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Why Globalize Education? President Sullivan Says the Benefits are Far-Reaching

Nov 20, 2015 |

University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan accepted a prestigious award for the University’s efforts to globalize its curriculum and research at a ceremony Tuesday in Washington.

UVA received the 2015 Paul Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, by the Association of International Educators.

The Simon Award is given annually to universities that demonstrate “significant, well-planned, well-executed and well-documented progress toward comprehensive internationalization – especially those using innovative and creative approaches.” UVA was one of five schools to earn the honor.

Internationalization is a key component of the Cornerstone Plan, UVA’s blueprint for the future. Sullivan recently took the time to answer a few questions about the University’s efforts and their impact.

Teresa Sullivan, President, University of Virginia
Dan Addison / University Communications

Q. Why is it important that UVA internationalize its efforts?

A. We live in a global century. To have a premier higher education system in the United States and around the world, colleges and universities must be globally engaged with one other and with external partners through partnerships, student-exchange agreements, research and more. We are accomplishing this through our Cornerstone Plan; the plan’s priorities include internationalization across Grounds and engagement with global issues and with international partners.

Q. To your mind, what are the key ways to accomplish internationalization?

A. We are moving forward on several fronts. Research is a critical area, and in recent years we unveiled a grant opportunity, called “Global Programs of Distinction,” to support research aimed at solving the world’s biggest challenges.

The first recipients of the grant are conducting a multi-national climate change mapping and modeling project that will help determine the best options to balance Earth’s allocation of forest, food and biofuel land parcels. This work highlights UVA’s research excellence and its global impact.

Our “Global on Grounds” committee has been doing a broad examination of how an international perspective informs University programs and activities, beginning with tours of Grounds for prospective students all the way through to career services and the alumni experience. It draws input from faculty, students and staff from around UVA to make our University a truly global entity.

Q. How do international students and faculty contribute to this effort?

A. In 2014-15, the UVA community included students, faculty and scholars from 148 countries. We have more than 2,400 international students. They bring the world to UVA, and they enrich our classroom discussions with their diverse cultural knowledge and perspectives. Some professors and schools even form study groups with the specific aim of leveraging the broad geographic and cultural representation among their students.

UVA is also home to 166 student organizations with a global dimension. All these factors make UVA a globally oriented community.

Q. As a research university, UVA has connections to scholars around the world. How has this work impacted UVA and the globe?

A. Those relationships are delivering great results that give UVA research a global dimension. For example, UVA faculty members and their partners are working in India to make water cleaner, and they are working with Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion to make energy production cleaner and more efficient. We and our partners in South Africa and Brazil are striving to improve global health.

Those are just a few examples that have far-reaching results.

Q. Our alumni are increasingly working in points around the world. What kinds of opportunities does this global network provide?

A. Our alumni are an incredible resource. Just this past summer, Neal Rudge, a 1986 graduate of the College, provided an internship for fourth-year media studies major Cameron Harris at a consumer products licensing business in Bangkok, as part of our new Global Internship program. We are grateful to Neal and all of the alumni who give back to UVA in important ways and help us grow our global network. This engagement also sets a great example for our new graduates who are entering the global economy.

Q. How is UVA’s globalization effort contributing to Virginia?

A. In the summer of 2014, Gov. Terry McAuliffe announced the largest Chinese economic development investment and job creation project in the history of the commonwealth. The Shandong Tranlin Paper Company, a world-leading pulp and paper company, is basing the project in Chesterfield County near Richmond. The $2 billion deal is creating 2,000 new jobs for Virginians.

The chair and CEO of Tranlin is Jerry Peng, a 2003 graduate of the Darden School of Business. He has remained engaged with UVA and Virginia ever since. This new project could bring farmers more than $50 million each year, and fuel Virginia’s economy.

Q. Why is having a global education so important for students?

A. In today’s global economy, nations and economies are connected and mutually dependent; think of the effect of the Greek debt crisis on the broader global economy. We do our students a disservice if we fail to prepare them for this 21st-century reality.

This means we must infuse global perspectives in our curriculum, as with our new global studies major, and in extra-curricular activities such as the new Global Internships Program. In a global university, global perspectives are integrated into every facet of core-mission activities of teaching, research and service.

The Simon Award is an important acknowledgement of our efforts to make UVA truly global. This work is continuing, and I’m grateful to our faculty, staff and students who are contributing to the effort.

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