University of Iowa

Welcome to the 2013-14 academic year from Dean Downing Thomas

August 13th, 2013

A message from International Programs Dean Downing Thomas


Welcome to the 2013-14 academic year!  As I do at the beginning of every fall semester, I would like to share a few thoughts on the University’s progress in internationalization, and some specific projects and activities for the coming year.

International Programs (IP) starts off the fall semester with a smaller number of better supported academic centers and programs, as we develop a clearer rationale for sponsoring these faculty groups.  Academic centers and programs create opportunities for faculty to contribute to the global mission and reputation of the University; to advance research and teaching through a focus on trans-collegiate issues and perspectives; and to develop public engagement projects to benefit communities in Iowa and abroad.  It is crucial that these groups be well aligned with collegiate activities, given that academic departments are where faculty appointments are made and courses taught.  In some cases, these groups may get better traction within the academic departments and divisions; in other cases, it will make sense for them to develop and flourish in IP to take advantage of inter-collegiate and interdisciplinary synergies.

In this light, after a review of its goals and mission, FLARE (Foreign Language Acquisition Research and Education) has moved to the Division of World Languages, Literatures and Cultures.  The Eighteenth- and Nineteenth-Century Interdisciplinary Colloquium will start a new chapter as a working group at the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies.  Other groups, such as the Institute for Cinema and Culture and the Opera Studies Forum, are currently working with units within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences to determine how best to meet their needs in the coming years.  Finally, I am very pleased that the UI Center for Human Rights (UICHR), after facing an uncertain future when previous funding sources dried up, has found a home in the College of Law and will begin the academic year with a new director, Professor Adrien Wing.  IP will continue to provide the UICHR with space on the east side of campus to support the important multidisciplinary work of the Center, while its academic home in the College of Law will allow the Center to have a strong base in a college whose faculty are internationally recognized for their human rights scholarship and teaching.

This academic year, I will engage UI faculty in a dialogue about how International Programs can best support their activities.  In this direction, IP has appointed four faculty fellows for 2013-14 from a variety of collegiate and disciplinary backgrounds: Carolyn Colvin (Dept. of Teaching and Learning, College of Education), Wilf Nixon (Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering), Bradley Cramer (Dept. of Earth and Environmental Sciences, CLAS), and Drew Kitchen (Dept. of Anthropology, CLAS; and a member of the cluster hire in genetics).  IP’s faculty fellows will form a core interdisciplinary group to advise me and Professor Sonia Ryang (IP’s director of academic programs) and to encourage campus conversations on internationalization.  In addition to the faculty fellows, Professor Ryang will begin a series of workshops and conversations with the directors of IP’s academic programs and centers to develop greater collaboration among the faculty groups and to brainstorm about how IP can better serve the campus as we expand our global activities.  IP’s Advisory Council, composed of representatives nominated by the collegiate deans and drawn from IP’s faculty groups, will continue to serve as the formal conduit for information between IP and the colleges, and as the group charged with providing me with advice about policies and initiatives designed to strengthen the University’s international activities.

978 undergraduates studied abroad in 2011-12 (the most recent year for which we have complete data), an all-time record.  We would like to see even more students undertaking study, internships, volunteer projects, and other educational activities abroad.  Students can now research study abroad options through our new interactive database of programs; and we will soon have an online application to facilitate student participation even more.  A study abroad program provider, IES Abroad, reported recent finding that showed that alumni of their programs earn, on average, $7,000 more in starting salary than recent U.S. college graduates.  90% of IES Abroad alums secured a job within the first six months after graduation; 90% got into their 1st or 2nd choice graduate or professional school; and 84% felt that studying abroad helped them build valuable job skills.  These data support other recent research indicating that study abroad experiences contribute measurable to student success.

The University saw record international enrollment last year, at 11.3% of the student body; and we expect another record this year, with the undergraduate population now outstripping the graduate and professional student numbers.  IP continues to lead the effort, in collaboration with the colleges and a variety of other units, to support international student success and internationalization opportunities here at home.  New this year is a 1 s.h. required course for incoming undergraduate international students, “International at Iowa.” The course will help orient students to academic expectations, cultural adjustment, and resources on campus, from mental health resources to English-language support.  The course is online, but we also plan to form student groups this fall, bringing U.S. and international students together in structured activities to expand students’ cross-cultural competency.  Many efforts are underway in the colleges as well, reflecting their own curricula and student needs.

In addition to new staff supporting study abroad and international student services, beginning this year we will have a new, full-time staff member devoted to global external relations, including supporting alumni development and global social media.  With increasing numbers of alumni living abroad, we need to develop long-standing relationships that will help support the mission of the University in the coming years.

Don’t forget that our website contains a section focused on faculty opportunities, including support for external grant submissions and internal grant competitions.  In addition, this year’s schedule for WorldCanvass has been posted (with dates for live shows and links to audio and video broadcasts, when available). As always, check our online journal International Accents for up-to-date news, stories, and event information.

I look forward to hearing from you and to working with you again this year.

Downing Thomas