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A Meaningful Global Experience

A Meaningful Global Experience

We’re still refining our strategic plan, so what I’m writing about now may change a bit. But one concise goal that seems to resonate well involves pledging a “meaningful global experience” for every undergraduate. Even though we have a decent start on this goal already, it’s a major innovation, writ large in this fashion, and a real, if desirable challenge. A few elite private schools or small public colleges reach toward the goal already, but for a big, diverse public university it’s a daring departure.

So it’s worth asking how we might live up to this new standard, building gradually but steadily over the coming decade. We’ll want really imaginative input from all quarters, and it’s not too soon to launch the discussion. A few of us can dream the goal, but it’s going to take a lot of us, and appropriate motivations and rewards, to see it through.

Of course more study abroad is part of the response. We need to restructure curricula in many majors to facilitate a student international experience. And we need better funding to support it. So there’s work to do here.

But this classic response is only part of what our strategy will have to be, given diverse student situations and capacities. Even more study abroad, if it’s to be meaningful, requires an active framework back home.

So we must also be working on: sustained collaborations among domestic and international students, for example in internships or research projects, where all parties learn what global interactions involve.

  • Serious internship opportunities with international agencies and NGOs, even if based in the United States.
  • Expansion of our promising, but so far limited, experiments with joint courses and undergraduate research collaborations, with partner institutions elsewhere in the world, mediated by the connective technologies now available. We know already how joint courses contribute to internationalizing perspectives, but we need to widen opportunities and broaden the subjects for which this mechanism is available.
  • Deploy more of the connections between curricular and co-curricular efforts toward the new global goal. University Life can be the source of many relevant new ideas and programs.

Again, the challenge is significant—among the most imposing in the current strategic draft. The effort must go well beyond our current beginner global commitments in the general education program. It must ultimately take our diverse student pathways into account, including our many transfer students, which may also involve some joint ventures with partner institutions like Northern Virginia Community College. The range is considerable.

And of course we need to build some new assessment tools, toward figuring out how we know we’re moving toward the goal of “meaningful” as well as global. It would be easy to tack on a few gestures and declare success—and we should make sure we’ll not accept a routine approach. “Meaningful” needs meaning; it’s part of what we will owe the Mason graduate.