Local Meets Global

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The new Institute for Global Engagement is giving students opportunities to interact with their communities and their world.

UW Tacoma student Amy Blanchard is in Amsterdam this fall. But she’s not there just to admire Van Gogh paintings and bike along canals (though there may be some of that). Blanchard is enrolled in a study abroad program that focuses on the growing problem of human sex trafficking.

Blanchard is an undergraduate psychology major and Global Honors student at UW Tacoma. And she’s able to do these studies as part of the school’s new Institute for Global Engagement.

A student presents at last year's Global Honors Colloquium.Institute for Global Engagement

This fall brings the Institute for Global Engagement to campus, a unit grown out of the Global Honors academic program but built to expand upon it. The institute will serve as a hub of research and experiential learning about global questions. Officially, the Institute for Global Engagement will launch on Oct. 3, though many of its activities have already begun.

The institute is designed to meet three needs: to increase student access to Global Honors classes, to engage further with the Tacoma community, and to grow research opportunities, especially for undergraduates like Blanchard.

The Institute for Global Engagement came out of the work done by the Global Honors program, UW Tacoma’s honors program established in 2005. “The vision for the institute is to promote and support interdisciplinary collaborations among faculty, students, and community partners that deepen our understanding of the world and that inspire us to engage in solutions for a better society. Two years ago, it was apparent to me that we had a really solid academic core. It was time to dream big and really invigorate the curriculum with experiential learning through deeper involvement with community partners,” says Divya McMillin, director of the Global Honors program.

Increasing Student Access

As a university honors program, Global Honors is rare in its global focus. Students from varied disciplines come together to examine global issues; students majoring in environmental studies, business and more come together to discuss topics from world cinema to global capitalism.

“Local engagement is global engagement, and vice versa,” says Paul Carrington, the Global Honors program administrator and advisor. “…You better know yourself by better knowing the world around you.”

With the creation of the Institute for Global Engagement, Global Honors will expand access to more students. This year, it is increasing the cohort of admitted students to 40 through an additional gateway course. While these students must meet the admissions qualification of a 3.5 GPA, a good GPA alone will not get them in; the program gives equal or greater weight to qualitative factors like diversity of perspective and passion for the curriculum. Core seminars have doubled to meet the increasing demand.

Global Honors also has morphed its curriculum to be more flexible to allow students with strict major requirements to be involved. If students cannot enroll as Global Scholars and meet the full requirements for a minor in Global Engagement, they can instead work toward two other pathways which require fewer core seminars yet maintain the emphasis on experiential learning: Global Leadership or Global Citizenship. In the past few years, the structure of the program has also been made more flexible, so courses can be spread out over three or four years, rather than two.

“We’re striving to include more people,” says Carrington. The program “has evolved over the last 10 years to serve more students and more majors, and we take accessibility and relevance very seriously.”

Students tabling at the 2014 Global Honors Colloquium. Community Involvement – with a Global Perspective

The institute is being created, in part, to build community connections and root this global education in real-world experience. As a port city on the Pacific Rim, Tacoma is a global city – on a smaller scale than New York or London, but a globally connected city all the same. Many local employers are looking to make hires that can thrive in a global marketplace. McMillin says community members have told her, “We need graduates who are demonstrating competencies beyond their disciplinary areas. We need students who really understand the complexity of how the world works. We need students with a demonstrated ability to ask the right questions.”

To that end, the Institute for Global Engagement seeks to help root learning not just in books, but in experiences sprung from globally-focused local partners. The institute will continue to encourage study abroad and will expand the presence of guest speakers and community-partnered faculty in the classroom. This fall, McMillin will team-teach with Brian Golob, Global General Counsel and Chief Compliance Officer of Russell Investments.

“In addition to the professional expertise of our professors, we want to draw on the professional expertise of community partners [and] community leaders to demonstrate to our students that their academic exercises aren’t in a vacuum. They connect to careers and … to community needs,” says Carrington.

The institute also aims to give students the opportunity to get involved in the community through service projects. Two years ago, Global Honors staff organized a day of service open to all UW Tacoma students in partnership with Citizens for a Healthy Bay. Last year, the day of service was organized instead by a Global Honors student.

“We’re trying to encourage our students to be self-sustaining leaders,” says Carrington. He hopes that, with the Institute for Global Engagement’s resources, he will see more “grassroots” activities generated by students.

The Global Honors class of 2014Researching Global Questions

The creation of the institute will also allow Global Honors students and faculty to pursue original research – a rare opportunity for undergraduates anywhere. “We expect the Institute to grow organically, out of the ideas and efforts of the communities it serves. Inherent in these efforts is the potential to scale up,” says McMillin.

The institute’s first major initiative for undergraduate research comes in the form of the Bamford Fellowship in Global Engagement, a fully funded research grant given to up to three groups of two students and an advisor to promote undergraduate engagement, research and service in global issues. The first two teams are already beginning their work.

Amy Blanchard and Melanie Basil, two senior psychology students, received a Bamford Fellowship for their proposal, “Human Trafficking: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Poverty and Prostitution as Contributing Factors,” advised by Associate Professor Carolyn West. While Washington state has passed a great deal of legislation against human trafficking, it still has the 11th highest volume of human trafficking in the country.[1]  Many victims come through port cities like Tacoma. To explore this global issue with local ties, Blanchard is going global, spending her fall quarter in a study abroad program.

The other two recipients of the Bamford Fellowship will study a very different topic: disaster relief. Ganita Hussein, a social welfare major, and Ryan Brookman, an environmental studies student, form an interdisciplinary team, advised by Associate Professor Marian Harris. Their research project “Implications and Importance of Community Involvement in Disaster Relief” focuses on relief efforts in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. Who leads disaster relief efforts – are they community-driven or led by people from the outside? And does that affect the impact of disaster relief?

Looking Ahead

As in any program, it’s necessary to have opportunities for that program’s students. The Institute for Global Engagement however, will serve as a resource for global research and education for the campus as a whole. Look for study abroad presentations put on by the institute as part of International Education Week (the week of Nov. 17), lecture series, and other opportunities for community involvement throughout the year.

Overall, the activities of the institute aim to help students connect to their world and their communities. McMillin says, “At the heart of the institute is the excitement of discovery, a spirit of collaboration, and a desire to develop the ethical reflex while we tackle the world’s most pressing issues.”

Learn more about Global Honors and the Institute for Global Engagement at http://www.tacoma.uw.edu/global-honors/global-honors.

You can also check out other resources that bring global thinking to the local community, such as Seattle Globalist.

[1] Source: “National Human Trafficking Resource Center (NHTRC) Data Breakdown, Washington State Report,” [http://www.polarisproject.org/state-map/washington].


Written by: 
Abby Rhinehart / September 10, 2014
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Media Relations, johnbjr@uw.edu, 253-692-4536