Florida International University, or FIU, has been recognised for innovation in preparing its students for living and working in an increasingly diverse world.
The Institute of International Education has honored FIU’s 'Global Learning for Global Citizenship' initiative with its 2016 Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalising the Campus.
'Global Learning for Global Citizenship' is the cornerstone of the university’s internationalisation efforts. The initiative is distinctive in that it engages all students –whether entering as first-time-in-college freshmen or as transfer students – in collaborative global problem-solving within and outside the classroom.
FIU’s global learning strategies enable groups of students to determine relationships among their diverse perspectives and to develop equitable, sustainable solutions for the world’s interconnected human and natural communities.
Our President Mark B Rosenberg believes that global learning sets the university apart and has enabled it to build a multidisciplinary platform where those in engineering or international relations or journalism feel empowered to study the key issues facing the world today and to come up with the solutions to benefit society.
He says: “We’re producing insightful leaders who are making a difference today – before they even graduate – and that’s something we can all be proud of.”
In 2010, FIU implemented a two-course global learning graduation requirement for all incoming undergraduates. Today, global learning reaches every corner of the university. Students can choose from a comprehensive array of more than 160 global learning courses and participate in more than 250 global learning co-curricular activities on campus in South Florida and abroad.
The initiative grew out of an institution-wide effort to reinvigorate the 'I' in FIU. Research had revealed an 'internationalisation gap' – a discrepancy between the high value stakeholders placed on FIU’s diversity and the extent to which diverse perspectives were cultivated in the classroom.
'Global Learning for Global Citizenship' developed to close this gap and to provide FIU with a new means to achieve its mission as a globally-engaged urban public research university.
A survey went out to more than 3,500 stakeholders and the most important finding was that diversity at FIU was perceived as the university’s top strength. The survey also revealed that the university was not taking advantage of the diverse perspectives of students in the classroom. The diversity of the classroom was not being used in the classroom.
Faculty teaching face-to-face, online and on study abroad courses use active global learning strategies and authentic assessments to enable groups of students to grapple with real-world issues.
Whether brainstorming approaches to overcoming healthcare obstacles in Miami or working in-country to increase sustainable access to safe water and sanitation in Burkina Faso, all global learning opportunities are designed to develop students’ global awareness, perspective and engagement.
Assessment and feedback
The success of the initiative is fuelled by customised professional development for faculty, staff, graduate assistants and student leaders, including in-person and online workshops and one-on-one consulting to develop global learning courses and activities.
FIU has also instituted a comprehensive evaluation plan for the initiative, encompassing assessment of graduation- and course-level outcomes and programme goals, as well as methods for continuously communicating results, soliciting feedback and implementing improvements.
Global learning courses are complemented by a robust array of activities and programmes, ranging from a Global Living Learning Community and a weekly global issue discussion series to a Global Learning Librarian and annual global learning research fellowships.
Students are encouraged to take part in student-led organisations such as language and culture clubs, international 'Alternative Breaks' service-learning trips and chapters of international organisations such as Amnesty International, GlobeMed and Students Offering Support.
For students, global learning courses and activities have been nothing short of life-changing. For example, participation in an online global learning course, “Women, Culture and Economic Development”, inspired Florencia Dominguez to learn more about the anti-human trafficking initiative at the International Rescue Committee where she now works full time.
A global learning course in world ethnographies inspired Taisha Gauthier to develop a cultural mentorship programme for young Haitian-American students in South Florida.
And a five-week internship in Nicaragua facilitated by the Office of Global Learning Initiatives helped 19-year-old Ana Correa discover that her true passion was not in developing advertising campaigns – it was helping international communities combat the threat of climate change.
“This opportunity gave me the push to continue learning about different issues, different cultures, and different countries,” Correa says. “Even though I was away for just five weeks, I’m grateful that FIU finds opportunities like this for its students because it opened my mind to the idea of working across cultures to help make a difference and helped me see what it was like to work in the field and make the connections that can help me succeed when I graduate.”
Global learning is the lynchpin of higher education today, directly connecting to the dual purposes of higher education, student success and knowledge creation. It is encouraging to see more and more students at FIU taking action to meet the challenges of solving local and global problems.
Hilary Landorf is Florida International University’s director of the Office of Global Learning Initiatives, USA.
Receive UWN's free weekly e-newsletters