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Building a World-Class University Positioning Virginia Tech to Compete in the International Arena

By Patrick R. Liverpool

Spectrum Volume 18 Issue 09 - October 19, 1995

(Editor's note: Recently, Provost Peggy Meszaros asked Patrick Liverpool, vice provost for international outreach and international programs, to prepare a position paper outlining the direction of international programs at the university. Following is the text of that presentation.)


When we speak of Virginia Tech as a world-class university, we are essentially addressing our potential rather than arrogating where we are at present. We are not suggesting that the presence of strong international programs would automatically lead to an institution being a world-class university. On the other hand, it is interesting to note that every outstanding institution of higher education in this country has a global focus as an integral dimension of its mission.

Students at these institutions are prepared with the requisite skills and competencies to live and work in a global society. The faculty conducts research, discovers new knowledge, and shares this knowledge across the globe. It is paradoxical, but true, that when an institution achieves the stature of a world-class university, the distinction between international and domestic totally collapses. Virginia Tech certainly aspires to be and is capable of becoming a world-class university.

This goal is not the product of a dream piece but has been a shared vision of many in the university community for some time. For example, one of the recommendations in our last self-study states "that the university [should] take concerted action, which includes the commitment of required resources, to recognize and fulfill its global responsibility as a leading institution of higher education in the United States."

The question for us-and the underlying theme of this symposium-is: "How can we get there?" In this context, I will share with you a strategic model that is guiding our efforts to internationalize Virginia Tech. There are seven elements to this model. These include

1) Internationalizing the curricula;

2) Increasing student exchanges;

3) Increasing the number of international students;

4) Implementing faculty development and exchanges;

5) Utilizing information technology;

6) Collaborating with external constituents; and

7) Advancing international development.

Let's discuss these seven dimensions in the context of where we now stand and some of the issues that should be addressed.

Internationalizing the Curricula

As we discuss the process of internationalization, it is imperative that we maintain our focus on one of the fundamental rationales for international activities. And that is the total education of our students. And at the core of the educational process is the strength of our curricula.

In 1991, former Provost Fred Carlisle commissioned Michael Appleby to prepare an inventory of courses with international content. It was documented that out of a total of 1,764 undergraduate courses, there were 66 (or 4 percent ) with international content. There were also 203 graduate courses with international content. This constituted 9 percent of a total graduate offering of 2,309 courses.

It is interesting to observe that at Michigan State in 1992-93, some 6,800 undergraduates enrolled in nearly 500 courses with substantial international/global content.

Since 1991, we have made some progress in making international knowledge an integral part of our students' educational experience. For example, effective this academic year, Area 7 of the core curriculum: Critical Issues in a Global Context, is now a requirement for incoming freshmen; the Office of International Research and Development has instituted an international-development specialization open to all graduate students; the Pamplin College of Business has instituted an international business concentration; and the proposal to establish a School for Public and International Affairs is a commendable response to the challenge of educating our students to understand an increasingly complex world.

The momentum in this direction is encouraging. Nevertheless, I believe a critical element in internationalizing the curriculum is the strength of our language programs. As John Foster Dulles observed almost 50 years ago, "It is not possible to understand what is in the minds of other people without understanding their language, and without understanding their language, it is impossible to be sure they understand what is on our minds."

We need to take steps to increase the scope and depth of language instruction and course offerings. This is not only an issue for the College of Arts and Sciences but the university community as a whole. It is not unusual for some of our peer institutions to offer classes such as Japanese for business students or engineering classes that are taught in German or French. We should explore the feasibility of infusing languages and/or international elements across all courses.

As former Gov. Gerald Baliles asked rhetorically: "How are we to sell our products in a global economy when we neglect to learn the language of the customer?"

How are we to open overseas markets when other cultures are only dimly understood? How are our firms to provide international leadership when our schools are producing insular students?

There is much work to be done in furthering the globalization of the curriculum. The responsibility for the curricula is in the faculty domain. We in administration can only encourage and create incentives for this process to occur.

In this context, the Center for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching, directed by Terry Wildman and the University Office of International Programs, will be sponsoring a workshop on internationalizing the curriculum on November 10. This is a small, but important, activity in what ought to be a more comprehensive, sustained approach to the institutionalization of global content in the curriculum.

Increasing Student Exchanges

While internationalization of the curriculum is a key element in developing a global mind-set among our students, it should be complemented by cross-cultural and practical experiences abroad that educate students about problems and issues that cut across specific disciplines and regions of the world.

Studies have shown that study- and work-abroad programs result in life-changing experiences for our students. These students tend to develop greater awareness of world affairs, greater maturity and interpersonal skills, and a reluctance to perpetuate cultural stereotypes.

Many of our students do not study abroad, and most have not considered this as an option in their educational experience. Approximately 250 (or 1 percent) of Virginia Tech students study abroad each academic year. Once again, to put this in perspective, I turn to Michigan State with more than 90 programs that annually send more than 1,200 students abroad. Currently, about 20 percent of University of Pennsylvania students go overseas, and the goal there is to raise that to 40 percent over a five-year period.

Let me point out that we have had and continue to have several excellent study-abroad programs that were developed through the initiatives of individual faculty members. These range from the perennial programs in England sponsored by Jim Owens to Joe Scarpaci's pioneering programs in Cuba and Chile. Over the years, several faculty members of the Pamplin College of Business have taken their students on study-abroad programs to locations in Japan, China, Russia, and Europe. And the architecture study-abroad program has been ongoing for more than 25 years.

Administratively, we recognize the need to take a more deliberate approach to support the study-abroad efforts of our faculty. Last January, with the appointment of Lyn Gray as director of international exchange programs, was the first time we've had someone with the full-time responsibility to focus on study-abroad activities.

With the establishment of the Center for European Studies and Architecture (CESA) in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, we intend to dramatically increase the number of students studying abroad. CESA is in its third year of operations.

Enrollment in the program continues to increase, and presently, we are operating above capacity. This semester there are 45 students, and we expect the same number in the spring. With Herb Stoevener's stewardship, Dixon Hanna's financial wizardry, and divine intervention, we intend to make CESA a viable entity.

It is a beautiful facility. Two weeks ago, I was privileged to spend a few days at the center. I attended classes taught by professors Deland Anderson and Glenn Bugh. The students had just returned from a field trip to Paris. In one class, they were discussing the work of Rodin within the context of Descartes' philosophy. I was impressed with the students' enthusiasm as they asked profound questions and engaged in a very lively discussion on this topic. The fact that they had visited the Louvre and several other museums and historical sites in Paris brought a different dimension to their learning that I believe would not have occurred if this same lecture had been given in Blacksburg. Several students mentioned to me that the program was the most meaningful experience of their lives. I am not sure how one measures that particular outcome in dollars and cents.

To be sure, the center is a study-abroad enclave-a safe haven for our students who are first-time international travelers. This is not unlike Wake Forest's operations in Venice, London, and Spain; William and Mary's in Florence; Stanford's in several developing countries; or JMU, Pepperdine, Duke, Miami of Ohio, and several other institutions with programs in Europe.

We recognize the need to complement this mode of operation with programs that will allow students to immerse themselves in the culture of the host country. We need to address the issues of accessibility and affordability to ensure that every student at Virginia Tech would have the option to study abroad.

If we are to provide our students with a global education, we must move beyond Europe as a destination point for our study abroad experiences. We must create opportunities for students in the sciences and other technical and professional disciplines to study abroad. And we must link the international exchange experience with the curricula and as part of the normal uninterrupted process of acquiring a degree at Virginia Tech.

Increasing the Number of

International Students

Another important dimension of internationalizing the campus is the number of international students attending our university.

In the 1994-95 academic year, Virginia Tech enrolled approximately 1,340 international students from 101 countries. In all, 1,139 of the international students are graduate students and 201 are undergraduates.

The greatest percentage of international students-44 percent or 588 students--are studying in the College of Engineering. Another 20 percent are enrolled in the College of Arts and Sciences. Only 9 percent are business majors.

The presence of international students provides economic benefits to our universities and communities. In 1993, international students spent $6.1 billion for tuition, books, and board in the U.S. They spent an additional $3.6 billion on supplies and entertainment. The U.S. Commerce Department ranks the education of international students as the fifth largest export service in the United States-behind freight transport but ahead of banks.

It is estimated that the cost-of-living expenditures of the more than 8,000 international students in Virginia approximated $72.5 million in the 1994-95 academic year. Relatedly, Virginia Tech's international students incurred $13 million in cost-of-living expenditures in the Blacksburg and surrounding areas.

Of course, our goal must transcend the economic incentive of recruiting international students. These students enrich the lives of our domestic students, faculty, and our community. They contribute to the intellectual strength and extend the global horizons of American students both in the classroom and through social interactions. They are educators-and are a vastly under-utilized resource for teaching languages and culture to our faculty and students, the public schools, and local businesses.

We need to employ a more deliberate strategy to better integrate international students into the overall life of the campus.

The low number of undergraduate international students suggests an opportunity to increase our recruitment efforts in this area. These students are here for a much longer period with the possibility of staying on for graduate studies, and they tend to be more involved in the total life of the campus and the community.

Implementing Faculty Development

and Exchanges

At the core of all of our internationalization efforts is our faculty. Their understanding of the increased globalization of knowledge and their commitment to discovering the international dimension of their respective disciplines are critical to the success of Virginia Tech's international activities.

Richard Wood, president of Earlham College, observes that American scholars need to understand how much their reliance on American and European models of their disciplines has distorted their view of the world. It is suggested that the pursuit of knowledge obliges scholars to cross geographic and academic boundaries in order to overcome scholarly ethnocentrism.

As both the quantity and quality of scientific and technological research in other countries have improved, American self-sufficiency in such matters has eroded. In more and more fields, scholars will find it essential to keep up with developments abroad by traveling to conferences and collaborating with scholars from other countries on joint projects.

Many of our faculty members are internationally recognized in their areas of expertise. Over the years, individual faculty members have crisscrossed the globe working on a variety of projects. Let me very quickly give you some examples of these activities.

A professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine conducted research on pregnancy toxemia in Belgium. Another did research in Argentina and Columbia on the development of techniques for monitoring brucellosis in livestock herds.

A geology professor has done work in Iceland on geophysical sensing related to volcanic eruptions.

One of our leading research chemists is directing a major project that is looking at the medicinal properties of plants in the forests of Surinam.

Two of our faculty members in the College of Forestry and Wildlife Resources have won the outstanding research award presented by the highly respected International Union of Forestry Research Organizations.

Another of our professors is world renowned for his research on composite durability and life prediction of polymers.

The bottom line is that the success and accomplishments of comprehensive research universities, such as Virginia Tech, will be assessed increasingly by the extent and quality of their international focus and scholarship.

We need to create incentives to encourage faculty members to pursue international scholarship and professional development. This would mean removing the unintended punitive consequences of our reward system, which tend to affect junior faculty members disproportionately. Perhaps some consideration can be given to "red-shirting" assistant professors so they are not penalized by the tenure process for overseas tours that enrich their teaching and research.

Utilizing Information Technologies

With the Blacksburg Electronic Village, the Virginia Tech Library Systems (VTLS), and the proliferation of PC's on campus, Virginia Tech's reputation and capabilities in technology make it possible for us to explore creative ways of generating and disseminating knowledge beyond geographic boundaries.

I recently read about a fascinating initiative at the University of Arizona called the "mirror project." It allows you to enter a conference room where there is a circular table and three large screens on which you watch other people in Tokyo, London, or Paris enter their similarly arranged rooms. Since the screen is large, it looks like everyone is sitting at one large table. This technology allows a classroom to include participants from around the world. Researchers can now sit down together in a virtual classroom for face-to-face interaction.

My colleague, Erv Blythe, vice president for information systems, informed me that we have the capabilities of implementing such an initiative.

Taking this technology to its logical conclusion, the notion of location-dependent education in international study takes on a different meaning. These encounters can partially make up for gaps in the experience of students who do not or cannot go abroad and who lack substantial academic contact with people from other countries.

Collaborating with External Constituents

One of the three elements of Virginia Tech's mission is outreach-providing service to the external community. It is important that we help not only our students, but also our citizens to understand the system of dependencies that eventually impact every citizen.

The fact is, the economic well-being of the U.S. is inextricably linked to the world economy. Four of every five new jobs in the U.S. are generated as a direct result of foreign trade. In 1992, 10.5 million workers in the U.S. owed their jobs to merchandise and service exports. Virginia has over $6 billion worth of direct investment by 570 foreign firms. This accounts for over 59,000 jobs in the commonwealth.

An educated citizenry is necessary if we are to successfully profit from the challenges of an interdependent world.

Virginia Tech places considerable priority on its role of service to the community and state. We must ensure that the international aspect of our outreach is sufficient to meet the community's needs. One way to do this is through public conferences and forums involving business, industry, and other sectors. Another way is to join forces with local civic organizations that are actively involved in international activities, such as the YMCA, Rotary Clubs, and the Lions Clubs, to present programs that will enhance the overall climate and international awareness in our community.

We also need to develop strategies to forge alliances with our international alumni. They can serve many valuable functions for the university: recruiting students from their respective countries, returning to the campus to lecture, using their professional networks to benefit the university and the business community, and arranging or hosting faculty and student exchanges. Harvard, for example, in its Venture Abroad Programs, makes use of a network of 1,400 alumni advisors in 74 countries to generate short-term employment and internships overseas. The potential is here for us to pursue similar strategies to collaborate with our external constituents.

Advancing International Development

In the area of international development, this university has had a very strong reputation since the days of Howard Massey. This legacy continues under S.K. DeDatta's excellent and aggressive leadership of the Office of International Research and Development. We are currently participating in several major overseas projects with total commitments of more than $20 million.

These include a $7.5-million, five-year grant awarded by USAID to a consortium of institutions led by Virginia Tech to address integrated-pest-management issues relative to horticultural crops in seven countries.

In yet another USAID-financed project, Virginia Tech scientists are working with Egyptian and Israeli scientists to eliminate crop devastation by a broad spectrum of parasitic weeds.

Fred Krimgold of our Northern Virginia office is the principal investigator of a $2-million, USAID-funded project to develop technologically oriented small businesses in Russia.

We are also very active in Albania, working with the government to achieve food security in Albania through a market-oriented economic-restructuring program. Virginia Tech's primary role in this project is to reorient the economic understanding of the agriculture economics faculty at the Agricultural University of Tirana.

These are merely a smattering of examples of our faculty's involvement in international development.

I know S.K. is working very hard to involve more faculty members from a broader array of disciplines in international-development activities. This is not an easy task given the fact that international service has not counted sufficiently in promotion, tenure, and merit decisions.

We are also facing the external realities of increased competition for funding from a declining resource base at USAID. Here again, creative strategies would need to be employed to tap the resources of the World Bank, Asia Development Bank, and other multilateral agencies and foundations.


We must overcome many challenges if we are to reach our internationalization goals. We have to address the familiar challenge of resource limitations and the need for us to bring more focus and direction to our international effort, and we need to convince some students, educators, state legislators, and decision-makers that international education is not superfluous, exotic, elitist, or a fad.

I believe that an over-arching challenge for us is the creation of what Maurice Harari of Cal State University (Long Beach) refers to as an international ethos on campus. Having many international students on a campus does not make our institution international. Having some courses on Asia, Latin America, Africa, or Europe in the curriculum is certainly helpful but not sufficient to make us international. What does make it truly international is a composite of conditions.

It is a faculty with an international commitment striving to internationalize its course offerings. It is the presence of an obvious institution-wide positive attitude toward understanding other cultures and societies and learning more about the political and economic interdependencies of humankind. It is a genuine interest in interacting with representatives of other cultures and societies, a genuine desire to understand the major issues confronting the human and ecological survival of this planet, and learning how to cooperate with others across national and cultural boundaries. It is a genuine interest in seeking solutions to world problems, irrespective of one's own career, profession, or station in life. Where such a positive international awareness and commitment exist, they inevitably translate themselves gradually into the curriculum and the institutional ethos.

Our strategies for truly internationalizing Virginia Tech will require a commitment from each of you and from our colleagues who were unable to attend today. It will take all of us, working together, to make Virginia Tech the world-class university it wants and deserves to be.