Latin American universities' faculty members hone skills at Virginia Tech
Faculty members and administrators attended the Graduate School's 21st Century Faculty Training Institute.
The Graduate School’s multipurpose room was home base for 18 Latin American professors and administrators, who participated in the 21st Century Faculty Training Institute at Virginia Tech.
The program, a collaboration between Ecuador’s Universidad San Francisco de Quito (USFQ) and the Virginia Tech Graduate School, explores key themes and pedagogical trends in global higher education and offers the visiting faculty opportunities to network with Virginia Tech scholars and tour the university’s campuses, labs, and facilities in Blacksburg and Roanoke.
Claudia Tobar directs USFQ’s SHIFT Academy, which aims to help professors become stronger teachers and researchers by focusing on inclusion, interdisciplinarity, technology, and many of the topics and skills Vice President and Dean for Graduate Education Emerita Karen DePauw focused on with several Virginia Tech graduate programs.
Tobar said she has noticed the effect the faculty training institute has had on professors who came to Blacksburg for previous sessions. “Each year we have brought faculty here, it has been a joy to witness the transformation.”
The seeds for the Virginia Tech summer training institute were sown in 2015, when DePauw visited USFQ. She was asked to give a presentation to faculty members about the Graduate School’s Transformative Graduate Education Program, designed to change the way graduate students prepare to become professors or professionals outside higher education. The program encourages interdisciplinary research and collaboration across fields, emphasizes diversity and inclusion, and provides professional development opportunities. It has remained the framework for the training institute’s sessions.
The 2022 cohort of Latin American professors was the fifth to visit Virginia Tech, and this year’s sessions included discussions of how faculty members worked during the first years of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Graduate School Dean Aimee Surprenant participated in this year’s Institute as both host and panelist.
"It was a pleasure to host faculty and administrators from Latin America and to brainstorm about the future of the university and how we can draw lessons and adapt from the lessons learned during the pandemic, both good and bad," said Suprenant. "We learned from each other‘s successes and failures and committed to continue to work together to promote positive change."
Tobar said USFQ has worked to expand the number of faculty members who attend the Virginia Tech program. “It has had a strong impact on our community,” she said.
Ana María Garzón, associate professor of visual arts at USFQ, she decided to attend the Virginia Tech program this year because she had heard about it from colleagues who attended past institutes. “I was curious about the experience because it certainly was life changing for those professors. So I wanted to come and see for myself.”
Tobar said her academy has been reaching out to other Latin American universities to include their faculty members in the Virginia Tech summer institute. This year, faculty and administrators from Universidad Austral de Chile and the Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral in Ecuador were among the cohort.
Workshops at Virginia Tech included interactive panel discussions on the future of higher education globally, mentoring, communicating science, inclusion and diversity, interdisciplinarity, and essential skills for faculty. Panelists included administrators, directors, faculty members, alumni, and current graduate students from across Virginia Tech's colleges.
For Pablo Burneo, associate professor of industrial engineering at USFQ, talking with Virginia Tech engineering professors and hearing about the engineering education program affirmed his decision to change the way he teaches engineering. “I felt this program would help me find those gaps that I was missing to improve my teaching, and I think it has done a good job on that.”
The group toured the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; the Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science, with stops at the Drone Lab and Helmet Lab; the Institute for Creativity, Arts, and Technology, with a stop at the Moss Art Center Cube; the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and Global Change Center; and the Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine. At each location, they met with faculty members and students and explored the cutting-edge work underway. But Burneo and Garzón said talking with other members of their cohort from different fields also opened their eyes.
When asked what he planned to do when he returned to Ecuador after attending the Virginia Tech program, Burneo said “I realized, we could do some collaborations with liberal arts or art teachers or economics teachers,” he said. “The first thing is that we are going to start collaborating with other professors that are not engineering related.”
Tobar said that is one of the key goals of the collaboration between Virginia Tech and USFQ. “It’s a chance for the visiting faculty members to get to know more about each other. It may be the first time that an artist talks to an engineer.”
Garzón also said she wants to focus on more interdisciplinary work and on diversity and inclusion “and see how we are going to work better for our diverse students, because they have access, but normally they are not treated as equal.”
Tobar noted that because of the work with Virginia Tech, USFQ now has an innovation and outreach unit that is embedded in the university’s strategic management. “We’ve seen deep organizational changes.”
"It was inspiring to see the excitement and commitment of these educators and how the experience at Virginia Tech helped them to shape and refine their goals," Suprenant said. "We are already planning on-going collaborations and knowledge sharing and I’m confident that, together, we can make the university of the future a better, more inclusive, and inspiring space."