More than ever before, the COVID-19 pandemic is making clear how socially and economically interconnected our world has become. The need for students to be able to appreciate diverse cultures and perspectives, understand the impact of events around the world, and solve problems that transcend borders has never been greater.

Though limited for now by the confines of virtual classrooms, Virginia Tech faculty continue to think beyond boundaries and connect students to different parts of the world. In courses with topics as diverse as water resources, food security, and women and gender studies, students are exploring global issues and perspectives.

Supported by Curriculum Globalization Grants, these courses are the result of an initiative offered by Outreach and International Affairs and the Global Education Office. The grant opportunity encourages faculty to create or revise undergraduate courses by integrating lessons in cross-cultural concepts and global engagement. Grants are $3,500 for modifying an existing course and $5,000 for creating a new one.

“Recent events have shown us that solving global issues often requires collaboration between people from varying backgrounds. To prepare our students to meet those challenges, we are encouraging faculty to think broadly and imaginatively about ways to bring cultural perspectives into their classrooms,” said Guru Ghosh, vice president for outreach and international affairs.

COVID-19 forced the cancellation this spring and summer of Virginia Tech’s study abroad programs, which bring students face-to-face with universal concepts. But even in normal times, these programs may not be an option for all students. “The Global Education Office strives to make studying abroad accessible for all students, but it recognizes there will always be circumstances that prevent students from going abroad. Globalizing the curriculum here in Virginia brings these important lessons into the fold of what’s possible for a majority of students,” Ghosh said.

Since 2015, the grants have been awarded to faculty from more than 20 different departments.

History of Refugees

Brett Shadle, professor and chair of the Department of History in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, used the grant to develop a course on the history of refugees. Shadle says the topic is critical given the number of displaced people in the world today. “How can we claim to address the issues facing displaced people if we don't know what policies have failed in the past, what approaches have historically done more to alienate and hurt refugees than help them?” he said.

Julia Monroe, a 2019 graduate who majored in international public policy, still references Shadle’s course in her current job. “It was one the first times I took a course that was so specialized, and I was grateful to Virginia Tech for offering it. It gave me a new way to think about the international migrant crises,” Monroe said. She currently works for a nonprofit organization focused on immigration reform.

The course also motivated Nala Chehade to continue activities outside the classroom. “Learning about international responses to displaced persons has helped me fine-tune my career plans. I still own most of the textbooks and regularly reference the syllabus and material in my daily work as an immigration paralegal,” she said. Chehade was a volunteer with the Blacksburg Refugee Partnership and graduated in 2018 with a bachelor’s degree in international studies.

Water, Hazards, and Development

Luke Juran, associate professor of geography in the College of Natural Resources and Environment, reframed his water, hazards, and development course. Juran also holds a partial appointment as an associate professor of human ecology of water in the Virginia Water Resources Research Center.

“My course has always woven in international case studies and examples from marginalized and disadvantaged populations, but I sought to do it better. With the grant, I was able to conduct international travel for course development in India and purchase texts and media,” Juran said.

Four of his students published research on the Bangladesh Bhola cyclone and BP oil spill disasters, projects stemming from their coursework.

Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies

Suchitra Samanta, collegiate associate professor of sociology in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, used the grant to purchase documentaries and films for her Introduction to Women’s and Gender Studies course. By supplementing the course with visual content, Samanta was able to address gender in different contexts.

“Visuals enhance the impact of the reading material immensely. I have found that students really want a global perspective. They are connected to the world and want to learn more and go in-depth. They also want to understand what role the United States plays,” Samanta said.

The films Samanta purchased are available at Newman Library for faculty to utilize in their own courses.

Capstone in Global Food Security and Health

Thomas Thompson, associate dean and director of global programs in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, proposed a senior capstone as part of the Pathways minor in global food security and health. The course examines impacts of geography, economics, climate, politics, trade, culture, and policy on food security and health.

The grant allowed Thompson to hire a student assistant to conduct background research and created opportunities to engage with experts and leaders in Washington.

“We live in an interconnected world. Specifically, I hope this course will help equip students to work for companies or nonprofit organizations active in international development,” Thompson said.

The full list of grant recipients and proposals can be found on the Global Education website. Submissions for proposals are currently on hold.

To encourage continuing efforts to globalize the  curriculum, the Global Education Office is partnering with the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning to offer a webinar and virtual toolkit on June 18. Registration information for the Global @ Home: Bringing Global Perspective to the Classroom webinar can be found here.

Written by Rommelyn Conde Coffren