Preparing Students to Flourish in an Intercultural World

July 1, 2010

As a group of BW students approached Michelangelo's Renaissance masterpiece the David at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, fellow classmates grabbed hold of one student to keep her upright. "She literally got weak at the knees," said Marc Vincent, a Seminar in Europe leader and professor of art history. "She was so overwhelmed."

In 2000 the College revised its mission statement to emphasize the importance of preparing students to become "contributing, compassionate citizens of an increasingly global society." With the goal of expanding intercultural awareness through educational opportunities, BW is furthering its commitment to helping students develop cultural competency.

"A twenty-first century education needs to include skills for understanding and being able to work through cultural differences," believes Judy Krutky, professor of political science and international studies and director of intercultural education.

Today, BW has several ongoing and new opportunities to achieve that goal.

Enduring Questions Builds Foundation for Understanding
Aimed at enhancing analytical skills, Enduring Questions for an Intercultural World is a second-year core curriculum class.  Students are introduced to classic and modern thinkers from the humanities, the natural sciences and social sciences.  They learn to analyze human nature and the ways humans relate to each other and their environment. Through readings and discussion, they reflect on their own beliefs and opinions and those of fellow classmates.  This process enables them to better understand themselves and others. 

To complement the course and enhance critical thinking of modern-day topics, BW sponsors an annual lecture series.  Named in honor of Mark H. Collier, BW's seventh president, it brings to campus nationally known speakers that discuss everything from social justice to racism.  The presentation attracts thousands of students, members of the BW community, schoolchildren, educators and others from across northeast Ohio.

Study Abroad Creates Awareness of Global Community
BW currently offers 30 options for international travel, ranging from exchanges with foreign universities to faculty-led seminars, internships and independent study.  There are 17 formal exchange programs, including partnerships with Hong Kong Baptist University in China, Ewha University in South Korea and Galway Mayo Institute of Technology in Ireland.

The College also sponsors faculty-led domestic and international student tours.  Participants can search for indigenous species in the Galapagos Islands, study sustainability in Iceland and visit breathtaking landmarks in Europe, China and other locations.

"Simply put, studying abroad changes students' lives," explained Christie King Shrefler, director of explorations/study abroad. "It opens student's eyes to different cultures, beliefs, religions, values, and languages and links curriculum to the world beyond the classroom."

Graduate Programs Expand College Reach
In addition to undergraduate opportunities, BW fosters intercultural understanding at the graduate level.  Baldwin Wallace created the first international MBA program in Ohio.  The College also offers business-related travel seminars to China, South Africa and other destinations.

In addition, BW business professors teach students at a university in Brazil. They spend about two weeks at a time offering intensive lessons. As part of the program, the Brazilian students spend a semester on BW's campus and earn a BW degree.

Outreach Program to Africa Fosters Intercultural Community
Besides academics, BW students travel for outreach purposes.  Since 2005 BW has sponsored service trips to Lesotho, a landlocked country surrounded by South Africa. 

"It was profound, intense, educational, emotional and wonderful," described Mila Cooper, BW director of community outreach, about BW's first trip to Lesotho in 2005.  "We helped at schools, constructed a foundation for an orphanage, assisted with painting and repairs at a church in the town of Mohales Hoek, and built several walls for a new church in the town of Mokhotlong, known as the most remote place in Africa.

"And yet," said Cooper, "it was the personal interaction with the people there that had the most impact on them and on us.  Whether it was our host pastor in Mokhotlong who traveled over 10 hours in one day to meet us in Johannesburg, our 'Mother and Father' and young adult hosts in Maseru, our host mothers in Mokhotlong, or the many sweet children we met at the schools, we were all forever changed by our meetings and interactions."

As a member of the American Council on Education Internationalization Collaborative, BW has been praised for helping to develop many of the emerging best practices to promote international and intercultural education.  These practices address what students should be learning and how liberal education should be redesigned to meet the changing needs of the 21st century.Ongoing Efforts Benefit Students
Committed to furthering its own initiatives as well as those within the scope of higher education, BW has been recognized as a leader in ongoing national dialogue on the topic. 

As another credit to its efforts in promoting intercultural education, BW received a grant of nearly $200,000 from the U. S. Department of Education.  The grant will help the College expand its Language Across the Curriculum program into 15 majors and hire a new professor of Chinese and Business to bring non-Western cultural perspectives to current programs.

In addition, BW is working on agreements with three other schools in Vietnam for graduate and undergraduate business programs.  College administrators are also talking with universities in Russia, China and Azerbaijan about potential partnership.

"Today's students need cultural competency," emphasized Krutky.  "They are in a world that truly is interconnected and interdependent.  Building on our strong multicultural and intercultural foundation, we are looking to further our initiatives and make Baldwin Wallace a learning laboratory that builds intercultural awareness and understanding both here and abroad."