UAA crosses cultures with growing international program

The University of Alaska Anchorage wants to add an international flavor to its curriculum mix.

“Broadening perspectives and learning other ways of thinking is just the kind of mind and attitude expanding experience that a university should provide,” said Theodore Kassier, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.

Nov. 12 – 18 marks the First International Education Week, declared by Secretary of State Madeline Albright and Secretary of Education Richard Riley. UAA is celebrating with a week's worth of events.

Included in the events is a roundtable discussion with faculty and community members about what to do with a $320,000 matched grant from the U.S. Department of Education, which UAA received earlier this year.

The grant will be used to develop international studies at UAA and raise the visibility of international studies, Kassier said. The roundtable discussion is an opportunity for community members to suggest exactly how the program should be developed.

“We want to know what the community wants us to do. It is easy for the curriculum to be faculty-driven rather than student- or community-driven. When it's a fit, that's great; but it's not necessarily a fit,” Kassier said.

Strong international influence is particularly important in Alaska.

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“The U.S. has a history of isolationism. We are so large and self-sufficient that we run the risk – especially here – of being closed and narrow minded,” Kassier said.

There are also practical reasons for having an international viewpoint.

“We live in a global economy. Look at how interrelated our economies are now. Different economies have huge impacts on other economies,” Kassier said.           

UAA currently has a start on international studies with the Languages Department, Political Science Department, Canadian Studies, the American Russian Center and the Global Logistics Program. However, Kassier wants to tie the parts together.

“There are a bunch of individual pieces, but because they remain individual, they don't have the visibility or the interrelationships,” he said.                 

A cohesive international studies program will benefit students. “There are a fair number of international students on campus and that is another reason for UAA to build this program,” Kassier said.

As part of the current program, UAA has an international language section designated in the residence halls. Foreign language tutors live in the hall to help provide a “foreign language friendly” environment for international students and students studying other languages.

Kassier also wants to see the international exchange programs developed.

“We should be featuring the exchange program. Right now we don't really have confidence in the infrastructure to be confident that we can give students what they need,” Kassier said. The problem lies in the understaffing of the international exchange program, he said.

In addition to serving students and starting new programs, faculty is encouraged to “infuse the international, non-Western, non-Euro-centric into their curriculum.” Annually, several faculty members from different departments are sent to the East-West Center in Hawaii.             

“The idea is that they develop new courses. The faculty needs to keep learning things. It helps people to have information to develop new courses and introduce international material,” Kassier said.