Thursday, November 14, 2019
Building Our Global Community 15th Anniversary Logo

The University of Iowa has always been a supportive community for international students to further their education. Many of the institution’s initiatives revolve around connecting domestic students with their international peers to create a more inclusive environment. But in 2004, International Programs recognized there was a lack of understanding and connection between faculty, staff, and international students as well. This prompted International Programs to create a certificate program that fostered skills for working with international students called Building Our Global Community (BGC). Going on 15 years, the program has transformed the education system and relationships faculty and staff members create with international students and scholars.

Building Our Global Community is a free program offered to all University of Iowa faculty and staff members interested in gaining insight on the experiences and expectations of international students and scholars. Participants must register for a mandatory ‘Introduction to Building Our Global Community’ course followed by taking four electives of their choosing. This semester, the program offered 18 elective course options. Since the program started, BGC has had 1,345 participants, 482 certificates awarded, and 245 elective courses have been offered.

“Being able to recognize your own culture is a foundational piece of the program and understanding how your own cultural lens influences your interactions with others and [their] perspectives,” said Program Coordinator Brandon Paulson. Paulson’s role with BGC is to create the academic schedule each year and communicate the programs message to instructors across campus.

UI international students and scholars from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia shared food, presentations, and stories from their home countries with participants of the Building Our Global Community certificate program

UI international students and scholars from Iraq, Iran, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia shared food, presentations, and stories from their home countries with participants of the Building Our Global Community certificate program

The program also seeks to align its initiatives with the overarching pillars of the university. BGC works alongside the Division of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion as well as different departments and colleges across campus to enhance professional development and support. Keeping a close connection to changes on campus allows BGC to accommodate to the needs of international students and scholars on campus.

“We can always learn and be more reflective and critical… BGC gave me more tools to view the world through the eyes of others,” Professor Lorie Reins-Schweer said. Reins-Schweer, a professor of legal analytics, writing, and research in the College of Law, completed her certificate last year. Iowa is a public institution full of people with different backgrounds and cultures and she joined for a better understanding of the students she sees in her classrooms. Reins-Schweer said she appreciated the elements of collaboration and inclusion, especially during the panels of international students sharing personal stories.

Maria Martino-Cardona, assistant director of the UI Office of Animal Resources, joined for similar reasons and was introduced to the program after seeing the certificate in the window of her colleague’s office. “I work with a lot of international students, faculty, [and] post-doctoral fellows, and it was very important for me to get a little introduction into different cultures and how that can affect perceptions of work and how I can communicate easier,” said Martino-Cardona. It was important to Martino-Cardona to enroll in courses that were representative of the people she interacts with every day. Born and raised a Latino woman in the Caribbean, the BGC courses she took helped her balance relation and understanding with her international peers. “The program was very open to questions, relating stories, and not judging… you get to know the cultures that are represented at the university more closely and feel more confident approaching them,” Martino-Cardona said.

Looking ahead at the next 15 years, BGC has optimal room for growth. Paulson said the program is looking forward to offering more advanced level courses, working collaboratively with new colleges and faculty, and adapting to the constantly changing needs of Iowa’s international community. For more information on how to get involved in BGC visit the BGC website.