Citizen Science: Engaging citizens in research

The 2018 Annual Conference of the European University Association was held in Zurich, Switzerland April 5-6, 2018 using the theme of “engaged and responsible universities shaping Europe”.  Topics included social responsibility, lifelong learning, sustainable Europe, social inclusiveness and diversity, open science, scientific integrity and ethics, and more.  The sessions included lively discussions and live tweeting (#EUA2018Zurich).  It was informative to hear about the EUA perspectives on these topics and to reflect on these same topics as discussed (or not) among higher education leaders in the U.S.  The presentations can be found on the EUA website.

A fascinating presentation on Citizen Science closed the conference and is the focus of my comments here.  In the U.S., we have frequently referred to the social responsibility of the university and public engagement as part of the university mission especially land grant universities.  We have used terms including ‘citizen scholars’ (eg., VT Graduate School Citizen Scholar program), ‘scholar citizens’, ‘scholar activists’ and to some extent citizen science.  The programs and opportunities vary across universities but highlight the connections between the university and society.  Citizen Science in the U.S. seems to be a relatively new entity (first conference in Oregon in 2012), books authored recently (e.g., C. Cooper, Citizen Science: How ordinary people are changing the face of discovery, 2016) and often associated with the environment issues (e.g., Citizen Science Association).

In his introductory comments at the EUA Hot Topic session and overview, Daniel Wyler (University of Zurich) identified Citizen Science as an element of open science and described Citizen Science as able to “enlarge the scope of research in all fields of science and able to enhance public education and the understanding of science”.  He argued that “many scientific and societal issues need citizen science” in areas such as the environment, aging, and energy” and could be helpful in providing the foundation for long-term policy decisions.  He shared guidelines for universities and policy makers and introduced the Citizen Science Center Zurich which is jointed operated by the University of Zurich and ETH Zurich. The goal of the Center is to enable “researchers and citizens to create and conduct research collaborations that produce excellent science” in support of the UN 2030 Agenda 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Examples of citizen science in the European context were shared by Kevin Schawinski (ETH Zurich), Sabine Stoll (University of Zurich) and Julia Altenbuchner (University College London).  The three shared distinct examples of science conducted at universities that actively engaged citizens in the research.  As part of the process, citizens could become actively engaged in the design of research projects, data collection and analysis, developing recommendations, and shaping research agendas and public policy.

Extreme Citizen Science (ExCiteS) is one example and can be described as “a situated, bottom-up practice that takes into account local needs, practices and culture and works with broad networks of people to design and build new devices and knowledge creation processes that can transform the world.”  Current projects include: Doing it Together Science (DITOs), Extreme Citizen Science: Analysis and Visualisation (ECSAnVis), WeGovNow, and Challenging RISK (Resilience by Integrating Societal and Technical Knowledge).  Check out these exciting projects and see how citizens are helping with research.  And there’s a free new online course entitled “Introduction to Citizen Science and Scientific Crowdsourcing”.

Another example comes from Kevin Schawinski who engaged citizens in his research on galaxy and black hole astrophysics.  He and his colleagues initiated a project entitled Galaxy Zoo which can be found with Zooniverse.  Zooniverse is the “world’s largest and most popular platform for people-powered research.”  Zooniverse provides many opportunities for citizens to engage in meaningful research with professors and currently lists 84 very diverse projects on their website.  These range from arts to literature to medicine to space and demonstrate the real projects and publications as a result of Citizen Science. Very impressive.

Universities have a responsibility to society and a Citizen Science approach provides the opportunity to reframe science through ‘people-powered-research’, to challenge our existing paradigm of research, to redefine “expertise”, and to empower genuine public engagement.

“Take up the baton”

In January 2018, the Moss Arts Center at Virginia Tech hosted a live performance of The Mountaintop as part of the 2018 current tour for the Los Angeles Theatre Works (LATW).  It was a powerful performance with a very important message and challenge for us to continue the work of Martin Luther King and to “take up the baton”.

The Mountaintop, winner of the prestigious Olivier Award for Best New Play, provides the audience with “a glimpse at the human side of Martin Luther King Jr.”  The performance focuses on the evening hours of April 3rd after his famed final speech including the statement that he had “been to the mountaintop” and his assassination on April 4, 1968.  Throughout the play, the racial tension of the 1960s is highlighted and the parallels to today’s struggles are revealed. One of the messages of The Mountaintop is the challenge to take up the baton for social justice and equity.

Nationally, many opportunities to “take up the baton” have arisen recently out of which ‘movements” and initiatives have evolved including but not limited to #MeToo movement, Women’s March on Washington, BlackLIvesMatter, Transequality, and most recently, the March for our Lives.  Made visible through these movements are the concerns of many and their actions in support of equity and social justice.  I believe these “movements” are testimony to the impact of the work of Martin Luther King Jr. some 50 years ago and at the same time examples of the work that still needs to be done.

Education is critical to an informed citizenry and universities often provide the space and place for increasing awareness, understanding and engaging with issues of social justice and equity. These efforts are championed by offices of inclusion and diversity, academic departments (e.g., sociology, women and gender studies, cultural studies) in which scholarship and coursework focuses on social justice and equity, events and gatherings offered by cultural centers (e.g., connect-lunch, lavender graduation, international street fair, Tribal pow-wow), and history month programs (e.g., Black History, Hispanic, LGBTQ, Women).  Examples of these exist at Virginia Tech and include specific initiatives and programs offered by the VT Graduate School (e.g., citizen scholars) and through the Graduate School’s Office of Recruitment, Diversity and Inclusion (VT_ORDI) (e.g., diversity scholars, Bouchet graduate honor society, mentoring circle). The educational opportunities are many and typically help university constituencies engage in the difficult dialogues and contribute to the creation of affirming and inclusive communities within higher education and beyond.

Education begins with awareness and progresses to understanding and active engagement.  As part of our individual and collective journey, we can no longer be silent or simply be an observer and bystander to acts of social injustice, bullying, harassment or abuse and violence.  It is important to consider the multiple ways in which each of us can become (more) active bystanders, advocates and allies for civility, equity and social justice. Please choose the issue(s) important to you and  “take up the baton”.

Beginning of semester musings: Grit? Community!

When I first heard the word “grit” used in the higher education context and learned about the research findings, presentations and publications about “grit” by Angela Duckworth, I questioned the use of the word “grit” and the premise that “grit” was the primary characteristic for student success.  Duckworth (2007) defined grit as “perseverance and passion for long term goals” (p. 1087) which are important to success; her writings emphasize that working hard is key to success.

Through my lens as a VP and Graduate Dean, I was thinking about graduate education and graduate students and how and why they are successful in Graduate School.  Many words and descriptors come to mind about the graduate education experience but “grit” wasn’t one of them. There is, and should be, so much more to success in graduate school than working hard and focusing solely on having grit.

Yes, graduate school can be challenging and definitely stressful at times. Stories and personal narratives often focus on the struggles faced by graduate students.  Words used often include “having to tough it out”, “plugging away”, “no sleep/all work”, and “surviving graduate school”. Rather than reinforce what I believe is the negativity associated with surviving as the primary narrative of graduate school, I opt for thriving in graduate school. In the spirit of changing the narrative and fostering a sense of academic community, I wrote a blog about thriving in graduate school which was published almost exactly two years ago.

A few weeks ago, I read an article by Laurie A. Schriener entitled “The Privilege of Grit” in the November-December 2017, Volume 22 (5) of About Campus which I found quite intriguing and compelling.  She questioned some of the scholarly foundation of grit, suggested that there is privilege implicit in grit, identified some dangers of grit, and offered an alternative to grit as a thriving ideology and cultivating a thriving campus.  This article is a must read and needless to say, I was delighted that she recommended thriving as a viable alternative to grit.

Schriener (2017) described three steps in “cultivating a thriving campus” which resonated well with me and the Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) initiative offered through the VT Graduate School. The three steps included – building a sense of community, student learning as the heart of the institutional mission, and bring out the best in others.  The VT Graduate School through the TGE initiative uses building a welcoming, inclusive and affirming academic community as the foundation.  Among our goals are to prepare our graduate students for whatever careers they will pursue with the career critical skills and to complement the disciplinary education in the academic colleges. Related, VT has developed the VT shaped student (interdisciplinary, holistic and experiential education) approach which is consistent with the thriving ideology.  At the graduate level, we utilize the Transformative Graduate Education umbrella and the Graduate School’s commitment to inclusion and diversity to help educate the VT shaped learner.

In preparing our graduates to become 21stC global citizens and for jobs and careers that might be unknown today and still evolving, the Graduate School has assumed the responsibility to provide opportunities for graduate students through which they can enhance their knowledge, skills and abilities for success. Individual traits like perseverance and passion are important to success but there is much more to success than simply working hard and having grit.  Progress in graduate school also involves community (a safe, welcoming, inclusive global community) and is measured one semester at a time.

Spring semester 2018 has begun.  Here’s to thriving in graduate school.

Word choice and unintended messages: Career critical skills, not ‘soft skills’

Although there are so many things to comment about word choice and the unintended messages in higher education (e.g., demographics, inclusion, micro-aggression and more), I will focus my musings on concept of negation (‘non-‘) in our word choice especially the pervasive use of “soft” in our everyday language within and about academia.

Negation is defined by Merriam-Webster as “something considered the opposite of something regarded as positive”.  Unfortunately, we hear words used to describe  ‘something’ and ‘non-something’ frequently when referring to those things that are often considered dominant and therefore perceived as having more value in higher education.  The word choice usually results in creating or reinforcing dichotomies.  A few examples come to mind – English-speaking, non-English speaking; resident, non-resident alien; research university, non-research university; academic, non-academic.  I can understand the use of ‘non’ as a matter of convenience and fewer words but its use does send messages that I hope we might not intend.  And sometimes it seems understandable to make a point such as the use of sexist vs non-sexist language but I still find the word choice somewhat problematic. Why don’t we choose words with the same goal in mind but are more affirming and inclusive? Like ‘inclusive language’ that is more than non-sexist.

Examples of negation and the concept of something and ‘non’ something have been identified in other ways as well.  For years, those of us in higher education and associated with higher education have heard and used the language around academic discourse as the ‘hard’ sciences and the soft sciences.  Also common is the reference to the soft skills or non-cognitive skills when discussing skills desired to complement education in (cognitive) disciplinary knowledge and understanding including interdisciplinary content.

To counter the perception that some academic disciplines (e.g., STEM+ in particular) deserve the adjective of ‘hard’ (a positive in terms of the importance and value given to the word ‘hard’), I have used the phrasing of hard science as stated by others and then change ‘soft sciences’ to ‘hard-to-do science’ that includes and acknowledges the value of and the challenges associated with research in the social sciences, arts and humanities.

Similar discourse exists around the word choice of soft skills and non-cognitive skills. Examples of these skills include leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving and problem posing, ethical and professional behaviors, work ethic, interpersonal relationship, collaboration, adaptability, innovation and creativity and more.  Although I realize that there is an entire literature on the value and importance non-cognitive skills, the terminology still seems inappropriate and misleading. It sets up a binary that certain skills are cognitive and other are not. I would argue vehemently that these skills involve a great deal of cognition and are not easily developed or honed successfully but need to be.  The word choice of soft skills also implies that these skills are easy to learn and to implement. And indeed, they are not.

Leadership, teamwork, communication, problem solving and problem posing, ethical and professional behaviors, work ethic, interpersonal relationship, collaboration, adaptability, innovation and creativity are skills which are desired by future employers and required for success in the workplace.  As such, opportunities to develop and programs to utilize these skills have been incorporated into graduate education recently. The Council of Graduate Schools is leading this effort nationally and the Virginia Tech Graduate School provides many opportunities for graduate students to better prepare themselves for the careers that they will likely pursue.

Given their importance, let’s call these Career Critical Skills.  Words (and actions) do make a difference!

On Leadership: Transformative and “Futurisktic”*

*Adapted from keynote presentation for the VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute luncheon, October 13, 2017 in Richmond, VA.

In April 2002, I received an anonymous email – a very threatening and untraceable anonymous email sent from a remailer in Milan, Italy. The email informed me that I was unqualified for the position at Virginia Tech that I had just been offered and accepted. The position is the one I hold today and was similar to the one I had held at my previous institution, a research land-grant university very much on par with VT. The email further indicated that I (and my partner) would not be welcome in Virginia because “they kill gays in Roanoke”. And, of course, the author provided the link to a newspaper story that detailed the September 2000 murder of Danny Overstreet (and wounding of six others) inside a gay bar in Roanoke, Virginia, by a man who said he wanted to shoot gays. I would later learn that a hateful and homophobic email announcing my hire was sent to the VT administration and members of the VT Board of Visitors, resulting in the BOV taking unprecedented action to further discourage me and my partner from moving to Blacksburg, Virginia.  In July 2002, we drove 2701 miles to begin our new life at Virginia Tech.

This was definitely a moment, one of many in my professional career through which I was able to face the obstacles, eventually find empowerment, and continue my journey as it would unfold. This moment was actually transformative. All of us have moments in our lives, but what we choose to do with them, how we choose to learn from them (and not be defined by them) provide the foundation for navigating the roles and responsibilities that come with leadership positions and opportunities to lead.

Moments are sometimes called learning moments or Aha moments! Some are brief and some extend over time.  One of the first lessons that I learned from that moment in 2002 was to understand that although it was and felt very “personal,” I could not take it “personally” or respond in a personal way.  It is important to understand the impact of these moments personally and professionally because it is likely that some of our decisions will create intentional or unintentional ‘moments’ for others.

I was honored to speak at the VCU Grace E. Harris Leadership Institute that is the legacy of Dr. Grace E. Harris. I have faced challenges in my academic career as a woman, but as a white woman I have been allowed to benefit from the systemic racism in our culture and institutions. Dr. Harris defined herself as a transformative leader in spite of the discrimination she faced. I can only imagine what kind of ‘moments’ she confronted throughout her life and career as an African American female challenging the racially exclusionary system of our society and of higher education. Returning as the first African American faculty member at VCU, to the very institution that had years earlier denied her admission as a graduate student due to her race, providing 32 years of exemplary service and serving as Provost and Academic Vice President (and twice as interim President), her story, her journey, and her determination to turn obstacles into opportunities are inspirational.

In my presentation, I offered two initial reflections about leadership which I learned mostly from life’s unexpected ‘moments’ – nuggets of authentic experiences that offer great insights, assuming that we are able to listen and learn from them. First, leadership occurs everywhere and should be recognized in everyday life. Leadership often happens without an official administrative title or position of leadership. Second, when we hold an administrative title or leadership position, one of our primary responsibilities lies in providing opportunities for, and encouraging, others to feel empowered and to act as leaders in all that they do.

While some leaders have their careers planned early in their lives and know where they want to be by a specific date, others chose a different path or, more accurately in my case, a different path choose me. Although paths do vary, I believe strongly that career development is more of a journey that unfolds across time. The path isn’t necessarily straight and the journey should be dynamic; and, as such, it will naturally include many unknowns.  We need to look for doors, or the slightly ajar doors, the spaces that open up sometimes unexpectedly that one can move into and explore.  We need to be willing to seek and work to open doors when they are slow to open. I’m not arguing for complacency, nor am I suggesting that we wait passively for something to happen. I am suggesting that keen observation, and an attentiveness and willingness to explore the unknown, will lead to unexpected opportunities. This requires us to understand that there will be times when we will be outside of our comfort zone, that will we need to embrace being open and vulnerable, having courage and a willingness to accept risk.

Today higher education faces the challenge of change and the challenge to change. Throughout the 21st century, many issues have surfaced and challenged higher education, including the cost of higher education, access, accountability, diversity, the meaningfulness of a degree, ethics and more. There have been numerous calls for reform to which higher education must respond and leaders are those who can embrace transformational change. Transformation occurs over time, is intentional, is deep and pervasive, affects the whole institution, requires changes in policies, procedures, programs and people; and ultimately, it can alter the institutional culture for the better.

Due to recent events, including #charlottesville, higher education has been challenged to engage with issues of academic freedom, freedom of speech, civil discourse, and protests. There is much unrest and tension in the nation and in the Commonwealth right now and university leadership must find a way to navigate these waters and move our institutions forward; the solutions and paths forward will require strong and transformative leadership from both current leaders and the next generation of leadership in academe.

Transformative leadership is a broad umbrella term under which I’d like to highlight specific aspects and actions. Included among these are thinking differently; looking for that which is the ‘unobvious’; having a vision and framing a positive agenda with long-term perspective; identifying the problem that we are trying to solve; focusing on the underlying principles, and to “live a life of meaning and worth” as articulated by the late African American law professor, Derrick Bell in his book, Ethical Ambition (2002).

In sharing my musings and reflections about transformative leadership, I want to begin with the “meditations” found in Ethical Ambition: Living a life of meaning and worth. This book helped inform and enriched my journey since my initial reading of the book following the transformative moment of 2002. In particular, Bell wrote:

“Ethics requires us to think deeply about our positions on issues, and to take principled stands as a result of those positions.” (p. 50)

“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) challenges us to choose to work with passion and integrity; to be authentic, courageous and assume risks; to find moments of inspiration, build relationships and a sense of community, and to do all of these with humility. From a leadership perspective, I would expand the notion of humility to include prioritizing institutional over personal ambition.

Leadership is about having vision (which, in my view, should sometimes include ideas not fully in focus, rather than adherence to a preconceived plan, etched in stone) and direction (a general path to follow but also allowing the journey to unfold). It is about clarifying and identifying the problem we are trying to solve before considering solutions or possible outcomes. This seems like it would be intuitive, but we are not often enough encouraged to carefully assess the problem and reflect on possible solutions, before the institution tries to move forward.

Leadership is also about examining our underlying assumptions and identifying the principles by which we will consider and make decisions. In the decision-making process, I will often ask what are the principles that we will use in making the decision. This also requires that we ask “why” and “to whose benefit” more often than we do. If there isn’t an immediate satisfactory answer, I often put something on the “stop-doing-this” list while answering the why and who benefits questions. And, of course, we must see and understand the whole and not just the parts as depicted in the visual of the blindfolded individuals and the elephant.

Not only does transformative leadership require a holistic view, but it also requires us to think differently and look for that which is not necessarily obvious – seeing the arrow in the FedEx logo.  It is about seeing and seeking that which is “unobvious”.

It is about seeing the subtle messages and seeing that which becomes clearer only after more observation (how many faces).

 

 

 

Transformative leadership must be focused on inclusion and diversity and in that order. If we focus only on diversity, we might never achieve inclusion. But if we focus on inclusion we will have diversity.

Transformation leadership requires us to act: to respond and not react. Leadership is action and we need to balance patience and perseverance. There are times when our actions are seen and sometimes our actions go unnoticed except by a few.

And, we must also remind ourselves that “silence is the voice of complicity.” As I mentioned in the beginning, higher education is in need of transformative leaders. These are leaders who are not afraid to speak out. Leaders must think about the future and be willing to take some risks – to be ‘futurisktic‘.

Gandhi is often credited with saying be the change you wish to see in the world. I would encourage us to embrace this as individuals, but to also suggest that it is our job as leaders to help our institutions of higher education “become the change we wish to see in the world.”

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.