The University of Texas at Tyler Magazine - Fall 2010
Addressing the Need for Global Awareness Across Campus
Students and faculty of The University of Texas at Tyler are no strangers to success.
Graduates from UT Tyler routinely out-perform students from other universities on state licensing and field exams in engineering, nursing, education and chemistry.
Patriot athletes have won six American Southwest Conference championships, 15 American Southwest Conference East Division and overall championships, and 71 ASC All Academic Team awards.
And groups like the debate team and Patriot Talon student newspaper continue to rank high in state competitions and national listings.
So when faculty members were asked to find an area of deficiency that the university could target as a Quality Enhancement Plan, they were eager to conquer new ground. The QEP search was part of UT Tyler’s 2010 accreditation reaffirmation process by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, an occurrence every 10 years.
“We were looking for an area of need in our student body,” said Dr. Robert E. Sterken, chairman of the QEP Council. “We issued a general call for ideas and close to 100 were submitted.”
Dr. Sterken, who is also UT Tyler assistant provost for international programs and associate professor of political science, said the QEP discussion actually began in 2005. “It has been a campuswide, faculty-driven, collective effort to come up with something that would change students’ lives,” he said.
One of the ideas submitted not only struck a chord with faculty but also uncovered a need on campus – for global awareness.
Dr. R. Stephen Krebbs, senior philosophy lecturer and director of Asian studies, and Dr. Barbara Haas, director of the doctoral nursing program, worked together to propose an initiative called Global Awareness Through Education.
Uncovering a Need
“We have a lot of students from East Texas who are not globally aware,” Dr. Krebbs said. “At the same time, we are moving in every possible way toward a global community.”
To obtain an accurate assessment of global awareness on campus, Dr. Sterken issued a global perspectives inventory to 540 freshmen to gauge their feelings and knowledge about other cultures.
“Our students were below the national average in every area,” Dr. Sterken said. “Our students have been sheltered from exposure to others for the most part. A lot of the students hadn’t traveled anywhere past Shreveport and Dallas. One faculty member referred to it as the ‘pine curtain.’ ”
Dr. Rodney H. Mabry, UT Tyler president, said, “Global connectedness is unprecedented and is already changing the world for our students. It will change how they interact with each other and how they understand one another. We need to make our students fully aware of the global marketplace for goods – and for ideas.”
Dr. Sterken said GATE will benefit every student. “I think any student with any degree will benefit from the exposure to global perspective. Having a global perspective and understanding and appreciation of other cultures and ideas makes your job easier. And if you allow it, it transforms the way you think.”
For the Students
Traveling is eye-opening, Dr. Haas said. “I remember the first time we took nursing students to Guatemala with Refuge International. It was a life-changing experience for these young people. But a lot of our students will never leave East Texas. How can we make them globally aware? GATE will heighten awareness that we don’t live in isolation. Whether engineers, health care workers or computer technicians, we interface with people around the world because of technology.”
Changing the culture on camps will give students an understanding that will not only provide an advantage in the global marketplace, but personally as well, she added. “There is also a service learning aspect to the program. The global learning community will have a project each year to help others. That changes character and appeals to this generation. They are interested in doing things for other people. And there will be opportunities for more students to spend a semester abroad.”
Faculty members were not alone in their enthusiasm for the program. “The students were onboard with this,” Dr. Haas said. “They wanted to be more aware.”
Alina Dolzhenko, a political science major at UT Tyler, said, “I think it’s really great for people to travel to other countries and have the opportunity to fall into another culture and be able to experience it from different angles. That’s important to any major.”
Originally from Ukraine, Dolzhenko has studied in the United States for six years. “I think that trying to globalize the campus is a great idea,’’ he said. “The study of languages and study abroad programs are so important and I think UT Tyler is already on a great path.”
UT Tyler senior Kenisha Schuster, also a political science major, said, “Global study is important to remove yourself from having a small point of view. If you get to go abroad, you get a broader worldview.”
GATE will bring a global perspective into focus for students through a three-pronged plan:
Learning Community – A global learning community will consist of domestic and international students who will live and learn together for an intense, two-year program of study and service.
Core Curriculum – Professors across campus, especially those teaching core classes, will be challenged to add a global theme or element to their curriculum.
Study Abroad – Students from the learning community will take their final classes of curriculum as sophomores at an overseas location. UT Tyler will also offer more opportunities for students to study abroad.
Attracting Top Students
The GATE initiative will be an important recruiting tool for quality students, Dr. Haas said. “I see this as a huge draw. It is one more thing we can use to attract students to UT Tyler. There are already some wonderful things, but I think this will bring students here that wouldn’t normally have considered UT Tyler.”
Dr. Sterken agreed. “It is common now for my office and the administration office to get questions from parents about what opportunities we have for students to study abroad,’’ he said. “It makes us more attractive to the students.’’
Faculty members say they are excited to turn what has been a deficiency into an asset for incoming students.