A Speech Shared at the Swiss Embassy

This speech was shared to describe the Virginia Tech Global Perspectives Program at the Switzerland Embassy on June 21st 2013.

After a series of meetings leading up to our departure, 13 VT graduate students, embarked on a quest to learn more about higher education from a global perspective.  Now, the word quest was carefully chosen, not from a thesaurus, but from a description of education from Sir Ken Robinson, a TED talk icon who advocates for revolutionizing education.  Everything that Sir Robinson says is quite brilliant and I felt that it was important to add his insight in an attempt to make my presentation more interesting.  He explains that a journey takes you to a known destination but a quest is a much more mysterious path of discovery.  He believes that education should be a quest.  And so on May 26th we conveyed in Switzerland not knowing exactly what we would find. 
We had the great honor of conversing with university presidents, professors, students, and staff in France, Italy, and Switzerland.  At each meeting we inquired about the teaching practices and reward systems, job prospects for doctoral students, and the process for completing a thesis.  We asked about student motivation, online education, ethical practices, issues of diversity, sustainability, and the bologna process amongst a million other things.  University presidents graciously shared their time and perspective on higher education.  Rector Lopriano at the University of Basel reminded us of the importance of uselessness and usefulness at the university.  Through this he conveyed the pressures of society on the university.  Professors welcomed us into their labs and described the life of a faculty member at their respective institutions.  A newly hired professor at ETH shared with us that he suggests alternatives and asks questions in his lab much more often than he gives answers.  He also shared with us the innovative possibilities that are cultivated in a trusting and creative community. The graduate students expressed similar struggles in writing a graduate thesis or a book if you’re in the humanities.  University staff members also explained the many administrative changes that have taken place as a result of the Bologna Process.      
As our quest progressed, I found that I had more questions than I had answers about global higher education.  What’s more, is that our traditional views of education were challenged while abroad.  Each visit sparked curiosity and critical thought.  With the help of the Basel students, we were able to further grapple with the purpose of the university in a rapidly changing and demanding society.  We wrestled with the similarities and differences of our educational systems to gain a broader view of the global picture.  We found that each step in the process of molding young minds is inexplicitly linked to the next.  And with each personal revelation, I learned something new about the way I viewed the world.  I think what I valued most between the conversations that we had and the wine we drank, were the times when we challenged ourselves to think about what higher education could be.    
The impact that this quest has had on me remains unclear.  I don’t know exactly what I will do with my newly acquired views of higher education, only time will tell.  But I do know that the experience we had with the Global Perspectives Program was life changing.  I like to say it was a top 10 life experience, but then again I am still young.  I believe that this experience has infused in us a pioneering spirit that we will carry with us throughout our years in higher education.  We will be able to develop innovative and effective approaches that foster international awareness and education.
I hope it is clear that the program provides students with a unique interdisciplinary study-at-home and study abroad experience.  One that promotes professionalism and facilitates the transition of thoughtful graduate students into globally engaged members of the new professoriate.  The program is offered within Virginia Tech’s Transformative Graduate Education initiative.  This initiative pushes the boundaries of traditional disciplinary academic education and provides the philosophical underpinnings for a truly innovative graduate education experience. The initiative aims to significantly change how graduate students are prepared to become the next generation of scientists, educators, scholars, engineers, artists, and career professionals in an ever-evolving global context. 
 In a video we watched last night, Bertrand Piccard, the pilot for the solar impulse said in an address to university students that if you want to be useful you must go beyond knowledge and you must explore. 
I believe this is exactly the purpose of the program, to explore alternative perspectives of higher education and to inspire a seemingly impossible feat, rethinking education for the future. 
Here we are at the Solar Impulse reception at the Air and Space Museum

Here we are at the Solar Impulse reception at the Air and Space Museum

Virginia Tech students and University of Basel students at the Swiss Embassy

Virginia Tech students and University of Basel students at the Swiss Embassy

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