Coming and Going: What It Takes To Build An Unshakeable Global PresenceMichael Adewumi | Vice Provost for Global Programs, The Pennsylvania State University
Colleges and universities across the United States covet success in the international marketplace, but few institutions have developed thorough strategies to build and maintain their global brands. At Penn State University, however, they developed the “Go, Come, Partner” strategy to approach the marketplace across three fronts. In this interview, Michael Adewumi sheds some light on the goals of the strategy and reflects on what it takes to improve access for international students and opportunities for international study for non-traditional students.
The EvoLLLution (Evo): Why is standing out in the global environment so important for colleges and universities today?
Michael Adewumi (MA): It is very important for a number of reasons. One is that we live in a very small global village so our graduates have to learn to navigate through and thrive in this new ecosystem. It’s more than likely that any graduate that we produce will work overseas or will work with people from different countries and cultures. As such, we want to make sure they acquire a level of global perspective by the time they leave Penn State.
Secondly, it’s important from a research perspective. The challenges we face as a global society cannot be resolved by one single university or one single country, no matter how big or how powerful. Our faculty researchers need to partner with others like them around the world to begin to address some of the global challenges that we face.
Whether you look at it from a research perspective or from a student perspective, we have to act and operate in a global world. That is why standing out and participating in the global environment is important.
Evo: What is the Go, Come, Partner strategy that Penn State has put into place to guide this global action?
MA: Go, Come, Partner is a three-sided coin approach. On one side we have “Go,” meaning that we want to send as many students as possible to different countries because we believe students can acquire the global perspective that I just alluded to through immersive experiences.
Then we have the “Come” part, through which we try to bring students and scholars from all over the world to interact with our students on the Penn State campus because, even with the best effort, not every American student will get the opportunity to study abroad. In fact, we send about 3000 students abroad every year but have a student population of almost 100,000. By creating access for international students and scholars, we can create an international environment on the campus itself.
Finally, we have “Partner,” the third dimension. This is a response to our belief that, in spite of the fact that we are a huge university, we cannot address these global challenges by ourselves. By partnering with select institutions around the world that have the same kind of goals as we do, we can begin to address the global challenges that we face. This way, we can leverage our resources, leverage their resources and begin to do the things that they can’t do on their own and we can’t do on our own. Through these strategic research partnerships we can begin to resolve these issues faster, better and probably more cheaply.
Evo: When it comes to the “Come” aspect of the Go, Come, Partner approach, how important are Intensive English Language Programs and other kinds of non-credit pathways for Penn State to bring international students onto the campus?
MA: It’s very important because language ability is extremely important in fostering communication. There is no way you can truly relate to someone if you can’t communicate. When we bring students from non-English-speaking countries, we need to ensure that they are actually able to operate within the US. So we offer Intensive English Language Programs at Penn State where students can spend time brushing up on their English or passing the necessary tests they need to be able to do gain entry into credit-bearing programming. When students are in the classroom obviously they’ll be sitting and interacting with native English speakers and they need to understand what is being spoken about and engage in the discourse.
Our Intensive English Language Program is an extremely important part of the “Come” portion.
Evo: What are some of the major roadblocks to access, retention and success that you are trying to minimize for international students?
MA: One of the challenges that we face is creating positive transitions for international students. We have many students who have grown up in a different culture, different environment and different system for 18 years of their lives and then, all of a sudden, they transition to the culture, environment and system of Penn State. There are a lot of things American students take for granted that are new for international students. Challenging the professor is a big one. A typical American student is used to challenging things that they don’t believe in; they can argue with a professor and it’s normal. In many other systems, however, you cannot even ask a question of the professor. It’s a significant adjustment for a lot of our students who are coming from a different culture. The other challenge for many international students is getting used to the living environment.
To help facilitate this positive transition, we organize extensive orientation programs and allot, them enough time to be introduced to the American system. We’re not trying to necessarily integrate them into the American system—they can do that if they want to—but we want to make sure they understand the American system sufficiently to be able to operate diligently and be able to accomplish their own academic goals.
Evo: What are some of the most significant challenges to the full implementation of the Go, Come, Partner strategy?
MA: One of the challenges is always resources. Somebody once said that ambition without resources is hallucination. It’s important to us that our resources back up the vision. It’s not a secret that many American universities face severe financial challenges simply because of a diminishing public support for higher education in the US. As a result of that, the only way for the U.S. higher education system to thrive and to survive is to have the necessary tuition to do it. Sometimes tuition—not just at Penn State but in general terms—will be little bit higher than some people can afford, if they’re from overseas especially.
The second challenge that we face which is also prevalent in terms of sending students abroad is increasing level of insecurity around the world. Travellers can be targets of opportunity for those who want to do harm. So for students studying abroad, we have to educate them to be able to take precautions and we have to make sure we minimize the risk to them.
Finally, the third challenge we face is that the world itself changes very quickly, so making sure that our faculty and staff also get the necessary global perspective to be able to accommodate and support international students and scholars cannot be taken for granted.
Evo: When it comes to “Go,” what can institutions do to make international study a more realistic opportunity for non-traditional students?
MA: One of the things we are trying to do to alleviate the roadblocks non-traditional students face in studying abroad is vigorously promoting faculty-led embedded programs. These allow students to go abroad to spend ten days to two weeks fully immersed in the program they have enrolled in on-campus. That is a better option for adult students and others who are location-bound and otherwise cannot go and spend a semester or a year abroad.
This program has become the fastest growing portion of our Go strategy because a lot of students can take advantage of this. It has really been very successful for us.
Evo: Is there anything you’d like to add about the importance of the Go, Come, Partner approach to Penn State building its global brand?
MA: The way I look at it—and the way most of us look at it—stems from the slogan of Penn State, “Making Life Better.” There is no question, when you look at the 150-160 year history of Penn State, that the university has made life better for a whole lot of people in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and across the United States. The question we ask ourselves is, “With the enormous intellectual resources that Penn State is endowed with, can we extend the ideal of making life better to global citizens?”
We believe that we can and by partnering and sending people abroad and welcoming people from around the world we feel that we can actually begin to make life better for the global community. That is our goal and that is what we intend to do.