Global Academic Initiatives Award

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East Carolina University was honored at the United Nations on Thursday, March 13, in recognition of its successful efforts to internationalize education. ECU’s Global Academic Initiatives program received Honorable Mention in the category of Best Practices in International Education at the

2008 IIE Andrew Heiskell Awards ceremony in New York City.

ECU was one of eight institutions worldwide to be recognized by the Institute of International Education (IIE), the leader in international education exchange and development training programs, for its success in forging international partnerships with universities around the globe. On hand to accept the award was Rosina Chia, assistant vice chancellor for Global Academic Initiatives, and Jami Leibowitz, associate professor in the Department of Anthropology.

“We are very, very happy to receive the Andrew Heiskell Award,” said Chia. “By giving us the Honorable Mention, I think it makes other higher education institutions become aware of this innovative approach. I am very happy for East Carolina University because the administrators at ECU supported this project with some risk, and have seen it grow in four years from one partner in one country to 21 partners in 18 countries.”

The Global Academic Initiatives Program was created in 2003 by Chia along with Elmer Poe, the associate vice chancellor for academic outreach. Their goal was to provide an international educational experience to students unable to travel abroad. Nationally, only 4 percent of students study abroad and at ECU the percentage is even lower.

Today, Global Understanding, a freshman-level course offered through both international studies and anthropology, utilizes ECU’s global classroom to give students firsthand international experience without leaving campus. Currently ECU has 21 partner universities in 18 countries. Included in these partners are universities from countries relevant to today’s global economy such China, Russia, and India, as well as countries like Pakistan, Malaysia, and Venezuela that may offer a better understanding of political issues around the world. The program also maintains developing partnerships with six more countries, including Japan and Brazil.

Over the 15-week semester, ECU students communicate directly with counterparts in three foreign countries through live video conferencing and chat technology. Institutions are paired so that only two cultures meet at any one time and the pairings are swapped in a round-robin fashion for five weeks each. The course is heavily student-driven, with much of the course work relying on the one-on-one interaction between students.

Leibowitz teaches Global Understanding as an anthropology course. She sees value in the course’s ability to alter the preconceptions students often have about different cultures, as well as the overall effect it has on them as students and human beings.

“This is a course that changes students' lives,” she said. “We have so many students who take this course and then go abroad, and we have so many students who change their majors to something that is more internationally focused, or go on to graduate programs with international focus. It really is quite rewarding for me as a professor to see that these students are really getting something out of this, and by their own desire.”

Since its inception in 2003, the Global Academic Initiatives program has grown to include not only increasing sections of the Global Understanding course, but also a lecture exchange program, jointly taught courses, collaborative international research projects, and collaboration with international affairs. This year ECU will host representatives from many of the program’s partner institutions at the first Global Partners in Education conference May 19–22.

The program as a whole is cost-effective, sustainable, and accessible to the countries it partners with, including many in the developing world. The technological requirements of partner institutions are access to the Internet and a $300 camera. The rest of the technology required to run the program is located on ECU’s campus and operated by ECU faculty and staff. The result is the rapid growth the program has experienced and the diversity of its partners.

“We use regular Internet. That’s the beauty of it. We don’t use satellites, we don’t use Access Grid, we don’t use Internet2,” said Chia. “The underdeveloped countries [we partner with] are very poor—they can’t afford it. This is the best way to bring international experience to everywhere.”

Leibowitz believes that ECU’s success in creating a working model for something the academic community has been working toward is key to the program’s recognition.

“There’s been a big push for institutions to use technology to increase international education, but there’s a lag time between the push, and new programs coming out, and those programs being recognized,” she said.

The IIE Andrew Heiskell Awards were created in 2001 to promote and honor the most outstanding initiatives in international higher education. The IIE awards one winner, as well as honorable mentions, in the categories of Study Abroad, Internationalizing the Campus, and International Partnerships. ECU received its award at a ceremony at the UN as part of IIE’s annual Best Practices Seminar.