September 1, 1998
Usually limited to a group of honors students with the means and the will to stay in Europe for an entire year, the Tulane/Newcomb Junior Year Abroad, the university's flagship study-abroad program, has served a small percentage of Tulane's top-notch students for more than 40 years.
"It's great when a program has been and is working successfully," says Gail Bier, executive director of the newly created Center for International Studies.
But among Bier's first tasks will be an assessment of JYA and other Tulane's international study abroad programs. "What are the goals?" asks Bier. "Why do we want students to have this experience? What are we trying to achieve in the students' educational process? What are we trying to teach them through the education-abroad experience?"
It's not enough for students just to be able to say they've been abroad, says Bier, who has done doctoral and post-doctoral sociological research and taught in Spain for 16 years. "We want to go much deeper than that," she insists.
The opportunity to study and live in a foreign culture, to work in unfamiliar situations and to problem solve within different parameters than American students normally encounter is an educational experience that Bier believes "every person who graduates from Tulane should have." A primary value of education abroad, according to Bier, is that "you learn to move your cultural perception of world reality outside the United States. It's enormously enriching for people's personal and professional lives. It broadens their minds and allows them to make more informed and creative decisions."
To begin the job of extending study-abroad opportunities to more of Tulane's undergraduates, the energetic Bier will meet with the deans of all 11 of Tulane's schools and colleges in her first few months on campus.
"The possibilities for education abroad are found throughout the university," says Bier. "The first part of my job will be to understand the variety of existing programs. With this information, the Center for International Studies can serve as a resource for information about the different international activities offered throughout the university."
From this information base, Bier will then work to in- crease the number and types of education abroad programs for undergraduates. Bier's hiring and the creation of the international studies center--which will be housed in the established JYA office, 116 Newcomb Hall--resulted from a breakthrough project initiated last year and led by Teresa Soufas, dean of the faculty of the liberal arts and sciences.
"We realized that one of Tulane's strengths," says Soufas, "was the many international programs that enhance the academic experience--junior year abroad, semester programs, short programs, summer programs, student and faculty interchanges. But there was no entity to keep track of all this."
Yet Bier and the new center will do more than coordinate and organize information about Tulane's existing international study programs: they are part of a commitment to put Tulane ahead of the globalization of education game, says provost Martha Gilliland, to whom Bier reports.
"We want to expand beyond what we traditionally think about as one-year-abroad," Gilliland says. "Both in terms of design and location."
While Gilliland expects Tulane to continue to sponsor programs in Europe, she wants programs extended to Asia, Latin America and Africa. Gilliland says, "We want Tulane to be viewed as a place to go to school to become a competent global citizen. With international experience, our students will lose a sense of parochialism and become better contributors to society. And, more pragmatically, such experience widens their employment opportunities in the global economy of the future."
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