InterVU with Tim McNamara

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tim McNamara, vice provost for faculty and international affairs, recently finished his first year at the helm of Vanderbilt’s international initiatives. VI asked McNamara to reflect on Vanderbilt’s current international activities and to share his vision for the coming years.

VI: It’s been one year since you added “International Affairs” to your title. What has been the most exciting development this year from a personal or professional standpoint?

The year has been an unprecedented learning experience … something of a crash course in international affairs. I think the two most exciting developments for me have been, first, to help build and develop Vanderbilt’s international partnerships, and second, to learn from and work with some very talented and dedicated individuals at Vanderbilt who are involved in international affairs.

VI: Why should we–both an institution, and as individual members of the community–engage in international activities?

Our students will be crafting their careers in a world in which people are interconnected socially, politically, and economically like never before in history. They will be living and working with people from around the world whose perspectives and values are shaped by their cultures, languages, and national histories. Possessing “global intelligence” will be essential for success in this new era. Our job as educators is to help students acquire these global competencies.

Scholarship, discovery, and service to humanity have never been contained by national boundaries, and the problems facing the world’s peoples today—health and disease, political and religious strife, economic instability, environmental sustainability—are too large to be solved by any one country, let alone by any one university. Research in the twenty-first century will be, increasingly, an interdisciplinary, collaborative endeavor, bringing together the minds of the very best scholars worldwide.

VI: How will VU continue to encourage its faculty, students, and staff to be global citizens?

In the Vanderbilt International Office, we are always on the lookout for possible collaborations between faculty at Vanderbilt and faculty at universities overseas, especially with our key international partners. We encourage these collaborations through the Vanderbilt International Office Research Grants. These small grants primarily pay for travel for faculty at Vanderbilt to visit international universities (and vice versa) to explore and develop collaborations in research and scholarship. I often liken VIO to Yente, the matchmaker in Fiddler on the Roof.

We encourage students to be global citizens by offering a wide variety of international educational experiences and by promoting these activities through events like the Global Education Office’s Study Abroad Fair. GEO is proactive in making students aware of the benefits of international education and advising them in choosing appropriate destinations.

VI: Give us a quick snapshot of 2012. In what ways is Vanderbilt already a global university?

We have faculty collaborations at highly ranked institutions throughout the world, more than 100 study abroad programs, and nearly 40% of undergraduates take part in some kind overseas international experience.

A great example of our expanding international presence can be found in Vanderbilt’s emerging relationship with the Emirate of Abu Dhabi. Because we are the world’s leader in the education of teachers and educational professionals, the government of Abu Dhabi approached Vanderbilt when it embarked on its plan to reform its educational system. Faculty from the Peabody School of Education and Human Development are currently working with teachers, vice principals, and principals in Abu Dhabi’s public schools to develop their teaching and leadership skills. This is an unprecedented research opportunity for our faculty, and they are an invaluable resource for Abu Dhabi. This venture allows Vanderbilt to extend its brand to a crucial area of the world, one that is rapidly become an educational nexus between the distinctive cultures of the Middle East, North America, and Europe.

VI: What do you see as Vanderbilt’s opportunities for international engagement? Where do you see the university in ten years?

Our international strategy as three major goals:

  • To establish a global network of strategic institutional partnerships that enables Vanderbilt’s faculty and students to achieve discoveries and innovations in education that could not be achieved otherwise;
  • To enhance the educational experiences and opportunities for all of Vanderbilt’s students;
  • To increase Vanderbilt’s international impact and visibility, and its ability to compete for the best students and faculty globally.

I think our biggest opportunities now are in India and South Asia more generally. This area of the world is growing in importance, yet we have relatively few educational programs there and no institutional partners.

In 10 years, I want to see that Vanderbilt’s international institutional partnerships are thriving, and that our distinctive educational experiences and outstanding programs of discovery and innovation are as well known internationally as they are now within the United States.

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