May 16, 2017
Higher education professionals from 20 institutions around the world met at East Carolina University this week for the 10th annual Global Partners in Education Conference.
The conference brought together representatives from colleges and universities participating in ECU’s award-winning Global Academic Initiatives (GAI), which allow students in different countries to virtually meet and learn from each other. The programs introduce students to the idea of studying abroad and provides ways for them to have a global experience without leaving campus.
Jami Leibowitz, ECU’s interim director of GAI, said the Global Partners in Education programs help students better understand themselves and their place in the world, including how to understand, be respectful of, and effectively communicate with individuals from diverse backgrounds.
“Regardless of whether our graduates stay in eastern North Carolina, move to New York or live in Shanghai, they will inevitably face the challenges of working with people who have diverse perspectives and backgrounds,” said Leibowitz.
Attendees came to ECU from countries like Russia, Algeria, France and Lebanon to explore the conference’s theme of global education and regional economic development. While their global partners are on campus, ECU faculty, staff and student volunteers will highlight the international activities going on locally. ECU Provost Dr. Ron Mitchelson was the keynote speaker during the first day of the conference.
“During the conference presenters will highlight the value international education brings directly to a region and the tight relationship between global connections and regional economic development,” said Leibowitz.
They also will discuss how to improve existing programs and develop new programs that will help students gain the knowledge, skills and attitudes they need to thrive in a global economy.
Collectively, approximately 17,000 students worldwide have participated in Global Partners in Education programming since it began 10 years ago. It started with three countries outside the U.S. and now includes 62 institutions in 33 countries. Twenty of those institutions were represented at the conference.
Dr. Femi Olufunmilade from Igbinedion University in Nigeria brought five of his students to the conference to expose them to different cultures.
“We are in an age of globalization. You can’t be an island. We have to reach out to reach our fullest potential,” Olufunmilade said.
One outcome of the virtual learning experiences is an interest among student and faculty participants to pursue study abroad opportunities at institutions they have come to know virtually. Olufunmilade said one of his students has shown an interest in coming to ECU for a graduate program, and another student is pursuing study abroad opportunities in France to broaden his experience for a career as a diplomat, both because of experiences through GPE.
During the opening ceremony, ECU Chancellor Cecil Staton shared that his time at the University of Oxford was a direct result of the opportunity he had to travel abroad as a college student.
“It changed my world and my perspective. It eventually led me to dream about going to Oxford University; otherwise, I would have never thought about the possibility,” said Staton.
Globalization has been one of Staton’s areas of focus since becoming ECU’s chancellor in July 2016. Currently, 12 to 13 percent of graduating students at ECU have a study abroad experience. He told conference attendees he hopes to increase those opportunities but realizes that not all students will have the resources to travel abroad.
“We’ve got to bring the world to ECU. We’ve got to make sure we are a gateway to the world for all of our students whatever their background – and you are a part of that and we are so glad,” said Staton.
The Global Partners in Education organization was founded as a result of ECU’s GAI program. Alla Nazarenko of Lomonosov Moscow State University in Russia expressed her gratitude for a program she says breaks stereotypes and allows her students to become citizens of the world.
“We are grateful to ECU and the founders of the wonderful initiative and to those who serve it with heart and dedication,” said Nazarenko.
ECU’s GAI program was recognized as a 2016 NAFSA: Association of International Educators Senator Paul Simon Award winner, one of the most prestigious awards in international education.