Small steps toward internationalization

By Wayne Wheeler

Building partnerships to increase the global competence of students.

We now live in a time of continuous economic and social change driven by increasing globalization. More and more, the data appear to indicate that the future success of our nation, the U.S. economy and a more civil society hinges upon Americans being able to understand, appreciate and communicate effectively in the presence of national and cultural differences.

Accordingly, community colleges have a responsibility, as the largest and most diverse sector of U.S. higher education, to help ensure that future generations of Americans, “whatever their location, be not just globally competitive but also globally competent, understanding their role as citizens and workers in an international context,” according to the American Association of Community Colleges’ (AACC) bellwether 21st-Century report.

Not to be overwhelmed, AACC provides some amazing examples of internationalization at U.S. community colleges in “Case Studies in Global Education” as part of the AACC International Education Toolkit. The case studies show how community colleges — whether large or small, urban or rural — can engage in substantive and meaningful internationalization.

Yet, while some community colleges are encouraged to implement internationalization initiatives through the support of their local communities and enlightened boards of trustees, others feel constrained by narrower definitions of “community” and more limited perceptions of the American worker in today’s economy.

Local ties

In response to the latter, below are a few suggested partnerships that may be easier for community college to cultivate and leverage to make small steps toward internationalization in order to provide their students with some level of global competence so that they can be good citizens and successful workers in a 21st-century global economy.

The Rotary Club (i.e., Rotary International) is in nearly every U.S. community and boasts participation by many local business and community leaders. It focuses on bringing business and professional leaders together to solve real-world problems and to advance global peace and goodwill. In addition to providing internationally focused service learning and leadership development programs for students, the organization provides scholarships for study and work abroad and international exchange programs. Local Rotary clubs have also helped to facilitate visits from foreign officials, international business leaders and exchange students.

Sister Cities International (SCI) is a citizen diplomacy network that creates and strengthens relationships between cities in the U.S. and in other countries. It would not be unusual to discover that your city already has a sister city in another country. Each sister city relationship is different and focuses on activities and thematic areas important to their respective communities including municipal, business, trade, education, and cultural exchanges and projects. However, the larger goal is to facilitate global cooperation and cultural understanding, as well as to stimulate economic development. The SCI website provides a wealth of information on its programs and services as well as an interactive “city search” database to identify sister city relationships. Notably, in 2015 Kiwanis International entered into a partnership with SCI to jointly engage in youth service-oriented projects and exchanges around the world.

SkillsUSA is a national organization that provides professional and leadership development to career and technical education students — from welding and masonry to megatronics and cybersecurity. It holds regional and national skills and leadership competitions. SkillsUSA is also the official U.S. government-designated representative to the international organization World Skills, which is best known for its biennual competition that brings together national skills teams from around the world to compete and network with counterparts from other countries. In off years, teams often travel to other countries to participate in skills events with their counterparts to show goodwill and share best practices.

This article originally appeared in CC Daily.

Wayne Wheeler

is director of international programs and services at the American Association of Community Colleges.