Dean's Blog: Fostering a deeper understanding of cultures among students

Downing Thomas, dean and associate provost of International Programs

Leveraging the benefits that come from a diverse student population is a key priority for International Programs and for the university as a whole.  The diversity of our campus community is an asset that we must cultivate because it enriches the educational experience students have while at Iowa.  By deliberately engaging students who come from different walks of life, from different cultural backgrounds, from different parts of the globe, students develop cross-cultural competencies.  We must provide them opportunities to learn to function successfully and with ease in global environments. We will accomplish this goal in many ways.  We need to seek students from a broad range of countries. We need to integrate curricula addressing global concepts and perspectives into majors through learning outcomes, assessment tasks, teaching methods, and support services. We also need to ensure the UI is welcoming to international students, faculty, and staff by involving their domestic counterparts in efforts to foster a deeper understanding of cultures.  Below are some of the ways we are address the latter challenge.

The Admissions Visitors Center now offers tours for new international undergrads as part of fall orientation. There is also a virtual tour platform in development for prospective students or those who can’t make an on-campus tour. Orientation Services also plans to introduce more inclusive materials that help bridge the gap between domestic and international students.

University College has added a new diversity and inclusion module to the Success at Iowa course taken by all new degree-seeking undergrads, which will further help increase awareness and skills of all students.

In fall 2017, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is introducing a new general education track, “Diversity, Inclusion, and Social Justice,” that focuses on more experiential and personal learning regarding diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism.

The Chief Diversity Office is continuing its certificate series BUILD, now in its second year, helping staff and faculty improve the climate on campus for diversity and inclusion issues.

In its twelfth year, the Building Our Global Community certificate program, offered by International Programs in collaboration with UI Learning & Development, continues to educate faculty and staff about the experiences of international students and scholars, and methods in which they can foster our increasingly intercultural campus community.  A similar program is also available for members of the broader eastern Iowa community; and it has been a useful program for individuals such as city officials, business owners, and police officers.

ESL Programs partnered with students from the Department of English to create the Conversation Center, where American and international students engage with each other in productive conversations in which they broaden their communication skills and understanding of differing cultural perspectives.  The Conversation Center has had over 800 appointments scheduled as of the beginning of this fall semester.

Tippie College of Business’ Tippie International Buddies program pairs international and domestic students for a semester-long fellowship where they participate in coordinated buddy events and get together throughout the semester to create long-lasting friendships.

The Pomerantz Career Center is increasing its efforts to identify career opportunities that meet the needs of our international student population, as they make available global opportunities for domestic and international graduates alike.  Units across campus are also seeking to identify employment opportunities for current students, ranging from food service positions in University Housing and Dining to work/study positions in University Libraries, where international students can develop new skills and where we can learn from them.

Finally, starting in the 2016-17 academic year, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences in partnership with International Programs will offer the first International Engagement Award, given each year to faculty who contribute to comprehensive internationalization through their teaching, student mentorship, and activities that engage students in our global community.  Successful nominees will be faculty who are exemplary in helping international students be successful at Iowa, inside and outside the classroom; in developing innovative techniques that internationalize the curriculum in a given discipline; in creating effective learning environments that integrate international and domestic students; and in encouraging students to deliberately integrate study or internships abroad into their education.

While some of these examples are available primarily for the benefit of our international student population, many also provide opportunities for all UI students to have a global and cross-cultural education.  We will continue to seek ways to make our university community more welcoming, and ways to better prepare all students for a world that is increasingly globalized.

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