When Political Science Professor Manochehr Dorraj first arrived at TCU in 1990, he found, he now confesses, a place “decidedly ‘parochial’ and even ‘nativist’” in its stance toward the rest of the world. Now, fifteen years into the twenty-first century, he celebrates the “new energy, presence and elevated international consciousness” evident in our university’s culture. Many factors, external as well as internal, have contributed to this felicitous shift. One important impetus has been the Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP) associated with being accredited by the Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SACS). In choosing “Discovering Global Citizenship” (DGC) as its QEP initiative, TCU embraced global learning as a priority. Now several years into the work of DGC, TCU, in Dorraj’s estimation, has undergone a genuine “transformation.”
Guiding that transformation, while learning from it themselves, are TCU’s teachers, the faculty and instructional staff from all over campus who’ve been plugging into various connecting points between their own curriculum and QEP resources. I’ve been privileged to observe that process informally through participation in the regular meetings of the QEP leadership team as a “bridge member” by virtue of serving as the Koehler Center’s global citizenship fellow.
The conversation in our DGC meetings percolates, lively and generative. Discussions range from brainstorming new initiatives to considering how best to assess student learning that’s been occurring through various programming elements. These regular meetings of the steering committee are certainly not secret; indeed, almost every time, there are a few guests on hand from across and beyond campus, bringing their expertise to the collaborative enterprise. Nonetheless, this ongoing work by QEP team members has perhaps not been highly visible to most members of the TCU community. But their work has been vital to DGC’s many successes, and the seeds they are planting and watering now will be crucial to ensuring that global learning remains central to the TCU in the future. In the understandable, indeed essential, push to “measure” student learning through grids galore, through surveys and counts of attendance and analysis of test scores and, even, e-portfolios, we should also be documenting the learning of faculty and instructional staff. After all, although students come and go from TCU, the keepers of the culture remain. And, if they/we are learning about global citizenship and how to impart its lessons, students will continue to learn.
With that in mind, I recently asked some of the most active faculty and instructional staff participants in the QEP program to reflect critically on their own learning. Individually and as a group, their written responses provided clear evidence of ways that sustained collaboration by teachers builds networks of affiliation and understanding. From those networks, new practices are generated, along with a shared vision that, in turn, enables more initiatives. Mapping that process and its impact would be valuable indeed. Here, I present just a few examples of its ongoing development through their observations.
James English, who co-facilitates the Global Innovator QEP program, responded to my query by drawing on an email he’d received from one faculty member who’d used QEP funding to launch an initiative that’s now including partners from around the globe: this teacher-scholar reported that giving faculty and instructional staff access to such resources pays big dividends. One example James himself cited was a DGC project in Haiti that is reaching disabled citizens through an innovative outreach program, which students in Economics Professor Dawn Elliott’s Developmental Studies class recently “visited” through the QEP’s “Virtual Voyage” program. Hearing from the Haiti- based program director Gauthier Dieudonne, Professor Elliott’s students learned about how some of Haiti’s most challenged inhabitants are now receiving new access to health care; through such stories, students become inspired to envision their own social justice initiatives in the future.
Excited as I am to consider how these learning outcomes are emerging for students like Elliott’s—or for those of another colleague James English wrote about in his reflection, Mike Slattery—I also want to celebrate, and, in turn, take energy from, the ongoing learning being achieved by these teachers themselves. In his email reflection, for instance, James invoked how much new content knowledge he and others have learned from Mike Slattery’s Global Innovator project, linking up with activists addressing the rhino poaching crisis in South Africa “Together,” James English noted in the context of such projects, “we are taking a journey without necessarily knowing our final destination.”
Embracing uncertainty and open-ended experience as a pathway to learning goes beyond the purview of “global citizenship” as a necessary focus of education today, of course. But this stance may be especially important for teachers and students to cultivate in the area of cross- cultural learning, whether it’s being sought through travel abroad or through such initiatives as one of the most accessible domains of TCU’s QEP, the “local global” connection. As College of Education faculty member Cecilia Silva noted in her reflection, in fact, pushing students—and ourselves—beyond our comfort zones to embrace opportunities for engaged connections with cultural differences is challenging. We don’t know what will happen. Quoting one of her own students, Cecilia acknowledged that such work is “challenging, exciting, and, at times, overwhelming.” So, reflecting on both her students’ and her own experiences connecting with refugees and immigrants at the International Newcomer Academy (INA) here in North Texas, Silva highlighted how they moved from feelings of discomfort to recognizing that their own initial anxiety about interacting with academy participants wound up being transformative. As one Cecilia’s students explained: “It felt kind of like a different world,” like being in “a different country” right here in Texas. From her own experience, therefore, Cecilia recommended that other faculty members take advantage of QEP resources (including colleagues who have tried out projects already) to embrace uncertainty in teaching, and to explore without knowing the destination.
One faculty member who adopted that open approach this fall semester is Rima Abunasser. Partnering an entire class on women’s writing with a QEP-sponsored multinational journey being taken by reconciliation activist Michael McRay, Rima and her students traveled through social media on several trips he was taking to study (and contribute to) peace movements: in Northern Ireland, South Africa, and the Middle East. Rima’s students followed McRay’s pathways, but they also “storied” what they themselves learned by “making short documentaries from Michael’s travel and interview footage,” Rima explained. Beyond being duly impressed with her students’ products, Rima also took away from this DGC project a reaffirmed belief that TCU students “have important contributions to make, that their voices are clear, strong, and ready,” and that an especially energizing avenue to global learning is from “communal” activity.
The power of communal learning also emerged in reflections provided by Suzy Lockwood and Jane Kucko. Lockwood’s reflection cited a specific program—the Global Impact in Healthcare event—as a striking instance of how “the QEP can impact TCU students’ worldview and show them that there are a multitude of opportunities for them to participate—big and small—in changing the fabric of not only their life but that of a population, a community or society.” Lauding the inter- and cross-disciplinary methods enabled by this event and its spin-offs, Lockwood underscored how fostering those learning networks enables students to “truly live out the TCU mission statement.” But she also pointed to ways in which TCU’s teachers can find such collaborative experiences “life-changing,” so that they continue to “inform our. . . instruction in amazing ways.”
Similarly, for Jane Kucko, reflecting on the QEP’s impact certainly surfaced an awareness of the “true cross- disciplinary interaction” the DGC has promoted. But also like Professor Lockwood, Jane has found her own personal learning from DGC work to be especially meaningful. Kucko noted that her QEP-supported “Exposure to the developing world has opened my eyes and has spurred me to think on how I can be a better citizen.” Thus, while she takes pride in ways that the QEP has “enhanced international education on campus” overall, she also argues that faculty and staff involved in this endeavor should celebrate how “we have inspired ourselves to become better global citizens.”
Given all the powerful learning that’s going on for all those who’ve been involved in DGC-related work so far, John Singleton of TCU’s International Services office has some advice for anyone not yet fully connected to the QEP. “Find a faculty member who has participated and ask about their experience.” As Singleton observed in his own reflection: “The QEP is itself in the process of transformation from a program-design model to a program facilitation model, and we need more partners engaging more students to make this work.”
This article was written by Sarah Robbins, Department of English, Honors College, and 2016 Koehler Center Fellow for Global Citizenship Koehler Center Fellow for Global Citizenship for the Spring 2016 Issue of Insights.