Internationalization priority for NKU

President James Votruba, Provost Gail Wells and a specialized task force are working to internationalize Northern Kentucky University’s campus.

The topic surfaced during Votruba and the Board of Regents’ annual retreat at the beginning of this school year. This discussion included ideas such as increasing the number of international students and their integration into campus, as well as internationalizing our learning and curriculum to provide students with a non-American perspective.

John Hudzik presented the subject to some faculty members at 2 p.m., Oct. 2 in the Otto Budig Theater. Hudzik is vice president for global engagement and strategic projects at Michigan State University and a criminal justice professor. He has been a leader in the effort to integrate international perspectives into every aspect of campus life.

According to Hudzik’s recent studies, with new technologies abound, the United States is globally more interdependent than ever. Knowledge of outside countries is critical for competition in the now-globalized world, and the United States is lagging in international education. In his studies, Hudzik states a large percentage of 18 to 25-year-olds still cannot identify Iraq or Afghanistan on a map. Hudzik said if the United States believes too much in its prior accomplishments, it will falter in the next generation.

“I don’t think that we can pretend to be graduating educated people if, when they graduate, they know nothing about the world outside of our national boundaries,” Hudzik said. “If we serve to graduate educated people, we need to take the introduction of international, comparative, and global content into the curriculum.”

According to Hudzik, there isn’t a model of how to internationalize, but he recommends universities expand their curriculum, recruit and integrate international students and scholars on campus, ensure access to and quality of language instruction, educate the faculty and encourage domestic students to study abroad.

“If we don’t step up to the plate, somebody else will,” Hudzik said.

Internationalization of campus will require clear and consistent leadership, incentives and rewards for those who engage and contribute to it and, of course, money, Hudzik said.

Foreign language enrollments average less than 8 percent in the United States and only 3 percent of students study abroad prior to graduation. One reason is because the curriculum is too constrained and students can’t fit the classes into their schedules. One way to improve this is to eliminate requirements for majors that are unnecessary. International, comparative, and global content should be introduced to every major in a relevant manner. Too often, institutions take “the easy way out” when making changes to curriculum and add extra classes required for each major, Hudzik said.

“This is not so much a new thing that we need to be doing, but a change in the way of the things we’re already doing,” Hudzik said.

Following the presentation, Debra Pearce, chair of the biology department, suggested students take a foreign language as part of the curriculum, and e-mail a pen-pal with a similar major, who lives in a country where that language is spoken.

Students frequently do not study abroad because of financial reasons, Hudzig said. Offering partial scholarships is a powerful incentive for students to get the remainder of the money from other sources. However, loss of income while abroad is still a problem.

He said once a campus begins to internationalize, students “will lead the demand for change.”

Without university prompting, NKU’s student government declared two of their 2006-2007 goals as increasing study abroad opportunities and funding and increasing the number of interdisciplinary studies that focus on other countries.

According to Elaine Jarchow, chair of the specialized task force, it met for the first time Sept. 29. The group will meet once a month to develop a plan they feel is right for NKU. They will then recommend these options to the provost and president to prioritize.