Internationalization at Iowa - Q&A with Associate Provost and Dean Downing Thomas

The Vision and Strategic Themes for Internationalization lays out priorities and directions for the University of Iowa, as part of its strategic planning process.  It was developed by the International Programs Advisory Council, with broad input from campus constituencies.  The vision has three fundamental principles: 1) it is not a plan for International Programs, but rather for the university as a whole; 2) it aims to focus resources on strengths and priorities; and 3) it will be a living document.

Below is a Q&A with International Programs Associate Provost and Dean Downing Thomas about Internationalization at Iowa.


Associate Provost and Dean Downing Thomas

What is internationalization?

Internationalization in higher education is referred to as institutional or comprehensive internationalization.  NAFSA senior scholar John Hudzik defines comprehensive internationalization as “a commitment, confirmed through action, to infuse international and comparative perspectives throughout the teaching, research, and service missions of higher education.” Comprehensive internationalization requires commitment at the highest levels of university leadership, and must be actively embraced by faculty and staff in order to be successful.  It affects all dimensions of the university’s activities and drives its core missions.  The American Council on Education’s model for comprehensive internationalization identifies six interconnected target areas: articulated institutional commitment; administrative leadership, structure, and staffing; curriculum, co-curriculum, and learning outcomes; faculty policies and practices; student mobility; and collaboration and partnerships.

How did the idea of internationalization at Iowa come to fruition?

International engagement has been around at the University of Iowa since the beginning.  John H. Rapier of Kingston, Jamaica, received a Doctor of Medicine degree in 1864 from the Keokuk College of Physicians and Surgeons, our medical school at the time.  Moung Edwin of Burma received his law degree in 1879, the first graduate from the Iowa City campus.  In the 1980s and 1990s, faculty were increasingly active in developing international study and research programs, both on campus and abroad.  These activities were restructured and centralized in 1997 when International Programs was created, bringing together faculty-driven area studies and thematic centers and programs, study abroad, and support for international students and scholars.  The position of associate provost and dean of International Programs was created at that time, reporting to the executive vice president and provost.  The current Internationalization Vision document derives from the recognition that comprehensive internationalization must be facilitated and led, but not “owned,” by a single, central unit.  Internationalization must be embraced, articulated, and translated into action by the faculty across all eleven colleges that form the academic core of the university. As we articulate the value of internationalization and the priorities we establish, we must also effectively engage multiple external constituencies: Regents, State government, students, parents, citizens of Iowa, and alumni around the world.

How will a more active effort to internationalize the University of Iowa benefit the community?

Today, as never before, the University of Iowa must function as a global institution in order to fulfill its core missions of teaching, research, and public service in Iowa.  As business leaders across the state and across the country recognize, what we think of as local is fully tied to global processes and trends.  Our graduates must be able to cross borders confidently, work well with individuals and groups who come from different cultural backgrounds, and face new situations with creativity and flexibility.  The number of individuals working internationally has increased exponentially (90 percent over the period 2007-2009, according to Mercer’s 2008/2009 Benefits Survey for Expatriates and Globally Mobile Employees). The results of a recent study, the Erasmus Impact Study, which traced the effects of the signature European Union student mobility program, show that students who had studied abroad reported improvement in their ability to work in teams and self-confidence, as well as in language and communication skills, organizational skills, critical thinking, and adaptability. Their employers agreed (see http://international.uiowa.edu/news/impact-international-experiences).

International students have at least two positive impacts on our community.  International students and their families created or supported over 3,600 jobs in Iowa and contributed almost $351 million to the State’s economy during the 2014-15 academic year, according to NAFSA’s data analysis.  They also bring a wealth of international experiences and perspectives to our communities.  It is incumbent on us, and on our students from Iowa and other U.S. states, to take advantage of this resource in and out of the classroom.  

Another benefit to internationalization is developing global citizens.  Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates (who served in various capacities under Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama) has argued repeatedly that learning about other cultures, learning other languages, and developing international relationships will help avoid misunderstandings and conflicts between the U.S. and other countries.  Our alumni, moreover, have been successful in virtually every country around the globe and in all walks of life.  They can provide internships and jobs to our graduates; and global philanthropy efforts can generate scholarships for students and much-needed support for academic programs.

Finally, developing ties abroad can help the University of Iowa commercialize its research discoveries and bring new scientific and scholarly discoveries to bear on local and global problems.

What do you hope to accomplish with the internationalization of Iowa?

To advance the core missions of the University of Iowa: teaching, research, and service.  To prepare our graduates to enter a world that is increasingly interconnected and complicated.  To create openings for Iowa discoveries and creative work to find support and audiences globally; and conversely to provide opportunities for Iowa’s global alumni base to reconnect with, and give back to, campus.  To enrich lives and livelihoods by connecting Iowa to the world and bringing the world to Iowa.

What would a successful internationalization of the UI community look like to you?

Comprehensive internationalization at the UI will be successful when a global outlook is infused in everything we do, from food service to philosophy and everything in between.

Anything else to add?

We are fortunate to have strong support among institutional leaders.  Gathering the data and making it readily available, connecting the dots, developing a strong network focused on communication and action… we have our work cut out for us for 2016 and beyond!

Learn more about the Internationalization at Iowa initiative here.

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