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Chancellor Cecil Staton accepts the Senator Paul Simon Award during the NAFSA Presidential Panel and Awards Reception Nov. 15 in Washington, D.C. From left to right, Richard Stengel, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, looks on as Marlene Johnson, NAFSA executive director and CEO presents the award to Dr. Staton. Also photographed is Martin Simon, son of the late Senator Paul Simon, right. (Photos courtesy of NAFSA)


ECU receives national recognition

Nov. 16, 2016

By Jamie Smith
ECU News Services

East Carolina University’s chancellor, Dr. Cecil Staton, joined six higher education leaders in Washington D.C. for a panel discussion on topics in campus internationalization. 

The Presidential Panel, hosted by NAFSA: Association of International Educators on November 15, consisted of presidents and chancellors from institutions awarded the prestigious Senator Paul Simon Award for Campus Internationalization.

The Simon Awards are granted through NAFSA and recognize outstanding and innovative achievements in campus internationalization. ECU was among seven colleges and universities nationwide selected for the award. 

ECU received the Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award that honors a specific international program or initiative that contributes to comprehensive internationalization on campus. Global Academic Initiatives (GAI), a unit within Academic Affairs, earned ECU the award. Other universities recognized in this category include University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Texas Tech University.

The panel participants discussed how to expand access to the global learning opportunities that graduates need in order to succeed in the world economy. During the panel discussion, Staton touched on the GAI program’s ability to give students with limited financial resources the ability to have an international experience at ECU. 

“The program removes the barriers to studying abroad. Using technology, our students have access to meaningful interactions with peers around the world,” said Staton.

The GAI program at ECU partners with 62 institutions in 33 countries to provide an interactive, student-driven global experience for approximately 300 students each semester. 

“By giving students these experiences early in their college careers, we target freshmen - it helps increase further international education,” said Staton. “We hope that by planting that seed, the students realize they can have an international experience before leaving ECU.”

Since GAI’s inception in 2004, more than 17,000 students have participated in the program’s activities worldwide. GAI's largest section is Global Understanding, a course where students work with three distinct partner institutions for three to four weeks. Students lead real-time discussions about college life, family and cultural traditions, meaning of life and religion and stereotypes and prejudices. Sixty percent of the class time is spent in video connections with students from other countries. 

"This is not a class, it is an experience," said Meg Matthews, a sophomore majoring in public health. "GAI put a focus on trying to better interactions between people with differences which is extremely important in our globalized world." 

NAFSA Executive Director and CEO Marlene M. Johnson said, "This year's winners exemplify a diversity of unique and shared approaches available to higher education institutions. The 2016 Simon Award institutions prepare our students for success in the thoroughly interconnected environment in which global learning is becoming a prerequisite to success, both in the classroom and beyond." 

The award is named for the late Senator Paul Simon of Illinois, a strong supporter of international education and foreign language learning. For more information, visit


Dr. Staton joins leaders from other Simon award-winning institutions to discuss campus internationalization.