Our Shared Future

Preparing Brenau students for the global world at our doorsteps

Asign at the Georgia Welcome Center on I-85 that reads, “Georgia Welcomes the World,” serves as a great reminder as Brenau University faculty prepare students to live extraordinary lives, including leading and thriving in a global workplace.

The world has indeed come to Georgia. According to the state’s Department of Economic Development, international development last year in Georgia was a $3.3 billion investment, creating 6,428 jobs — 46% of the total new
jobs — at 77 locations. And this global growth at home is expected to continue as the I-85 and I-985 widening projects make the Northeast Georgia region even more attractive to global companies.

“As more countries become developed countries, the need for global cultural competence is a crucial skill,” says Brenau University President Anne Skleder. “Our students must be prepared to function and lead in a global economy that has come to our doorsteps. Fortunately, the university has been engaged in international experiences for decades through student and faculty exchange opportunities and more recently through our partnership with Anhui Normal University in China. While these efforts will continue and become more robust, we also are mindful that 60% of our students are Pell eligible, which means many of them cannot afford to travel abroad and as many are working to help make their college education possible.”

Brenau President Anne Skleder takes a tour of Anhui Medical University during a trip to China in 2019.

Skleder says that the goals for Brenau’s internationalization efforts
include exposing domestic students to a global perspective and allowing international students to experience a high-quality American education within a close-knit campus community.

The university must continue to be a part of the global community, Skleder says, as it seeks to educate more students who come to Brenau from other countries. She adds that the university will continue to build on Brenau’s China partnership while expanding into other parts of the world. “We will engage a balanced approach to this initiative in order to ensure sustainability in this effort as we serve students with a 21st century education,” she says.

The next piece in the internationalization puzzle is Latin America and the Caribbean, including Panama, Costa Rica, Peru and Mexico. Skleder says this is an ideal region for a number of reasons including growing economies, a demonstrated financial investment by many of these governments in bilingual and higher education, and the close geographic proximity. Many countries in this region place a high value on education, and they view the American higher education system as the best in the world. Skleder says that a Brenau partnership is especially appealing because of the university’s history in providing access to qualified first-generation college students.

“The spirit of access born in The Women’s College is today writ large across the entire university,” she says. “Today, diverse groups are represented in our student body that previously had not had access to an undergraduate or graduate degree. Many of our students are the first in their families to earn a degree, and we know education changes lives and the trajectories of families. Serving these populations is part of the core of what Brenau is today and should help propel us into our shared future.”

Mexican Consul General Javier Díaz de León and Brenau University President Anne Skleder celebrate the signing of an agreement for a grant that awards scholarships to students of Mexican origin.

In the past year, Brenau has entered into agreements with government agencies in Panama and Mexico. The memorandum of understanding with the financial aid agency in the government of Panama paves the way for a variety of exchange programs for students and faculty. In North America, Brenau is focusing on Canada, where steps have been made to facilitate joint programs of study with students from Centennial College in Toronto who will have opportunities to be residential students at Brenau.

An agreement with the Mexican Consulate in Atlanta, which has been renewed for another year, provides scholarships for students of Mexican heritage as part of the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (IME Becas) scholarship program. The university was awarded a grant to provide $5,000 one-time scholarships to four students the first year and seven $2,000 scholarships for this year. All but two of the scholarship recipients are from Hall County. This kind of scholarship support for Hispanics in the local community goes hand-in-hand with the university’s larger internationalization efforts.

Enhancing education through international experiences

Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs Jim Eck says that having international students on Brenau’s campus enriches the college experience for all students and faculty.

“By hosting international students on our campuses, faculty, staff and students are introduced to perspectives that may differ from the typical American experience,” Eck says. “In academic settings, faculty continually improve instructional methods based on the tools that are most effective for student learning. By including students from other cultural backgrounds, such as educational systems, this challenges our faculty to enhance teaching skills in ways that may not have been considered previously.”

Eck says that when domestic students are introduced to cultural differences it enables them to have a greater respect and appreciation for diverse populations and those who may have a different view than what is typically experienced in American society.

“Classroom discussions, group assignments and cocurricular activities are all enhanced by the wide variety of contributions that are provided with the presence of international students,” he says. “This then enables our students to have the skills necessary to succeed in careers or further education where multinational collaborations are increasingly common.”

From left, Bryan Sorohan, Brenau professor of education, gets help deciding on his Chinese name from Anhui Normal University partnership students Yue “Hazel” Wang and Yumeng “Cheryl” Wei during a 2019 event at Brenau’s Center for Chinese Culture & Language.

Faculty members also benefit from international experiences and exposure says Andrea Birch, dean of the College of Fine Arts & Humanities. “These experiences serve as great reminders to faculty to acknowledge the complexity of global problems and the need to work collaboratively with others to develop solutions that will make the world a better place for future generations.”

To assist in Brenau’s internationalization efforts, the university recently hired Rosi Ponce to serve as executive director of international strategy and partnerships. Reporting directly to Skleder in her newly created role, Ponce is charged with leading a comprehensive, strategic and integrated approach to internationalization in order to facilitate academic exchanges through travel and virtual means.

Ponce said that one of the qualities that drew her to Brenau is the university’s intentional approach to campus internationalization.

“Learning to live with difference until it does not make any difference is an important effect of our intent as education happens through interaction.”

Rosi Ponce
Brenau University executive director of international strategy and partnerships

“Brenau’s approach allows for both a deeper and broader educational perspective while promoting a more inclusive environment, one that welcomes and values diversity,” she says. “Learning to live with difference until it does not make any difference is an important effect of our intent as education happens through interaction.”

Ponce says the goal of her work is to provide every undergraduate and graduate student with at least one global experience, regardless of field of study, residential or commuter, male or female. She says that many of
those experiences can be virtual.

“We know that not everyone will be able to have a global experience that includes travel abroad,” she says. “Because of this, we continue to work to create opportunities to engage with highly reputable universities in order to facilitate virtual exchanges such as video conferencing, internships, academic research, conversational partners for foreign language acquisition, service learning and more. These tools will ensure that internationalization becomes one more tool at our disposal to bridge the existing equity gap in institutions of higher education in our country in which global experiences are only attainable by a small percentage of the student population.”

From left, Stephanie Reyes, Valentina Pabon and Tatiana Rojas were among several international Brenau students who gathered for a dinner in their honor in 2019.

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