About Global Engagement

WMU is dedicated to graduating students who are "locally oriented and globally competent, culturally aware and ready to contribute to world knowledge and discovery." Globalization has changed the world our students will emerge into as graduates. The largely unimpeded flow of people, investment, goods, services, and knowledge has diminished the importance of borders. "Control over territory is of lesser importance than the control of and access to all kinds of markets, the ability to generate and use knowledge, and the capacity to develop new technology and human resources…" (citation). Uncertainty is the new norm and the ability to navigate our complex world and workplaces is essential to today's graduates. They can enhance their prospects for thriving both as global citizens and as professionals by globalizing their education.

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Why should students be globally engaged?

Solving today's problems requires international cooperation. Intercultural communication—whether at the level of nations or the interactions of small groups of people—requires knowledge and skills that global awareness can provide. Students need to be globally engaged because the United States is globally engaged (as is any country). Roughly three quarters of world purchasing power and over 95 percent of world consumers are outside America's borders (citation). A Pew survey found that "growing numbers of Americans believe that U.S. global power and prestige are in decline. …most Americans say the benefits from U.S. participation in the global economy outweigh the risks. And support for closer trade and business ties with other nations stands at its highest point in more than a decade," (citation). 

Moreover, global awareness and experience are integral to career success. More than three-quarters of employers (78 percent of those surveyed in one study) agree that "all college students should gain intercultural skills and an understanding of societies and countries outside the United States." Fully 96 percent said that comfort in "working with colleagues, customers, and/or clients from diverse cultural backgrounds" is important to them (citation). Another survey found that "two-thirds of teachers (63 percent), parents (63 percent) and Fortune 1000 executives (65 percent) think that knowledge of other cultures and international issues is absolutely essential or very importantto be ready for college and a career," (citation). One report on multinational employers found that they "look for graduates with a wide range of life skills that include awareness of other cultures and mastery of more than one language. They have migrated from being local recruiters for local jobs to being global recruiters for global jobs and careers and now seek employees that are able to work throughout the world, as required," (citation).

Foreign language study

A trite bit of conventional wisdom is that the international language of business is English. Not so. "In fact, English language alone is probably sufficient if all we need to do is buy our products abroad, if we need to purchase foreign goods and services. But when it comes to selling a product abroad, you have to understand the psychology and the belief structure of your client," (citation). Being able to communicate in a foreign language is the gateway to "deep cultural knowledge that cannot be achieved in any other way," (citation). A study for the state of Oregon found that "bilingual employees are valuable not only for their language skills but also for their ability to interact effectively with people around the world in either their first or second language," (citation). Knowledge of a foreign language also increases earning potential.

The federal government has determined that the U.S. is in need of more people trained in foreign languages and has identified a list of what it calls "critical languages" where the need is greatest. Critical languages taught at WMU include Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic.

Studying a second language not only enhances career prospects, but leads to "increased cognitive processes involved in reasoning and problem solving" and has the further benefit of "increased cognitive performance in old age." Some researchers have discovered that the study of a foreign language actually increases brain power. Research has also demonstrated a linkage between language study and performance on standardized exams and even the ability to formulate hypotheses in the sciences.

A final important benefit is the increased likelihood that students will think of themselves as global citizens. It helps individuals become more open-minded and tolerant of difference and more inclined to listen and cooperate.

Study abroad

 Less than 10 percent of U.S. students study abroad (citation). That puts those who do in a unique category.

 Study abroad helps build higher-order thinking skills. Consider:

  • "Research shows that experience in other countries makes us more flexible, creative, and complex thinkers," (citation).
  • "Among students enrolled in an international MBA program, their 'multicultural engagement' – the extent to which they adapted to and learned about new cultures – predicted how 'integratively complex' their thinking became," (citation)
  • "… people with more experiences of different cultures are better able to generate creative ideas and make unexpected links among concepts," (citation)
  • These are skills highly valued by employers. Study abroad helps students cultivate these skills.

 In surveys of senior managers:

  • Sixty—percent of all respondents reported their company’s hiring and promotion strategy acknowledged the importance of a study abroad experience (citation).
  • Thirty—percent of senior managers studied abroad during their careers

  • Skills and related knowledge that received the overall highest rankings included: (1) ability to work in a cross-cultural (globalized) work environment; (2) knowledge and understanding of international systems (language, policies, practices); (3) interpersonal and communication skills; (4) initiative and creative thinking.


Employers cite cross-cultural competence as a critical new human resource requirement created by globalization. "Having a significant level of international experience is viewed by industry as a requirement for consideration. Even in the recent past, international experience would have been a differentiating factor, but today this is a must-have. If a candidate cannot work well globally, his or her chances at gaining employment at a multinational corporation are slim," (citation). As noted above, one survey found that 60 percent of companies considered international experience in hiring and promotion.

But international experience isn't enough; the key is what one leading executive search firm calls a "global mindset." They argue that "leadership demands the ability to see things differently and make tough decisions and most executives would pride themselves on being open to new ideas and alternative viewpoints. But operating effectively internationally requires 'intercultural competence'—the ability to appreciate the differences and similarities betweencultures and what these mean for business globally," (citation).

Although international experience is best, students can achieve a "global mindset" and gain "intercultural competence" through course work and co-curricular activities at WMU.


Globally engaged engineering students must have the ability to function in multicultural teams. They need to have an understanding of international engineering issues and the impact of cultures and society on the field of engineering. Students need a working knowledge of global professionalism, codes of practice and multicultural communication. This provides graduates with a competitive edge in the job market. "Students graduating from an engineering program can expect to work at some point in their career on teams with individuals from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds from various locations in different continents," (citation). "Outsourcing is increasing, not only for products but also for processes, including highly technical engineering work. Projects are distributed across sites and effective collaboration requires professionals who can work productively with colleagues who are very different from themselves," (citation).

Surprising to some, even math has a global dimension. "Mathematicians have often considered internationalization to be a core feature of their subject, acknowledging its rich multicultural heritage and the global endeavor of mathematicalresearch... Current developments and applications of mathematics are made by an international group of research mathematicians with contributions coming from around the globe. International conferences, journals and professional exchanges, and global communication via e-mail and the internet, allow this group of research mathematicians to work together," (citation).

Teacher education

 Future teachers need to be prepared to:

  • Engage students by addressing global challenges.
  • Globalize the context for learning.
  • Connect to universal themes.
  • Illuminate the global history of knowledge.
  • Help students learn through international collaboration.

Employers understand the importance of working cooperatively with clients, partners and affiliates around the world, yet today's high school graduates – especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds — "leave high school without the knowledge and skills to engage in the world effectively and responsibly." As such, "American educational institutions, from elementary schools to professional schools, must be strengthened to prepare students for the twenty-first century challenges to our economy, national security, and society." But "most schools have not responded adequately to the new challenges the nation will face in the twenty-first century. Thus many American students lacksufficient knowledge about other world regions, languages and cultures, and as a result are likely to be unprepared to compete and lead in a global work environment."

The Partnership for 21st Century Skills has underscored the importance of global learning by K-12 students. One of the five attributes that all high school graduates should have is to "be empowered by global competencies and international understanding." Moreover, as noted in a Congressional hearing, "Business may be global but markets are multi-local. And that type of cross-border understanding and cooperation needs to start in K-12," (citation).

Health care

Employers expect health care providers to be able to assess and incorporate into their care cultural variations in vulnerabilities, life style, and values. These skills and attitudes are considered central to ethical health care practice. Future health care professionals need to be prepared to:

  • Demonstrate cultural sensitivity in working with and providing care for diverse populations.
  • Understand and apply information on global health to health concerns such as infectious diseases, health professional migration, and the impact of underinvestment in health system infrastructures.

The World Health Organization (WHO) Department of Human Resources for Health has developed a document that lists, defines and gives examples of global competencies. According to WHO, a health care professional:

  • "demonstrates the ability to work constructively with people of all backgrounds and orientations;"
  • "understands and respects cultural and gender issues and applies this to daily work and decision making;"
  • "relates and works well with people of different cultures, gender and backgrounds;" and
  • "examines own behavior and attitudes to avoid stereotypical responses," (citation).

Programs such as study abroad are recognized as one of the most powerful ways of developing these skills, but students are expected to prepare themselves through courses and extracurricular experiences to meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population. In addition, the International Council of Nurses (ICN) has developed position statements on a wide variety of global health topics, including the impact of poverty, armed conflict, basic human rights, clean water, and refugees on health across the globe. Health care professionals should be aware of these issues and be able to understand their roles in addressing their effects.

Social workers must understand how the global and local intersect if they are to effectively promote human rights and social justice. "The effect of globalization, global migration, disasters, poverty, diseases, and other social problems have made it incumbent on social work education and practitioners to play a principal role in the understanding and clarification of the implications of globalization on the welfare of individuals, families, communities, and nations."

The arts

While the phenomenon of globalization—the signature movement of our age—has been analyzed in political theory, cultural studies, postcolonial theory, political economy, sociology, and anthropology, its impact on the arts is still under-appreciated. There are new forms and new raw materials, new avenues of distribution, dialogues about how art intersects with and challenges today's dominant discourses, and challenges between the haves and have-nots in their access to participate in the global art scene.

Recent decades have witnessed a "proliferation of artistic centers and the growing number of nationalities represented by important modern artists," (citation). Dance genres are no longer confined to their places of origins. Globalization and migrationincrease cultural transfer, resulting in newly created transnational communities who express new traditions and identities through the arts. Fusion in the arts is the new normal. Knowledge of places of origin and their cultural traditions and the skills of cross-cultural communication are no less important in the fine arts than any other field.

How can students be globally engaged?