Driving a global University

The November 2021 UMRA A.M. audience was treated to an exceptional presentation on the international education of students at the University of Minnesota by Meredith McQuaid, associate vice president and dean of international programs. Dean McQuaid explained the goal of global competency for students, and the need for life-long learning and global experience for all.

The program she leads at the University is one the largest and most successful in the country. In fact, 33 percent of University graduates have an international experience during their education compared to a national study abroad average of 3 percent. This means that literally thousands of University students spend educational time in more than 60 countries. Dean McQuaid is the University’s foremost internationalist.

View the slides and a video recording of the November 2021 UMRA A.M. with Meredith McQuaid.

She spoke about three topics: the internationalizing of our community, the effect of COVID-19 on international programs, and the U’s system-wide initiative focused on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted by the United Nations in 2015.  

Global competency
McQuaid said the goal of global competency is to “demonstrate the knowledge, skills and perspectives necessary to understand the world and work effectively to improve it.” This is done not only by sending students abroad and recruiting students from other countries—both of which occur in large numbers at the University—but also by preparing students to go abroad and by working to integrate foreign students. Programs created by the dean’s office provide preparation seminars, assistance to faculty, and social opportunities for resident students from other countries.  

Second, McQuaid played a short video depicting the impact on the University of the COVID-19 pandemic. The effects of the pandemic on students were both professional and personal. In January 2020, there were 6,005 international students on campus and 980 students departed for overseas programs. Within months, China, Korea, and Europe all shut down travel. By March 15, 1,000 University students returned to the U.S. from 67 countries, and many international students were stranded here because of travel restrictions. 

Happily, these programs are coming back. Last spring, 200 students went overseas on University programs, and the international student population has rebounded to about 5,000 students.

Third, McQuaid spoke about the UMN Sustainable Development Goals Initiative. The U is a national leader in adopting the SDGs and integrating them into teaching and research across the University of Minnesota System. As she noted, these are unique goals because they are both local and international and are supported by private sector collaborations and by work with Aurora, a network of nine research universities in Europe.

We also learned that McQuaid would be one of the higher education representatives to participate in a trade mission led by Governor Tim Walz to the United Kingdom and Finland later in November.

Finally, in response to questions, McQuaid explained that she became interested in international matters as a result of several influences. These included participating in a language program in China shortly after the country opened up to foreign visitors in the late 1970s, and a 13-month, 36,000-mile around-the-world motorcycle trip she subsequently took with two American friends. These unique experiences fit neatly with her linguistics and law degrees from the University and helped to prepare McQuaid for her role as a University leader.

—Bill Donohue and Barbara Shiels, UMRA Program Committee members

Publication date: 
November 13, 2021
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