us. More questions and lots of them with no clear answers.  This is good because this is when we are moved out of our comfort zones and well understood contexts into a space where we become more open to hearing, seeing and perhaps understanding things differently and from another’s perspective. And this is one of the intended consequences of the Global Perspectives Program – actively seeking and gaining perspective.

Commencement – A beginning not an ending

As is the common practice at this time of year, universities celebrate the ending of the academic year and the graduation of undergraduate and graduate students through University and Graduate Commencement ceremonies.  At the Virginia Tech Graduate Commencement ceremonies on May 16, 2014, the master’s and doctoral degree recipients crossed the stage to be hooded, received their diplomas and were congratulated by many.  Speeches were given, music (original composition) was played, visual reflections viewed and more.  A celebration of an ending but more importantly a new beginning.

To commence is to begin.  And once again, I find myself on the eve of departure for the 9th year of the Global Perspectives Program and ready to board the plane to Zurich. The 2014 theme is Future of higher education: Preparing for change which is not only timely for global discussions but also for personal & professional reflections about change.

Joseph_Campbell_circa_1982

Joseph Campbell (writer) once said “we must be willing to get rid of the life we planned so we can have the life that’s waiting for us.”  What is the life that’s waiting for us?  How shall we embrace the future?  What are the challenges and opportunities which lie ahead?  Life is a journey that continues to unfold.

M_042414-president-gastanaga

In the spirit of Joseph Campbell, Claire Guthrie Gastanaga, Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Virginia, in her address at the 2014 VT Graduate Commencement Ceremonies encouraged each of us to have a “courageous conscience” as we prepare for change.  She indicated that having a courageous conscience means being “a person who is actively engaged in making one’s workplace, one’s family, one’s community a better place, and a person who is not willing to compromise his or her values or integrity just to keep a job, a relationship, or a comfortable place in life”.

As we commence with a graduate degree from Virginia Tech or begin the journey known as GPP (Global Perspectives Program) (or both) let us experience the life that’s waiting for us!  The 2014 GPP participants will commence our collective and individual journeys at Hotel St. Josef in Zurich Switzerland at 1500 (3:00 pm) on Sunday, May 25th.

National University of Singapore and UTown

In a quest to extend my knowledge and understanding of higher education around the world, I had the occasion to visit the National University of Singapore (NUS) in April 2014.  A quick bus tour through the campus revealed a large, urban campus not unlike a U.S. research university filled with research facilities, academic buildings, residence halls, sport complexes, administration buildings, faculty offices and much more.

NUS logo

NUS began as a small medical college and in less than a century has become a large, vibrant complex for higher education in Singapore and in Asia.  A review of NUS’s website further reveals the depth and breadth of the university and its importance to the region. Impressive!

 

And then we visited the newest addition to the University – University Town (known as UTown).  Even more impressive!  UTown is described as “an educational hub complete with residential spaces, teaching facilities and study clusters, UTown has created a lively intellectual, social and cultural environment that distinguishes the University through excellence in learning and student engagement”.

logo_utownUTown ERCimage-about-erc-learning-cafe

image-about-townplaza  As we toured the complex, we were informed by the undergraduate and graduate student guides of the benefits and uniqueness of the newly developed UTown.  We visited the Educational Resources Center with its highly interactive use of space and technology followed by the Cafe and Plaza areas designed specifically to engage students (undergraduate, graduate) in conversations.  Undergraduate students and graduate students live in the multi-story and multi-building complex with the graduate students serving as mentors and resident advisors.  According to our guides, the students have a voice in the services provided and the selection of the businesses allowed in UTown; if the service is not high quality, the businesses will not be allowed to continue in UTown (very different decision-making processes here).  

Located with UTown is the Campus for Research Excellence And Technological Enterprise (CREATE), an international research campus and innovation hub with access to students and faculty of NUS.  CREATE houses a vibrant research community with interdisciplinary research centers, technology incubators and access to Singapore corporate laboratories.

NUS University-Town (UTown) provided us a glimpse into higher education in the future which values innovation, sustainability and technological enhancements and actively promotes interdisciplinary educational opportunities, research experiences, and corporate and civic engagement.  Key to success seems to be its attention to and the robust efforts toward work-life integration.

Although smaller in scale, the efforts of the Virginia Tech Graduate School especially the Graduate Life Center (GLC) and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative have followed along a similar path.  NUS UTown stands now as a model and provides excellent examples of programs and initiatives for us to consider.