Worldwide Ed: Building Global Connections in the Classroom
By Lisa M. Gerry
College campuses all over the country are buzzing about global education. But what does that mean—and why does it matter?
College students today live in a world very different from the one their parents grew up in, and they require a very different kind of education to be successful. George Mason University is leading the way in preparing students for life beyond graduation by giving them the skills and experiences they will need through a multifaceted global education.
“The students we educate are going to be in a world that’s more globally interconnected, and in some senses more globally complicated than ever before,” says Provost Peter N. Stearns, author of Educating Global Citizens in Colleges and Universities: Challenges and Opportunities (Routledge, 2008).
“Whether you’re talking about the kinds of jobs they’ll have or their roles as citizens, having global awareness is an essential attribute that they should carry from their education to the rest of their lives.”
Stearns defines global education as “an education that makes students as aware as possible of the different players in the global system, as well as processes that have built the globalization phenomenon itself.”
Mason is committed to providing every student this sort of education, so much so that included in the university’s mission is the goal to “educate the new generation of leaders for the 21st century—men and women capable of shaping a global community with vision, justice, and clarity.”
For students who are particularly interested and foresee this type of experience as being especially beneficial to their career, Mason is one of a few colleges that offer interdisciplinary global studies degrees. Students can major or minor in global affairs.
In spring 2010, the first group of students was awarded Mason’s new Global Proficiency Certificate, which is available to students interested in improving their international understanding regardless of their major. Mason also offers students the opportunity to participate in an exciting new internationally oriented Living Learning Community called Global Crossings, where U.S. and international students share living space, benefit from a course on global leadership, and take part in special activities with faculty mentors.
In January 2012, Mason began offering the global problems and perspectives minor in partnership with the Global University Consortium, which includes universities in Brazil, China, India, Kenya, Korea, Russia, and Turkey. The hope is that in the near future some classes will be cotaught by professors in the different countries. Mason already offers several globally networked courses, including with partner universities in Russia, and Mason’s Office of Global and International Strategies is helping interested faculty to identify potential team-teaching partners.
Mason’s chief information officer and vice president for information technology, Joy Hughes, is a proponent of using CISCO Telepresence technology to support global learning.
“We want to make it a norm that students from many countries participate in the same class—particularly classes that grapple with themes from which cultural differences emerge,” says Hughes.
But not all students voluntarily seek out this sort of education.
“One challenge is figuring out how elements of general education and other majors can be crafted to build in an appropriate segment of global connection,” says Stearns, who cites such programs as the Mason student organization Engineers for International Development as an example. Last summer, the group of current civil engineering students and alumni completed its first major project and helped implement a water storage system for a mountain village in Peru.
“Here’s a way that an important segment of engineers can explore global opportunities in connection with their major,” Stearns says, “and we need more of that.”
Providing students the opportunity to interact with international students and study and travel abroad is as important to global education as what is taught in a classroom.
“We’re looking to prepare our students for a world where in order for them to succeed, they have to be able to operate in other countries’ cultures,” says Hughes. “That’s why we want our students to work alongside students in other countries.”
With students from nearly 130 countries and one of the largest study-abroad programs in the nation, taking students to more than 30 countries, Mason students fortunately have ample opportunities to interact with people from other cultures at home and abroad.
Another important component to global education is the perception of America and Americans abroad. Through course work, improved understanding, and communication with people in other countries, students gain a greater understanding of these international perspectives.
“As Americans, we have to be aware of the importance of other global players,” says Stearns. “We’re helping the nation build understanding as we build partnerships with places like China, India, Korea, and Russia. It’s in the national interest to have higher educational institutions playing an important and collaborative role in these areas.
“We are seen as a leader in efforts to build collaborative possibilities with international institutions. We have established, and are in the process of establishing, a variety of dual degrees with international partners,” Stearns continues.
In Mason’s successful China 1+2+1 program, Chinese students come to the United States to study for their second and third years. As part of the Mason-Moscow State University dual degree program, students spent their first year in Russia and final three years in the United States. Other international dual-degree programs, too, are up and running, including at the graduate level.
Another example of Mason’s dynamic global engagement is the university’s active consideration of establishing a branch campus in South Korea. “The location of the proposed Mason Korea campus close to Seoul is ideal, and the facilities are superb,” says Anne Schiller, Mason’s vice president for Global Strategies. “A Korea campus will offer a wealth of opportunities to Mason students and faculty and enhance our university’s global visibility.”
If Mason decides to move forward with the campus, four degree programs will be introduced in its first five years, specifically economics, management, global affairs, and conflict analysis and resolution.
“Mason students will benefit from the ability to take courses and pursue internships in two countries as they deepen their global knowledge and prepare themselves to be global leaders,” says Schiller.
Provost Stearns says that he foresees universities being increasingly measured by their global education initiatives. After all, he says, “for many students, not just global specialists, having global capacity is going to be directly relevant to the jobs they get.”
This article originally appeared in the Mason Spirit, the university’s magazine.
To read more stories about Mason, check out the university’s News site.