This fall, the UW–Madison School of Education’s Global Engagement Office (GEO) is celebrating its fifth anniversary.
The GEO supports the School of Education in thinking, working, innovating, and partnering with individuals, communities, and groups around the globe. It is the only office of its kind on the UW–Madison campus that is dedicated to serving a single school or college community.
“I am so impressed by what the GEO has accomplished in five years,” says School of Education Dean Diana Hess. “It was created with an ambitious plan that had multiple goals and got off to a very quick and strong start. That momentum has continued as evidenced by the many achievements of the GEO and the ways in which their work has become embedded in the daily work of the School of Education. I am especially appreciative of the creative and hard work done by the staff, faculty, and students who have led and worked in this office and across the multiple initiatives.”
Hess identified global education as a strategic area of interest for the School of Education in 2016. She called upon Nancy Kendall, a professor in the Department of Educational Policy Studies, and Kate McCleary — then an evaluator and researcher with the Wisconsin Center for Education Research — to develop the School’s Global Education Strategic Plan. The Global Engagement Office, launched in fall 2018, was formed to put this plan into action.
“The recommendations Professor Nancy Kendall and others outlined in their comprehensive review of global engagement work in the School of Education laid the foundation that became the GEO,” says Adam Nelson, who with Li Ching Ho was named one of the first faculty co-directors of the new office. “They saw opportunities to offer more study abroad and study-away courses in the School of Education, to expand our partnerships with other universities around the world, to welcome more international students and visiting scholars into our academic community, to continue to ‘internationalize’ our courses and our curriculum overall, and, in general, to ensure that we always strive to think globally about the School’s diverse and varied work across the arts, health, and education.”
“I’m really proud of what the small GEO office has managed to achieve in a short amount of time and the impact that it has had,” says Ho. “With the strong support of the Dean’s office and the members of the Global Education Committee, the GEO has greatly enhanced the visibility and prominence of global education across the School.”
In the last five years, the GEO has furthered global education across the School in numerous ways. It has helped foster a more inclusive environment for international students and scholars, streamlining the process for visiting scholars and creating programming for international students that allows them to connect with each other and share their cultural traditions. For instance, the office holds annual celebrations for Lunar New Year, Diwali, and other global holidays. The GEO also facilitates an annual orientation for first-year international students — both undergraduate and graduate — where international students can meet others from across the globe and learn about valuable resources on campus that are available to them.
The office has also expanded opportunities for international global research through initiatives such as the Hartzman International Travel Award and the International Summer Research or Residency Award, and it has fostered international partnerships — including in 2022 and 2023 hosting educators from across Eastern Europe and Central Asia as part of the Fulbright Teaching Excellence and Achievement program.
Shweta Chandrashekhar, a PhD candidate in special education from India, received the Hartzman International Travel Award in 2023 to present her research at an international special education conference in Bangalore. The award was especially important for her, she says, as funding opportunities for international students are often limited.
“Not only did I feel ‘seen’ in terms of the application of my research,” Chandrashekhar explains. “(The award) facilitated me giving this presentation in my home country, which made it even more special.”
While supporting international students, the GEO has also strengthened opportunities for students from the U.S. to expand their global awareness. This past summer, the School of Education launched four short-term, faculty-led study abroad programs tied to students’ majors that were facilitated by the GEO in partnership with UW–Madison’s International Academic Program Office. In 2023, 99 students — including 69 pursuing majors or certificates in the School of Education — participated in these programs, embarking to Costa Rica, England, the Galapagos Islands, and Portugal. Generous scholarships were available for students with financial need, and 70 percent of students received scholarship assistance.
Studying abroad, “you get to learn without knowing you’re learning,” said UW–Madison senior and Spanish/theatre major Grant Borcherding, who studied in the UW Theatre in London program in 2023. “It becomes second nature to explore and want to discover things.”
Next summer, the School plans to more than double the number of study abroad opportunities, adding new courses in Cuba, Greece, Ireland, Australia, and the Dominican Republic.
The office itself has evolved. In the spring of 2023 Aydin Bal, a professor in the Department of Rehabilitation Psychology and Special Education, transitioned from GEO’s interim to full-time faculty director, and Jamie Welling joined the team as associate director in July 2023. Christina Eddington, hired in January 2022, is the coordinator for the office and manages academic events and community programming.
“We have a wonderful team that is growing,” says Bal, “providing new vision, new hope, and new ideas.”
Bal speaks proudly of the shift to a more global outlook within the School. Keeping values of inclusion in mind, he hopes moving forward to further institutionalize the GEO’s programs and work toward their long-term sustainability.
He observes that in five years the GEO has become “naturalized,” where now the School’s global engagement efforts appear ingrained — like they’ve always been there.
“It wasn’t like that before,” he says. “I mean, we still had support, interest, and values of scholarship residing in different departments and with individual labs and researchers. But we didn’t have an infrastructure to put everything together and create a common platform, so that we can go further than we can go individually.”
“Now, collectively and with the support from the School,” Bal adds, “we can imagine things and do things that we couldn’t before. This culture shift I’m very proud of.”