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Education and Scholarship

Challenge 5: Developing a Curriculum That Fosters U.S. and International Cultural Competencies

Experience in diverse and international environments is an indispensable aspect of quality education for today's global society.27 Studies show that several benefits accrue to students involved in diversity-related curricular and co-curricular activities, such as "increased cognitive complexity, reduction of stereotypes, multiperspective thinking, and the ability to work in and lead diverse groups."28 Eighty-seven percent of the more than 3,334 students who responded to the 2007 NASPA Profile of the American College Student survey indicated that the "ability to interact with individuals of diverse backgrounds will be helpful after college." However, two-thirds were neutral or only somewhat agreed that they have become more open minded about diversity-related issues since starting college. Employers not only actively seek out diverse hires, but expect from their employees the ability to flourish in diverse and/or international contexts. Thus, this Challenge becomes a key Framework priority, necessary to bring diversity into the heart of our educational mission.

To effectively address this Challenge, we must ensure that we deliver diversity education in a sustained and integrated manner throughout the curriculum on both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Of course, many students, faculty, and staff come to Penn State with significant diversity experience and expertise, and they are immediately capable of making positive contributions both inside and outside the classroom. However, for others, whose previous educational and social environments may leave them less experienced with diversity, we must build understanding, experience, and fluency in cross-cultural competencies needed to thrive as leaders in the multicultural contexts of today's world.

Across the University, and often within each college or campus, the array of diversity-related courses has seen some increase. In summer 2005, the University Faculty Senate established the current General Education diversity requirement of 6 credits, 3 each in U.S. culture and international cultures. Under this new policy, courses that had met the previous 3-credit requirement were recertified as meeting either or both of the new categories and additional new courses were developed. The recertification process confirmed that the majority of qualifying courses were in international competencies; thus, development of a complementary range of U.S.-focused courses remains an area of need. Course offerings for 2007-08 included 268 undergraduate courses with the IL designation, 192 courses with the US designation, 121 courses that carry both designations, and 431 permanent foreign studies (study abroad) courses with the international (IL) designation (397 undergraduate, 32 graduate, and 2 law). Additional courses available on a one-semester basis included 120 undergraduate (74 IL, 23 US, 23 US and IL), nine graduate-level (5 US and 4 US and IL), and 16 law (all IL). Still, course offerings within a college and even within a department are highly dependent on the teaching and research interests of individual faculty members.

One strategy to increase the effectiveness of curricular integration efforts is to approach Challenge 5 in a more comprehensive rather than ad hoc manner. With such an approach, both U.S. and international diversity topics and issues can be better integrated throughout the curriculum in more meaningful ways and diversity courses can better support college and University diversity goals. The Department of English has successfully established a minor in Latino/a studies. The Commission on Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Equity, along with other interested members of the University community, has long advocated for a minor in gender and sexuality studies. Progress has been frustratingly slow. A proposal developed by the College of the Liberal Arts is currently within the administrative review process and is expected to be implemented soon.

Increased interest exists in service-learning courses, which integrate outreach and community service in an experiential learning approach. Begun in 1998, "Rethinking Urban Poverty: The Philadelphia Field Project" was recently awarded the 2008 C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award by the National Association of State Universities and Land-Grant Colleges (NASULGC) and the Outreach Scholarship Partnership. The University Office of Global Programs has also emphasized purposeful course-related approaches to study abroad opportunities, with meaningful international experiences embedded within classes. To help open these experiences to all students, Global Programs offers Diversity Grants-in-Aid to students with high financial need, students from diverse racial/ethnic groups, and students with disabilities. Travel to nontraditional destinations, particularly Africa and South America, is also encouraged. Such experiences are an important component in our internationalization goals. To facilitate further progress, the Equal Opportunity Planning Committee (EOPC) has focused its funding priority on curricular integration and funded several creative programs that create or expand diversity curricula. Many of these programs exist at Commonwealth Campuses.

An additional aspect of curricular integration is increasing the capacity of the faculty in working with diverse populations and diversity topics in order to ensure equitable academic outcomes across diverse groups of students. Just as we must identify and address intergroup disparities where data are readily available, such as graduation and retention rates, we must also gather data and examine disparities on more nuanced strategic indicators, such as teaching effectiveness, student learning, course enrollments, and final grades for selected courses.29 Disparities across demographic lines may be indicative of approaches and requirements that disproportionately affect certain students-for example, low-income, first-generation students or adult learners. The University offers a number of resources for faculty members who are interested in increasing their capacity to effectively reach diverse students and successfully integrate relevant diversity topics into their classes. The Schreyer Institute for Teaching Excellence, Project Meld, Straight Talks, the Africana Research Center, EOPC, and other resources support curricular integration efforts. Given the increasing necessity of cross-cultural competencies in today's marketplace, we must also ensure that diversity-related course initiatives and the pedagogies and research that support them are appropriately valued in the tenure and promotion process.

Formal curriculum can be reinforced and complemented by co-curricular experiences that support academic excellence. Many nonacademic units take very seriously their commitment to contribute to students" out-of-class diversity experiences. Throughout the University, particularly at the campuses, there are numerous examples of resourceful collaboration between Student Affairs and other units in support of courses or groups of courses. Obviously, not every unit is directly involved in providing curricular initiatives or co-curricular experiences, yet many administrative units do recognize their indirect support of this Challenge through efforts such as contributing resources, funding, collaborations, and opportunities that support scholarship in diversity.

Targeted Areas for Improvement:

  • Promote curricular and research initiatives that increase all students" capacity to understand domestic and international diversity issues and live and work effectively within multicultural and international workplaces along with diverse social environments.
  • Infuse diversity issues, topics, and perspectives into undergraduate and graduate courses as relevant to the topic and scope of the course.
  • Emphasize student capacity to understand contemporary U.S. diversity issues within national, international, and historical contexts.
  • Determine whether patterns of intergroup disparities exist in outcomes such as course enrollments and final grades for selected courses.
  • Increase the capacity for diversity scholarship by providing opportunities and resources, such as access to research materials, conference participation, international study, service learning, workshops, speaker series, etc., that support curricular transformation.
  • Support innovative teaching approaches such as service learning and embedded travel experiences, both in the U.S. and abroad, particularly to nontraditional destinations.


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