UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN River Falls
It’s energizing to discuss exciting and important ideas with people who really care. I was reminded of this just prior to spring commencement when I invited a group of eight highly successful UW-River Falls alumni from around the country back to campus for a two-day Thought Leaders Retreat. The topic was global education and the future of UW-River Falls.
Knowing that there was a lot of leadership experience and brainpower within this group, I asked them to think big. They were challenged to grapple with some audacious potential goals for the university including aspiring to have 75% of our students engage in a study abroad experience, ensuring all graduates demonstrate a global perspective and high level of intercultural competence, and establishing “global” as a major element of our institutional brand. It was inspiring to watch the reaction of this group of alumni leaders as they interacted with faculty, staff and students, and shared their own thoughts on the importance of global experiences. They encouraged us to pursue our goals with renewed intentionality, breaking down barriers for students, and ensuring we have a robust system of benchmarking and metrics to track our progress. Interestingly, they recommended we emphasize the global impact of UW-River Falls (we don’t often think in those terms, but we should). One poignant moment was when Matthijs Hierink, an international student from the Netherlands, stated matter of factly that he planned to use what he learned at UWRF to “change his country” and that his perspective when he returns to his small town in the Netherlands will no longer be local, but now global. No one doubted him one bit.
Some of the Thought Leaders discussed their own personal experiences, including building relationships with international students when they were students at UWRF or participating in the university’s first education abroad program: Quarter Abroad: Europe, led by Dr. Robert Bailey. It led me to reflect on my own early international experiences, including how building deep friendships with fellow graduate students from Thailand, Taiwan and France over 30 years ago (while enjoying Thousand Year Old Eggs and Kimchi) helped me to begin to understand and ignite an interest in different cultures, belief systems, and world views.
In a world in which differences and lack of understanding can easily divide people, it is these personal people-to-people experiences that will foster understanding, mutual respect, and growth.
Building on the insights of eight of our distinguished graduates who took the time to give back to the university in a unique way, it is my hope that UW-River Falls can continue to grow these life-changing opportunities—for the good of our campus, community, and world.