Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning Series: Spotlight on Purdue University

Apr 22, 2018
I often get asked by educators, “What are other schools doing to foster intercultural learning?” So I’m answering this question with a blog series highlighting several institutional approaches to intercultural learning.
For background on how I’m defining intercultural learning (hint: it’s about much more than learning about other cultures), see last month’s post, which featured Augsburg University, a smaller, private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This month, the spotlight is on Purdue University, a state school with more than 40,000 students in West Lafayette, Indiana.
A Focus on Developing Intercultural Competence at Home and Abroad
In late 2011, Dr. Charles Calahan, then a faculty member at Purdue, was asked to take on a new position that would focus on developing intercultural competency both on campus and through more intentional, targeted study abroad efforts.
Calahan, whose title is now Assistant Director of Global Learning Development in the Center for Instructional Excellence, began by reviewing the literature and research in the field and attending the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. He decided that the developmental model—specifically the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC) and the AAC&U Intercultural Knowledge and Competence VALUE Rubric—would work well at Purdue. Calahan stresses the importance of having a solid construct on which to build intercultural competence. “You need a research-based model to hang your hat on.”
Calahan then started exploring whether there were any faculty or staff on campus who had gone through the training to become a Qualified Administrator (QA) of the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI)—a tool that assesses intercultural development according to the IDC. He found a few, but they were using the tool rather sparingly. Calahan wanted to move toward getting more people to use the IDI as formative assessment, as a developmental teaching tool.
Eventually, Purdue was able to bring intercultural learning expert Dr. Mick Vande Berg to campus to provide training for a group of faculty and staff involved with study abroad. Calahan emphasizes that having an outside expert is very important to get momentum going.   
As part of that training, participants became IDI QAs, and also participated in one-on-one intercultural coaching using the Individual Development Plan (IDP), which is based on their IDI results.
Dr. Katherine Yngve, Associate Director of Learning Outcomes at the Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentoring Assessment & Research (CILMAR) at Purdue, explains that faculty who participated in the program found the intercultural coaching piece to be particularly helpful and have even asked for more. Initially this coaching was provided by Vande Berg, the outside consultant, and core intercultural staff at Purdue, but now some of the individuals who went through the initial QA training are serving as intercultural coaches to their peers.

Institutionalizing Intercultural Capacity-Building

Since the training with Vande Berg, Purdue has focused on institutionalizing the intercultural capacity-building efforts. A key initiative is the Growing Intercultural Leaders (GIL) program, which is “a professional development opportunity in intercultural competency for the faculty and staff of Purdue University.” Intercultural Learning Officers (many of whom participated in the initial training with Vande Berg) in each of the schools or colleges at Purdue nominate potential candidates for participation in the program, which is by application only.
There are three different levels of the GIL program, each of which “includes individualized mentoring of intercultural competency for faculty and staff in their role of fostering and assessing the growth of students.” Participation in the second and third levels includes discretionary awards.
Yngve explains that providing monetary incentives is important because it demonstrates to faculty that this is something the university values. In addition, Purdue recently added mentoring as a new element in tenure, and the GIL program provides opportunities for faculty to gain mentoring experience, creating an additional incentive.

The GIL program involves a lot of individualized support and therefore willlikely remain relatively small. The potential impact of such intercultural capacity-building efforts, however, is quite big.
Training faculty and staff is starting to have a noticeable impact on students’ intercultural learning. For example, one faculty member created a cross-cultural engineering course based on the developmental model. Students took the IDI at the beginning and end of the semester-long course (which took place in the U.S.) and, according to Calahan, the average gain was an incredible 28 points (on a 90-point scale).
Several study abroad leaders have incorporated more intentional intercultural learning into their programs, requiring students to complete and turn in their Individual Development Plan (IDP), the self-guided workbook that individuals receive after taking the IDI to aid their own intercultural development. Participants in these study abroad programs—many as short as two weeks—have averaged 11-15 point gains on the IDI (again, a significant impact).
In addition, faculty and staff interest is spreading. A group has formed called the Purdue InterCultural Learning Community of Practice, which meets monthly for participants to continue their learning and share what they’ve been doing in the field.

​Lessons Learned
When asked what advice she would give to other schools wanting to build intercultural capacity, Yngve points out that the process at Purdue has been relatively organic. “Start with the people who want to play,” she says. “Give them the tools to become leaders in their department; support them. Then widen the circle.”
Purdue started by providing training and support to faculty study abroad leaders who wanted to make those experiences more meaningful for students but didn’t necessarily know how or have the tools to do so. With effective intercultural training and coaching, they have been able to make those programs more transformative, and interest is now spreading, especially as it becomes evident that this is something the university values and supports.
Yngve also stresses the importance of the assessment and research piece. One of her goals is to get faculty to think more about how they can use assessment to improve intercultural learning. This also provides an opportunity for faculty to publish. Yngve says it’s been very important to get faculty “to own their own intercultural development,” to realize focusing on their own development is meaningful.
When asked about what has been helpful in moving intercultural learning forward at Purdue, Calahan goes back to the importance of having a research-based intercultural model on which to build. Choose a model that has proven reliability and validity and that fits your context. Then, “start with the low-hanging fruit,” such as by working with those involved with study abroad.
As you do that, it’s really important to collect and share out data. This is the case even if resources are limited. If, for example, you’ve chosen a certain model, but can’t use it with all students, do it at a level that you can pilot and collect data. “You have to have data or you just have opinion,” says Calahan. Data helps create further momentum.
Two other critical ingredients, according to Calahan, are an influential champion and funding. Purdue didn’t really start to make progress on intercultural learning until Dr. Michael Brzezinski came on board as Dean of International Programs and attended an intercultural training with Vande Berg. His understanding and support have been critical to the success of intercultural capacity-building initiatives at Purdue.
In regard to funding, Yngve points out that, as a state school, Purdue doesn’t necessarily have an excess of resources, but what they do have is “a commitment to the mission.”
That commitment to intercultural development is clearly evident at Purdue. And while not all schools can (or should) try to replicate what Purdue is doing, I would encourage you to think about how the lessons learned there might translate to your context.

​Lessons Learned?

How might you be able to apply a lesson learned from Purdue to your own context? Share in the comments section below.


Join the Conversation!

Enjoying the blog? You’re invited to join me and an amazing group of higher education professionals committed to fostering intercultural learning at the next Intercultural Leadership Forum! You'll have a chance to connect with others doing this work and gain new insights as you move toward your intercultural goals.