ECU conference focuses on worldwide educational collaboration

The world is a big place. The Global Partners in Education Conference at East Carolina University aimed to make it a bit smaller through collaboration, relationships and partnerships.

The three-day conference drew university faculty members and representatives from nine countries, including Mariko Eguchi who traveled to ECU from Japan.

“It’s a full day, but it’s worth it,” she said of the trip.

ECU Provost Robin Coger addresses participants in the Global Partners in Education Conference.

ECU Provost Robin Coger addresses participants in the Global Partners in Education Conference. (ECU photo by Cliff Hollis)

The conference marked the first time GPE members had met in person in three years because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the first time ECU hosted the conference since 2016.

The goal of GPE is to prepare students with the skills, knowledge and adaptability to thrive in an interconnected world, providing them opportunities to connect and work with students in other countries, and occasionally, even travel to those countries. The conference supports faculty from throughout the world in those efforts.

Eguchi teaches students at the University of Shimane, a college in a more rural location of Japan.

“The GPE conference is a very special conference,” Eguchi said. “It’s very important to my institution. My university is a small, public university located in the countryside where students cannot meet international tourists or anyone from abroad. Our students need international exposure very much. Since we are located in a local area, it is very difficult to develop intercultural competence among our students. But in the global age, global perspectives and intercultural competence are very much required for their personal development as well as national security and economic development of the nation.”

ECU Provost Robin Coger welcomed guests to the conference.

“Your presence here tells me that this is a group of individuals who knows the importance of assisting faculty, staff and students in appreciating and cultivating global perspectives,” Coger said.

She mentioned ECU’s diverse student body that represents most of North Carolina, 45 states and 68 countries. She said GPE is directly related to the success of those students.

“Direct exposure to other cultures, as you all know, is a very effective way for students to build the skills, knowledge and values necessary to succeed in a global, multicultural society,” Coger said. “At ECU, GPE programming has been shown to improve intercultural skills and student outcomes, and contribute to student retention, graduation rates and improved GPAs. Students who take the virtual exchange program are also more likely to subsequently study abroad. In short, it’s a valuable tool to promote student success.”

The conference featured various breakout sessions many of which focused on the event’s theme: “Intercultural Communication: Preparing Students for an Interconnected World.” Organizers believe no matter where college graduates choose to live or the career in which they embark, they’ll work and live in culturally diverse areas where good intercultural communication is necessary.

Wojciech Gruchala, a professor in marketing and communication, traveled from Poland to attend the conference.

Wojciech Gruchala, a professor in marketing and communication, traveled from Poland to attend the conference. (ECU photo by Rhett Butler)

John Rezek, ECU’s assistant vice chancellor for global affairs, said the relationships among GPE members and conference attendees help lead to successful students.

“What we have here is special because of the hard work and dedication that all of you put into your courses and into your programs at your institutions,” he said. “But it is also the human capital that we establish with one another and that we renew in the classroom each semester, and perhaps most importantly, each year at this conference. You are critical to making this high impact educational practice reach its full potential.”

During the conference, a research poster presentation highlighted global collaboration. Anna Lobodzinska, from Poland, highlighted her project designed to help students overcome anxiety and hesitation in intercultural communication.

“I’m trying to find a way to help them out because I cannot do it for them,” Lobodzinska said. “I came up with the idea of scaffolding, building something to help them. Sometimes I’m just asking them questions or to brainstorm ideas, but they are helping one another. They are relying on their friends for support, and generally the results show that they are enjoying the course, communicating and getting their message across, and they’re happy about that.”

Mariella Olivos, attending the conference from Peru, said GPE helped her work on research with colleagues in India on tools to enhance virtual team collaboration, helping instructors with strategies that can benefit students in their international learning experiences.

She also said GPE helps students build confidence in communicating, relationship building and learning from others throughout the world through projects and classroom collaboration.

“They work together in some relevant topics in sustainable development goals from the United Nations,” she said. “They work to protect the environment, and they do comparisons in each country. What are the problems? They find the similarities and the differences so they can learn lessons from each country, and they are more embedded in important topics.”

Wojciech Gruchala, a professor in marketing and communication from Poland, said a session on post-COVID realities sparked his interest.

“There’s been a change in the youth after COVID,” he said. “It’s something we’re facing very strongly. We have a problem with students attending anything. … We feel that impact, but there’s also the psychological content of who that generation is. Maybe the key to understanding them is the way Americans understand them.”

Lobodzinska said the conference provided a good mix of academics and networking, while giving attendees leisure activities such as a banquet and a performance from ECU’s No Quarter Brass Band.

“It was really interesting with a nice exchange of ideas,” Lobodzinska said. “It was stimulating for the future. I think we’ve exchanged ideas and we can help one another out. It’s a feeling of community that we can build something together.”

The GPE program includes about 45 higher education institutions in 25 countries that collaborate on global activities. ECU serves as the secretariat of the program, maintaining and establishing new partnerships, coordinating programming, developing new initiatives, providing training and conducting assessments and evaluation of GPE activities.

Mariella Olivos, attending the conference from Peru, listens to a presentation in the Main Campus Student Center.

Mariella Olivos, attending the conference from Peru, listens to a presentation in the Main Campus Student Center. (ECU photo by Cliff Hollis)