Global Perspectives Switzerland trip 2015

Transformative Graduate Education in a Transformative Year

I have not blogged much this semester. In part because it was a weird semester in that I was not teaching (it is amazing how much that kept me on track with all of my other work!). I also was not taking any theory or content courses and I was not doing any of the Future Professoriate courses for the first time since Semester 1 at Tech. This program was one of the things that drew me to return to my hometown and earn my degree at Virginia Tech. Knowing I wanted to work in academia for my career as a faculty member, the program of preparing future faculty as teachers, scholars, and productive academic citizens greatly appealed to me.

This semester, I have still tried to be involved with Preparing the Future Professoriate (PFP) and Transformative Graduate Education (TGE) as I could. For one, the building of the Academy of Graduate Teaching (GTA) Excellence has gotten some press. I am proud of the work that we have done to build a community of current and future instructors/faculty. I am writing about TGE and PFP, because, though I am not yet a faculty member (someday soon I hope!), I am already seeing the strength of these programs that our wonderful Graduate School Dean has developed for us at Virginia Tech.

This year I was asked to serve as the graduate student representative for a subcommittee to a university project. This subcommittee has faculty, staff, administrators, and students sitting on it along with support staff for the project. The project has gone very differently than I was expecting in multiple ways. The one that has caught my attention time and again has been the lack of understanding of the basic functions of the university by faculty, including the mission statement and how that navigates decisions by administrators. Each time I am able to explain the functioning of higher education and our university, I am thankful for all the opportunities I have had within PFP and TGE. Each time I have a slightly different perspective of where higher education is and where it should go, I am thankful for the programs. I am seeing first hand how having courses and discussions and experiences that teach what life in academia will be and challenging the status quo within that is beneficial as I prepare to enter into the professoriate.

In the last 7 months I have also taken two trips (check out #gppecuador and #gppswiss15 on Twitter!) and in relation to TGE, which really were transformative. Each time I have returned from these trips with my colleagues from across colleges on campus, I have written in my notes that I am excited and proud of the future in higher education and research with them. We are the 21st century faculty. We are the ones who will be higher education, can change it, the ones who can challenge the status quo. More and more I think that takes on a global perspective. The world is getting smaller and smaller with access to Internet and easier travel. When we were at the Swiss Embassy in June, someone from the Council of Graduate Schools brought up that there are plenty of jobs available for finishing graduate students, if you look at the world as a whole rather than solely at the United States. I think our scholarship and understanding of higher education also should not be U.S. centric, rather than seeing the strengths and challenges of higher education around the world. How this looks for each of us, I don’t know. I am not even sure how I want it to look for myself at this point. That is something I am still wrestling with. But, I am confident that as 21st century faculty, we need to understand the global perspective.



I was not particularly good about blogging while in Switzerland and I still have not really caught up with it. Probably over time as I get back into the habit of blogging this fall.
However, a quote caught my attention recently that very much plays into how I am feeling about my time since the trip, so I will do a quick post.

“And if travel is like love, it is, in the end, mostly because it’s a heightened state of awareness, in which we are mindful, receptive, undimmed by familiarity and ready to be transformed. That is why the best trips, like the best love affairs, never really end.” – Pico Iyer

The reason that quote spoke to me right now is that even though I have been back in the United States for two months now, I still feel like I am picking away at what I learned and observed while in Switzerland. I am slowly connecting what worked there and what happens here and how those things are similar and different. I think this will be ongoing for quite a while as I continue on my path at Virginia Tech and even after I leave Blacksburg.

Michael asked most of the group on our last night in Riva San Vitale why the Global Perspectives Trip was so good and if it had to be in Switzerland. I’m not even sure what I responded then, but as I reflect on the quote and on that question, I think the trip is powerful and meaningful for all of us who have had the honor and privilege to go on it because we are not in the U.S. Yes, you could have “grad school camp” relatively close-by and learn a lot of things about other nation’s higher education, but it is being forced into a situation and a country that you are not familiar with that changes you the most. The country probably does not have to be Switzerland, but it does have the best of multiple worlds—where English is not a primary language, but most people do know it. That is helpful for those whose first time out of the U.S. was this trip. Traveling so far away from home meant that we were all ready to be transformed. We went into it with an open mind and curiosity and we got a lot out of the experience because of that.

I look forward to more transformative travel in the coming times.

On the Eve of Departure

I am just under 36 hours from take-off towards Zurich and there are so many thoughts and feelings running around my head.

First and foremost I am excited. I have been to Europe twice before and love it. I am glad to be going back, learning more, and experiencing a new culture. Earlier in the semester we were asked to journal about our expectations and one of the things I ended up writing about was the food. Dean DePauw and Michael have been discussing the food in Switzerland a lot and I really look forward to enjoying that. In addition to new places and new foods, I look forward to the slight difference in the way foods are made in Europe. I have such clear memories of drinking Pepsi, eating Pringles, and Nutella while in Germany and how different they tasted. For Nutella in particular, how much better it tasted.

I look forward to spending time with and getting to know my colleagues better. We all come from different backgrounds and different disciplines, but have similar career goals. We will all have a unique perspective on our experiences.

We were each tasked with doing a little bit of research on one of the institutions we are visiting to share with the group prior to our arrival. I was doing my research the other day on University of Basel. The further I read, the more excited I got about all that they do and the structure of their university. I am really looking forward to seeing this particular institution and hearing about all that they do. I am hoping the practice is as strong as the websites make it sound.

In some ways I feel somewhat prepared for the culture I am entering into. Yes, Switzerland is unique and it’s own country and culture. Yet, just as there are influences from other areas in the U.S. and Blacksburg, there will be influences from other areas in Switzerland as well. The other countries I have been to are Germany and Italy. The regions of Switzerland we are visiting speak German or Italian. I am hoping that will help a little bit with culture shock. I grew up learning German and am fairly confident in my reading and comprehension of the language. However, if any of you have heard my stories about my time in Germany, hearing someone speak it does not always go well for me. It is where I discovered just how bad my hearing actually is and the fact that people speak quickly and mumble means I have that much more trouble understanding the spoken language.

I am also nervous as I prepare to embark on the trip. More than anything I am nervous about the first few hours in the country. I will be the first to land in Zurich and will need to get money, go through customs, and get to the hostel on my own. Or I just wait in the Zurich airport for others to land a few hours later. Part of why I am nervous about this is what I remember about the jet lag and lack of sleep when first landing in Germany and in Italy. I really hope I will be able to sleep on the flight to Zurich.

Today will be all about packing and trying to make sure I don’t forget anything. The goal is to get everything into a carry-on size suitcase and my travel backpack. That may be a challenge when it looks like it will be cool during the first leg of the trip, but you have no idea about the second half. I have done everything I need to for leaving work for a couple of weeks. And luckily I am not having to close-up a house or anything like that. That makes it just a little bit less stressful. It also keeps occurring to me that the last time I was in Europe, Internet and smartphones were not as good as they are now. I am much more confident that I will be able to keep up with things stateside if need be.

“Free” Higher Education

I was reading a couple of weeks ago an article discussing some of the benefits and drawbacks of Europe’s model of free or mostly free education for all (of course I now can’t find the article that I was reading to link to for you all). We have this idealized view of having free education for all students, which I agree would be really nice. However, what is the cost of making that change?

One thing about “free” education is that it is not truly free. It may require higher taxes to fund it. There still may be fees associated with going to higher education institutes. I have even heard the argument that just because people might not have to pay for tuition, students still could go into debt for their education because of having to pay for living costs. This is especially the case if a student choses to attend an institution in a city or country in which their family does not reside. Similar to those of us who move great distances in the U.S. to attend the best institution based on our needs and our interests, the move and living independently can be costly.

In the article I read that now can’t be found, a student was saying how with free tuition, institutions were doing all they could to save costs, including having very large lecture classes. We discuss within GEDI about the benefits of hands-on learning and student centered classrooms. Within these large lecture classes and lecture halls in some of these European institutions, who make the decision for financial reasons, are they using some of the techniques that we have been discussing and applied learning?

I did a short period of high school in Germany, where I attended a Gymnasium (one of the academic high schools). One of my clearest memories of the schools was physics. I had already had this particular lesson in my U.S. high school, but I do remember noting a difference in style of giving the lesson. In my U.S. high school, the students were using this toy car within each group to understand the concept. However, in the school I was attending in Germany, we were in a tiered lecture hall with probably close to 50 students and the teacher was demonstrating the concept using the exact same toy car. We could not try it for ourselves. What she said was the lesson. It will be interesting to see how the classrooms and the teaching styles will be similar or different when we visit different institutions in Switzerland and Italy this summer.

Another thing that has been playing on my mind about free education and a primarily public higher education is how much that will limit the types of schools individuals can choose from. Shortly after the announcement of Sweet Briar’s closing, the president of the college, James Jones, said that the “diversity of American higher education…is changing and becoming more vanilla.” In some ways that is becoming true. If schools are not able to hold on financially and students are not able to afford certain institutions, even if they are a better fit for them, we may slowly have only public institutions where everyone is commuting to the campus. What would that mean for diversity initiatives? Would students from diverse and unique backgrounds be able to afford attending unique institutions? If everyone commutes to campus will they truly be exposed to diverse ideas and people by not living with randomly selected people like many of us have when first entering dorm life in college?

I say all this not because I disagree with making higher education more affordable or even “free”. But I think before we hold anything on a pedestal we should look at it critically and see if there may be drawbacks or additional benefits.

Welcome Back!

This semester I will be continuing to maintain this blog. I will be doing it in relation to three different projects and classes I am involved with. The first being the GEDI (Graduate Education Development Institute) course here at Virginia Tech, which discusses pedagogical practices in the 21st century. The second being the Global Perspectives (GPP 2015) study abroad opportunity and seminar. The final being as a part of the new Academy of Graduate Teaching Assistant (GTA) Excellence in which I am a “founding member”.

For those of you who have not read my blogs and are now getting to know me through one of these avenues, here is a little bit about me: I am a third generation academic and the second generation at Virginia Tech. I was born and raised in Blacksburg, and though I see its weaknesses, I still love it. I went to Hollins University in Roanoke and earned my bachelor’s in psychology. It is a small all-women’s liberal arts college where I grew so much and could not have asked for a better undergraduate experience. I then earned my master’s degree in general psychology from University of North Carolina Wilmington. I made some wonderful friends and loved living by the beach (and watching them film TV shows and movies!). Now, I am back in Blacksburg as a PhD student in Human Development with a concentration in Family Studies. My broad research area is in sexual minority (LGBQ+) couples and families.

If you want to know more, ask! I look forward to widening my community and network through this blog and these experiences this year!