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Sullivan Outlines Vision to Establish U.Va. as a Leading Global University

In her first address focused solely on global affairs, University of Virginia President Teresa A. Sullivan lauded U.Va.’s study-abroad leaders for their many years of service and laid a framework to further U.Va.’s goal to become a leading global university.

Speaking Monday afternoon in the Rotunda Dome Room to a large crowd that included deans and vice presidents, Sullivan said U.Va.’s new strategic planning effort and other key developments have provided a new and important opportunity for the University to further define its global identity and aspirations.

“At the same time that our strategic planning begins, we have a committee looking at degree options for global studies,” she said. “These efforts give us a new opportunity to define U.Va.’s global identity and to describe our global aspirations.”

The president was speaking on the first day of International Education Week 2012, a U.S. government initiative that places national focus on the need to prepare American students for the global economy and to attract the best-and-brightest students and scholars from other nations to the United States.

Sullivan outlined the advances made since the Virginia 2020 strategic plan, which set out ambitious goals for improving the experiences of undergraduate students at the University in many areas, including international education. 

“Initiatives that emerged from Virginia 2020 recommendations include the International Residential College; the Center for American English Language and Culture; the Shea House, which is a language house for students who study less-commonly taught languages; and the Vice Provost for Global Affairs position, now occupied by Jeff Legro.”

Globalizing the Student Experience

The inter-connectedness of nations and economies demands U.Va. prepare students for work, life and leadership on a global scale, Sullivan said.

It is very possible students will be working across borders in their professional lives. “Today, to work for an American company may well mean that you spend a good part of your life stationed abroad or working with groups from around the world who meet on Skype, and in other ways being concerned with supply chains and customers who are not inside the boundaries of the United States,” she said.

To better prepare students for that environment, the entire student experience at U.Va. must be infused with global influences, beginning when students arrive on Grounds and carrying through to career services and alumni life.

Sullivan said the University offers funding to encourage faculty to add a comparative global dimension to their courses. In addition, Executive Vice President and Provost John Simon, who talked of the importance of students being able to lead in a global society at Fall Convocation, has commissioned a University committee to create a Global Studies BA, MA, and executive certificate. 

Sullivan said it is vitally important that a “majority” of students study abroad for a full semester. Nearly 2,000 students studied abroad in the last academic year. “We know that longer programs have greater payoff for students,” she said, citing a survey by Semester at Sea – of which U.Va. is the academic sponsor – that showed that 97 percent of students considered their semester abroad to be their most meaningful.

She noted controlled studies of students that showed those who studied abroad outperformed their peers in creative, complex and analytical thought. “Students who study abroad not only learn about the world, they learn to be better thinkers,” she said.

Sullivan said being a university president has also become a global job. “Last spring, I traveled to Asia for events with alumni, parents and students in Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai and Singapore.

“Today, I did an interview about Thomas Jefferson and the University with China Central TV. And tomorrow, I am traveling to Germany to deliver a speech to the League of European Research Universities,” she added.

Why the trip to Germany? “The leaders of these universities invited me to come talk to them about the fate of research universities in the U.S. and abroad … because their concerns are the same, in many ways, as our concerns. We are all part of the community of global universities.”

The Global Academical Village

Sullivan addressed dozens of faculty, whom Legro acknowledged individually for their dedication to providing students quality study-abroad opportunities for 10, 20, 30 or more years.

“We have the opportunity now to build on what you have accomplished through your study-abroad programs – to conceive a global Academical Village that carries the best qualities of our University to the corners of the world,” she said.

“This might mean creating ‘global pavilions’ in key regions that extend the model of the Academical Village into the world. It might mean having multiple outposts abroad with full-time representatives as ambassadors of our commitment. It might mean having spaces in other countries where students and faculty gather for teaching and discussion, perhaps connected to online learning programs,” she said.

Sullivan said Thomas Jefferson was an original global thinker who provides the perfect template for advancing the University’s goal to become a leading global university. “We’re continuing a tradition of attentiveness to the world that began 200 years ago, and our founder offers us a model for global awareness and global engagement,” she said.

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