Last week, the Association of International Educators, known as NAFSA, handed out awards recognizing the achievements of eight US universities and colleges in implementing innovative international education on campus. 

The 2015 Senator Paul Simon Awards were presented on February 24th to the eight schools, which range from small private colleges to major public universities with tens of thousands of students. The prestigious awards, which honor schools for both comprehensive and individual efforts to increase international education, highlight a number of diverse strategies, from using technology in groundbreaking ways to expanding English language instruction. 

Across the board

Simon Awards are divided into two main categories. The first, the Simon Award for Comprehensive Internationalization, recognizes “excellence in integrating international education across all aspects of college and university campuses.” This year, it went to five schools:

Mount Holyoke College: Womens’ college Mt. Holyoke, located in western Massachusetts, has made a strong commitment to international education, pledging in 2013 to fund a summer research or internship experience for every student. In addition, the college has also strengthened its international opportunities through its McCulloch Center for Global Initiatives, Global Scholars-in-Residence and cross-cultural instruction. 

North Central College: Little North Central College, in Naperville, Illinois, was recognized for a number of achievements, including nearly tripling its number of study abroad programs, creating an English Language Institute, almost doubling international student enrollment over eight years and offering more funding for international research. 

University of Delaware: The state university saw payoff for its Path to Prominence strategic plan, implemented in 2008, which encouraged the university community to “foster knowledge and awareness of the economic, environmental, political, cultural and social issues that face the world, and the skills to address them.” It was also praised for other developments, including the establishment of an Institute for Global Studies and the re-opening of a house that serves as a central locationg to coordinate international activities. 

University of San Diego: As a nationally ranked Catholic university, the University of San Diego is dedicated to preparing ethical and compassionate leaders inspired to create lasting social change in our global society.

University of Virginia: The award came at a convenient time for the university, as it is in the process of implementing its Cornerstone Plan, which has defined increasing global capacity as one of the school’s strategic goals for the next five years. The university “has made a commitment to highlighting internationalization in its 2020 strategic plan, and made significant effort to internationalize the curriculum, paying specific attention to international student enrollment,” said Rebecca Morgan, senior director of media relations and advocacy at NAFSA.

Under the Spotlight

The second category is the Senator Paul Simon Spotlight Award, meant to highlight “a specific international program or initiative that contributes to comprehensive internationalization.” Three schools received a 2015 Spotlight award: 

Rice University: Rice, in Houston, Texas, was selected for its Brasil@Rice office, which works to increase collaboration and interaction between students and professors at Rice and those in Brazil. The office, established in 2012, offers a dual-degree doctoral program with the Universidade Estadual de Campinas in Campinas, Brazil, as well as research partnerships with other Brazilian universities, support for Brazilian faculty and students at Rice and travel grants to visit Brazil. 

Virginia Commonwealth University: This university, located in Richmond, Virginia, took home an award for its VCU Globe living-learning program, which combines coursework, extracurricular activities and a residential experience to prepare students for living and working in a 21st-century global environment. According to VCU Globe director Dr. Jill Blondin, the program is designed to “prepare students who can mediate across personal and cultural borders and engage local, national and global communities to affect positive results.”  

Wake Forest University: Wake Forest, in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, was recognized for its Workshop on Intercultural Skills Enhancement (WISE), a skills-based conference aimed at helping faculty, program coordinators, student advisors and staff develop appropriate knowledge and skills in order to support study abroad students

The Simon awards are named for the late Senator Paul Simon, from the state of Illinois, who was a strong advocate for the value of international education and foreign language learning for US students. 

In a press release, Marlene M. Johnson, NAFSA Executive Director and CEO, described the honorees as “outstanding models for how higher education across the country can and must innovate to prepare our graduates for success in today’s increasingly complex and interdependent world.”

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