A group of Virginia Tech Ph.D. students recently returned from travels in Switzerland and Italy as participants in a program that offers insights into higher education and the professoriate on the global scale.

The 13 graduate students from Blacksburg were joined by seven counterparts from Switzerland’s Universität Basel to participate in Global Perspectives, an interdisciplinary program developed by Karen DePauw, vice president and dean of graduate education at Virginia Tech. This marked the fifth year of the program, but the first year that students from another country participated.

“Global Perspectives enables graduate students to examine differences in academic practices worldwide and to develop innovative and effective approaches that foster international awareness and education,” said David Kniola, assistant director of Virginia Tech’s Office of Academic Assessment and a coordinator of the program.

During spring semester, the students were enrolled in a graduate course at Virginia Tech on trends and issues in global higher education with particular emphasis on the Bologna Process, an endeavor to restructure higher education in Europe. For the course’s capstone experience, the group – accompanied by DePauw and Kniola – traveled to the university’s Center for European Studies and Architecture in Riva San Vitale, Switzerland, where they discussed the challenges and opportunities facing higher education. 

Using the center as a base, the Virginia Tech students visited Universität Basel, Universität Zurich, ETH (a science and technology university in Zurich), University of Lugano, and Politecnico di Milano – all Virginia Tech partner universities – to meet with presidents, faculty, graduate students, and researchers.  

Students from Virginia Tech and Universität Basel convened at the center for a two-day seminar, during which they explored similarities and differences in their education and research training. Presentations by Diane Houston, dean of the graduate school at the University of Kent in the United Kingdom, and Christoph von Arb of TRIPLEYE research consulting group in Switzerland, framed the conversations that later took place. The event culminated in the signing of a Global Perspectives Declaration, copies of which were given to the presidents of the universities involved in the program.

Students from Universität Basel then departed for the United States to visit Virginia Tech and a range of universities that included the University of Virginia, Howard University, Hollins University, and New River Community College.

In June the Global Perspectives program culminated in a conference at the Swiss Embassy in Washington, D.C. The conference was attended by representatives from several universities, foreign embassies, and higher education organizations. Teams comprised of students from Virginia Tech and Universität Basel presented their findings on teaching, learning, research, and scholarship.

“Global Perspectives is an important experience for students who participate in Virginia Tech’s Transformative Graduate Education initiative,” said DePauw. “The program is designed to foster change in the preparation of graduate students as the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists, and career professionals. We’ve received considerable international attention because of this program, and our alumni have identified its importance in their early careers.”

Since its inception in 2006, Global Perspectives has involved 65 students, representing all eight of university’s colleges and more than 30 academic degree programs. The Virginia Tech Ph.D. students who participate are funded by the university’s Graduate School. 

The 2010 Virginia Tech Global Perspective students, all residents of Blacksburg, and their disciplines are

  • Sean Coleman, sociology, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Jennifer Cover, rhetoric and writing, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;
  • Sunny Crawley, biological sciences, College of Science;      
  • Cory Epler, agricultural and extension education, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences;
  • Nicole Fahrenfeld, civil and environmental engineering, College of Engineering;
  • Tara Frank, higher education, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;     
  • Kemal Gökkaya, forest resources and environmental conservation, College of Natural Resources and Environment;
  • Andrea Ludwig, biological systems engineering, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and College of Engineering;    
  • Emily Martin, psychology, College of Science;
  • Reza Montazami, materials science and engineering, College of Engineering;  
  • Corrine Sackett, counselor education, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences;    
  • Sunarto Sunarto, fisheries and wildlife sciences, College of Natural Resources and Environment; and
  • Lisa Tranel, geosciences, College of Science.


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