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Downing Thomas, guest opinion, The Daily Iowan

This week is International Education Week, an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education is part of the federal government’s efforts “to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences.” With the presidential election past us, it is more important than ever for us, as educators and students at a public university, to look outward from Iowa to the nation and the world and to reaffirm the importance of global learning and cross-cultural understanding.

The diversity of our campus community — it is worth repeating — is an asset that we must cultivate because it elevates the educational experience of all and because it contributes to the vibrancy of the community in which we live. Our state and our country are enriched through the connections we cultivate with individuals and groups from around the globe. The University of Iowa invests in the future by seeking students from a broad range of countries, by integrating curricula that address global concepts and perspectives into majors, and by enhancing the ways in which the UI is welcoming to international students, faculty, and staff. We are not made stronger by erecting barriers and closing ourselves off from others. On the contrary, International Education Week reminds all of us to take the time to be more deliberate about how we reach out to our neighbors who come from different cultural backgrounds, because those connections make us stronger.

The values promoted during International Education Week are strongly bipartisan. Sen. Dick Durbin, D- Ill., a staunch internationalist, has supported legislation named after the late Sen. Paul Simon, former Democratic representative of Illinois, designed to make a global education part of the academic preparation of every American college student. Former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was appointed by President George W. Bush, has consistently argued that learning about other cultures, studying other languages, and developing international relationships will help avoid divisive international conflicts.

I encourage you to take the time to participate in the activities we have organized to mark International Education Week, and I encourage you to make a resolution to learn a new language or to get involved in an organization that hosts international visitors, in short to challenge yourself to broaden your perspectives. Doing so does not mean losing your identity or values as an American. On the contrary, it can give you the perspective to understand and appreciate those values even more.

Key features of International Education Week 2016 include:

A lecture by Ellen Hazelkorn, policy adviser for the Irish Higher Education Authority, who will discuss “Internationalization and the Geopolitics of Higher Education” on Wednesday from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in the Old Capitol Senate Chamber. Hazelkorn will explore the forces at work in globalization, the trends we can discern, and the ways in which higher education can be framed in this environment in terms of its quality, the value and relevance it has, and the increasing pressures for resources in the higher education landscape.

The presentation of the 2016 International Impact Award to Howard Kerr, whose career-long service as a U.S. Naval officer and adviser to Vice President Spiro Agnew and to President Ford has given him insights into the geopolitical forces shaping the latter half of the 20th century and the world in which we live today. The presentation will take place at a live radio, TV, and internet-broadcast program, “WorldCanvass: Higher Education in the Age of Internationalization,” in which Joan Kjaer will host Kerr, together with Hazelkorn and Barbara McFadden Allen, the executive director of the Big Ten Academic Alliance. The program will take place Thursday from 7:30-9 p.m. in the Voxman Music Building.

International Student Appreciation Day, which will take place Wednesday. There will be gatherings from 9-11 a.m. in Kautz Plaza and from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on the east side of the Pentacrest.

— Downing A. Thomas, associate provost and dean of University of Iowa International Programs

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