Selected Speeches

NAFSA: Association of International Educators

May 30, 2019
Washington, DC


Thank you, Dr. Brimmer, for that introduction and for inviting me to speak with you today. Thank you all for being here. And for those of you who were expecting Dr. Burwell as your featured speaker, I do apologize—and I promise I’ll do my best to fill her very large shoes.

This conference couldn’t have come at a more serendipitous time for me. I’ve actually just left UMB’s 3-day Global Health Summit to come down here and speak with you. Yesterday, 300 UMB faculty and staff gathered with their colleagues from nine countries around the world to learn from each other’s work and to explore new areas of collaboration.

Basically, I’ve given this entire week over to global education, and it feels like it was meant to be. So this morning, I’d like to talk with you about the process of internationalization, and some of the opportunities & challenges I’ve faced at my own institution as we go about our work in preparing globally engaged and culturally competent professionals.

But first I have to tell you a little bit about UMB—the University of Maryland, Baltimore—because it differs rather significantly from the universities most of you lead. 


UMB is a public research university in Baltimore, Maryland—just about 40 miles (64 kilometers) northeast of here. Founded more than 200 years ago, we are Maryland’s only public health, law, and human services university, and we confer most of the professional doctorates awarded each year in the state.

We enroll nearly 7,000 students in six professional schools—medicine, law, dentistry, pharmacy, nursing, and social work—as well as an interdisciplinary graduate school that’s heavily focused on the biomedical sciences. Because we are a professional and graduate university, only 14 percent of our 7,000 students are enrolled in baccalaureate programs. The great majority—86 percent—are in post-bacc programs leading to licensure.

So, of course, this student mix differs markedly from, say, our sister institution—the University of Maryland, College Park—which serves as Maryland’s flagship university. Plus, our international scholars at UMB nearly double the number of our international students, who make up a little more than 4 percent of our student population.

What’s more, the nature of our schools and degree programs gives us extensive responsibilities for providing clinical care and legal and social services to the citizens of Maryland—and to populations throughout our region.

And those responsibilities, in turn, affect the academic administration at UMB. Each of our six professional schools is evaluated by an accreditation agency with oversight of that discipline. As such, much of what is centralized at other academic institutions is not routinely centralized at UMB. 

But what we do have at UMB is a long history of global learning, research, and engagement—and we have a huge global footprint through such centers as our Institute of Human Virology and our Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health. These two centers alone have been active for decades in more than a dozen African and Caribbean nations, working at the forefront of HIV/AIDS and vaccine development, respectively, and winning hundreds of millions of dollars in extramural funding. In a lot of ways, UMB is trying to catch up to these world-renowned centers that we house, and learn from what they’ve been doing for so long.


So given that context, I want to talk about my role as a university leader—a leader who recognizes how important our global work is to our faculty and students, and to literally millions of people around the world who rely on it, but one who also understands that we have an obligation to serve people in our home state and our home city.

As a public university supported with state funds, we are rightly asked—by our legislature, by our Governor, by our own neighbors and constituents in Baltimore and Maryland—why we engage in so much global work; why we spend time, attention, and expertise abroad when there’s so much need right here at home; why we go halfway around the world when we can see profound devastation halfway around our block.

And in West Baltimore, where the UMB campus is located, “devastation” is absolutely the right word. These are neighborhoods that a century of red-lining and disinvestment have hurt terribly. Longstanding policies meant to isolate and damage communities of color have done just that. As a result, poverty is endemic in West Baltimore, education is poor, and health is substandard. And so I do understand this impulse to say that we shouldn’t go “looking” for problems when Baltimore has plenty of its own.

But what I say in response to that argument is that “global vs. local” is a false dilemma. It’s not an “either-or” proposition. It’s not a zero-sum game.

Impoverished communities at home aren’t so different from those overseas, and it’s nothing more than arrogance to believe that we can’t learn—from our global partners—better ways of engaging with and serving those who need us the most. It’s a failure of imagination to believe that we can’t—or shouldn’t—freely import and export the best ideas and best practices for serving vulnerable populations, wherever those populations may be. And it’s cowardly to want no international eyes on our own systems—in health, education, economic development, justice, and social welfare—all of which, frankly, could use some work.

I know in other parts of the world, it may seem strange that we in the U.S. are still having this conversation. But our geography has made our isolationism rather easy. Some might live here their whole lives without encountering people from other countries, and without, therefore, grasping the value of intercultural exchange and global learning.

And that ambivalence—that myopia—can be devastating. President Trump, in his State of the Union Address this year, talked about eliminating HIV/AIDS in the U.S.—an admirable goal. And yet months later, his budget proposed a staggering cut to PEPFAR, the most important & most successful global AIDS program ever launched. We learn every day from the work going on in Africa under the aegis of PEPFAR, and to cripple that work overseas is to cripple our own HIV prevention & treatment efforts here at home.

Right now, UMB’s own Institute of Human Virology is treating 50,000 patients with HIV in Africa and the Caribbean, and 6,000 patients back home in Maryland. Dr. Bob Redfield used to be a leader at our institute, before he left to head up the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And he told me a story a couple of years ago that powerfully illustrates the point of global learning.

In Africa, Dr. Redfield found that the people who were already treated for HIV were incredibly good at helping clinicians connect with the people who needed treatment. These patients educated others about the disease, they effectively persuaded them to accept care, and they helped them access that care. Dr. Redfield applied this peer-to-peer model in Maryland—and it works just as well. The strategy was directly transferable—it upped our testing rates and our treatment rates.

And so my first responsibility as president of UMB is to  explain—as often as needed—that investment in global engagement pays dividends locally, as students, scholars, and faculty return home and put into practice the lessons they’ve learned abroad. 


Beyond explaining the reciprocal benefits of global engagement, another challenge for us, and perhaps one unique to UMB, is bringing a University of seven distinct schools—seven rather autonomous schools—together around a vision and a plan for global education and practice.

Over the last several weeks, I’ve been saying that UMB has long practiced “random acts of internationalization.” We had a lot of great programs and projects that grew out of a faculty member’s interest or expertise or global connections. What we didn’t have was an effective way to share those projects with each other, to collaborate purposefully across all seven schools, to really leverage each other’s assets and expertise, to share effective systems, practices, and protocols, and to build out an integrated program of international learning, research, and service.

And so I actually asked our students to begin this conversation for us. Each year, I convene a small group of students to study an issue of importance to UMB and recommend ways to grow our capabilities in that area. Two years ago, I asked this group—we call them the President’s Fellows—to explore Global Literacy. 

The fellows—about 10 students representing almost all of the schools at UMB—really dug into the issue and shared a lengthy list of recommendations. The biggest (and, I’ll admit, the costliest) recommendation was that UMB should join the American Council on Education’s Internationalization Lab. The 18-month program is designed to help participating institutions—who join as a cohort—to clarify their global goals, to build internal support for those goals, and to develop a strategic plan for achieving them.

It was clear to me we needed this sort of structure. So I said “yes.” I laid out the money. And I had faculty and staff from each school sign on to the process. In fact, as soon as I leave here, I’m rejoining the Global Health Summit I mentioned, and I’m heading straight into a strategic planning session. The session involves dozens of our African colleagues who have flown in for the summit, as well as other international partners, and globally engaged faculty from across the University. Once we’re further along in our strategic planning, I’d be honored to update you on how it’s going.


You know, I’m not a global educator. And a lot of what I do is cheerleading. I promote. I proselytize. When I talk about UMB’s ambitions to improve the human condition, I talk about institutionalizing our global work. I talk about ensuring that “global” is woven into the fabric of our curricula. I make our case for internationalization—to the students, faculty, and staff who will take up the mantle of global engagement.

But I also make our case to the University System leaders—our chancellor, our regents—who have oversight of UMB and our sister institutions. And whenever possible, I have those who’ve benefited from global learning make our case FOR me.

At our Board of Regents meeting last month, students talked about their international experiences and how those experiences will shape their professional careers going forward, how those experiences will shape their entire approach to research, engagement, and clinical care and counsel.

A law student, Suhani Chitalia, shared her work in environmental justice, helping prepare environmental litigation cases for residents of a fishing village in Malawi. A medical student, Michael Sikorski, shared his work in Samoa, investigating typhoid epidemiology and genomics. But they didn’t just talk about their work. They talked about the soft skills they developed because of that work. They talked about how the work will make them better professionals here in the U.S. once they begin their own practice. How it’s made them more creative, more flexible, more humble, more attentive, more confident. How it’s made them better listeners, better planners, better collaborators. How’s it helped them understand different populations, diverse populations, vulnerable populations, populations of people whose backgrounds are nothing like their own. Their eloquence spoke far louder than any exhortations from me.

I think one of the best decisions I made shortly after arriving at UMB was to establish our Center for Global Education Initiatives as a central office for building global collaborations across our seven schools. In establishing the center, I set aside a modest amount of funding for grants to faculty and students interested in interprofessional global projects. And interprofessional is important at UMB. We are vigilant about interprofessionalism—vigilant that our students across all seven schools learn with, from, and about each other. And so the global projects must involve students from at least two different schools.

Each year, we support about 10 faculty and 20 students with these grants—for short-term research, training, or service activities that often build on long-term projects we’ve undertaken with close international collaborators. For instance, last year, students from our pharmacy, nursing, and medical schools assessed injection drug use and associated HIV risks in Rwanda. Another group was in Zambia looking at antimicrobial practices at the teaching hospital in Lusaka. Another group was in Costa Rica studying the health ministry’s response to the Zika outbreak in 2016, and comparing it to the U.S.’s own response.

We’ve found it takes only a small amount of money to inspire faculty who are already engaged in other countries to involve students in their work. As I said, this is a modest program, but I know it’s changed how we approach global learning. I know it’s changed the students and faculty who participate. And I know it’s changed how we speak about our global mission and why we have one.

As I just said, I’m not an international educator, and my guess is maybe many of you aren’t either. But I am a leader, and my role in UMB’s internationalization efforts is to learn from our students, faculty, and staff—and to spread the good news of global engagement.

I’ll be honest: We’re not where we’d like to be yet at UMB, but we’re on our way. And I know that as president, my actions (or lack thereof) speak volumes. So I’ll do my part, with full confidence that as we advance our global engagement efforts—as we fulfill our mission to improve the human condition globally—all of us will be the better for it.

Thank you.

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