Becoming Citizens of the World
A new program in LAS helps students gain a global perspective.
On summer nights while growing up in western Illinois, Mary McKenna would often gaze at a wall map in her bedroom and imagine the journeys she would someday take. The Mason City LAS senior, who is juggling a triple major of English literature, Spanish, and international studies, says that because her five older siblings all attended U. of I. and studied abroad, "it wasn't a question of if I was going abroad, but where." As a student in LAS, McKenna eventually studied a year abroad in Cork, Ireland, and in Granada, Spain.
The experience of living in another country so profoundly influenced how she sees herself and her culture that McKenna is now helping other students broaden their world perspective.
McKenna is a Global Studies intern—one of 52 accomplished juniors and seniors in LAS who are mentors for undergraduates interested in international issues. She is also a key component in LAS's new Global Studies Initiative. The interns assist freshmen as they adjust to U. of I. life and help them develop their awareness of global issues.
"We help them find opportunities on campus to become more aware and involved in global issues," McKenna says. "This program makes it a priority to know about current events in other parts of the nation and the world. It doesn't have to be something separate from the education that this university offers."
Launched in 2004 by LAS and now offered to students campuswide, the Global Studies Initiative is U. of I.'s acknowledgement of an increasingly borderless planet. The program offers seven 100-level courses that have been revamped and enhanced so students can have an introduction and understanding of world cultures and globalization. The program also features a "cross-course lecture series" with prominent figures from politics, media, and the arts. For instance, among this fall's speakers were Ted Rall, a journalist and cartoonist with Universal Press Syndicate, and Rajmohan Gandhi, grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and a visiting professor in LAS. A bonus for the students is preferential registration in six courses abroad held over winter break so they may experience life in another country.
The Global Studies interns work under the direction of Sharon Scott, associate director of the LAS Teaching Academy, and several teaching assistants to run LAS 101, the weekly class linked to the courses. Within these small groups, the interns help acclimate the students to U. of I. by creating a supportive environment and teaching practical skills for success, such as time management. These activities are integrated with discussions and team research projects that develop the students' ability to think and write critically about global issues. Recently, McKenna's class discussed how domestic and international interpretations of Hurricane Katrina were in conflict.
Charles Stewart, as an LAS associate dean and now interim associate provost for international programs, helped conceive and plan the program, which has few equivalents at large research universities. He says: "The program sends a message to our undergraduates that their undergraduate career, like their future, will be played out on a global stage."
Stewart says U. of I. is the right place to study globalization. He points to a recent study by the Institute of Higher Education at China's Shanghai Jiao Tong that ranked U. of I. the 25th best university in the world. The high ranking, Stewart says, is "an extremely significant assessment of U. of I.'s reputation in China," and a recognition that the University is an international institution that incorporates the rich diversity of the world into all levels of its curriculum.
McKenna, who is contemplating a career in international human rights law, believes the future depends on us being informed global citizens. "It means being conscious not only of your own country or your own little area. Everything we do affects someone else across the world. This program is very important toward realizing that."
By Stephen J. Lyons