Case Study: Drake University

The Nelson Institute at Drake University was looking for ways to help faculty increase their comfort and capacity to educate students for global citizenship. The institute created a Fellows program, which selects several faculty each semester and sponsors their participation in True North Intercultural’s Facilitating Intercultural Learning program.

Background & Goals

Drake University is a private institution of approximately 5,000 students in Des Moines, Iowa. Drake's Rolland and Mary Nelson Institute is responsible for providing “in-depth international knowledge and experiences to Drake students, faculty, and staff.”1

In 2019, Dr. Jimmy Senteza, Associate Professor of Finance at Drake, was appointed faculty director of the Nelson Institute. Dr. Senteza, who is originally from Uganda and has taken groups of students and faculty from Drake there as part of a study seminar for 15 years, believes it’s critical for people to have experiences that push them outside their comfort zone, and to develop the skills and mindset to succeed in a global world. Yet he recognized many faculty members may not be comfortable or feel they don’t have the tools to effectively help students become global citizens. So when Dr. Senteza stepped into the role of faculty director for the Nelson Institute, he saw it as an opportunity to help faculty develop their capacity to do this kind of work.

The Nelson Institute decided to partner with True North Intercultural to help interested faculty develop their own intercultural competence and their capacity to integrate intercultural learning into their courses, programs, and other work.

More specifically, Dr. Senteza started the Nelson Fellows Program, through which several faculty members are selected each semester to participate in True North Intercultural’s signature 12-week professional development program, Facilitating Intercultural Learning.

The Program

Dr. Senteza tries to recruit Nelson Fellows from across Drake’s six units by sharing information about the program in the university news outlet and talking about it at the faculty senate. When doing so, he emphasizes the critical importance of preparing students for a globalized world. While his initial efforts drew a good deal of interest, Senteza says it’s been even easier to recruit since then due to the fact that past participants serve as ambassadors in their units.

To be chosen as a Nelson Fellow, interested faculty must submit a brief statement of interest, explaining why they want to participate in the program and how they foresee it helping them in their work.

Faculty’s reasons for applying are diverse. In their statements, many mention links between what they want to do in their work and what the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program offers. Others cite experiences they’ve had, often with students or colleagues, that helped them understand the importance of developing interculturally competent global citizens.

For example, when asked why he applied, Dr. Daniel Connolly, Professor of Management, explains, “I was interested in learning more about intercultural communications in order to try to relate better to international students and students from different backgrounds than me.  Also, as a business professor, I wanted to be able to enhance the global nature of my courses.”

Many applicants recognize the opportunity to develop both personally and professionally. Dr. Doug Stilwell explains, “I teach in Drake's Educational Leadership program and with the ever-increasing diversity in Iowa schools, I wanted to continue my own learning so that I could help prepare future leaders to understand and meet the needs of the students and communities they serve. (…) On a more personal side, as a 64-year-old white male, I know I need to continue my own learning journey; to understand myself better and to challenge my assumptions about how I see the world.”

Of course, faculty are quite busy and participating in a 12-week professional development program does require a commitment. As an incentive and show of appreciation, the Nelson Institute provides a stipend of $1,000 to participants. In addition, they are recognized as “Nelson Fellows,” featured on the institute’s website, and receive a note of congratulations and appreciation from the provost upon their selection.

Outcomes & Impact

Nelson Fellows are expected to serve as ambassadors within their units—to share their new knowledge, awareness, and skills with their colleagues. They are doing that and more. Fellows report that participating in the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program has impacted their teaching, leadership, other aspects of their work, and even their personal lives.

In some cases, Fellows are taking exercises, concepts, or theories learned in the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program and incorporating them directly into their classes. For example, Dr. Sally Haack, Professor of Pharmacy Practice, has implemented many of the activities she participated in during Facilitating Intercultural Learning into her experiential learning site and also in her classroom teaching. Just weeks after completing the program, Professor of Political Science Mary McCarthy, was already “creating a new first-year seminar that would be focused on a subset of what we learned.”

Others say their learning has influenced how they teach, lead, or communicate. For example, Professor of Information Systems (and Department Chair), Dr. Alanah Mitchell, reports, “What I learned in the program not only impacted my classroom, but I also benefited in my role as a university leader.” Education Professor Dr. Stilwell shares, “I have paid closer attention to the diversity of our students and how I can better ensure that I create a classroom environment that is inclusive and also challenges people to examine themselves in order to better serve students.” Professor of Social and Administrative Pharmacy, Andrea Kjos, says simply, “It has forced me to become more reflective in all aspects of my work.”

“Through the work of this program, I have developed more self-awareness around my own cultural biases, developed activities to incorporate into my classes, and strategies to help myself as I work with other professionals and students.”

- Dr. Jen Thoma, Professor of Education

An added benefit, according to Dr. Haack and several others, has been the ability “to develop a network of colleagues (at Drake and other institutions) who are passionate about similar areas.” Many Fellows are now using those connections, as well as their shared language and frameworks around intercultural learning, to explore how they might work together to build intercultural competence within their departments or more broadly at Drake.

I asked the Nelson Fellows what they’d like to share with other faculty considering getting involved with intercultural teaching and learning. Management Professor, Dr. Connolly, says, “I would encourage faculty to embrace the idea that we are all part of a global society, and with increased diversity in our classrooms, we need to be equipped with effective tools to engage people from different backgrounds and cultures and that we all should strive to be more global and inclusive.”

Others mentioned that participating in the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program has helped them realize intercultural learning is much broader and more holistic than they’d previously thought. As Education Professor Dr. Thoma explains, “I thought I knew a few things about cultural awareness, but this work has taught me that I lack awareness in this area. There is so much to learn and in fact, the learning never really stops.”

“This program is about a lot more than what we commonly perceive of as intercultural learning. It's about meeting our students where they are so that they can be most likely to enter the ‘learning zone.’ It is not specific to study abroad or courses related to culture in the common use of the term. It is applicable to all classroom experiences but also to how we interact with our colleagues.”

- Mary McCarthy, Professor of Political Science

Dr. Kjos’s advice to other faculty members is straight forward: “If you want to get better in how you do your work and how to work better with others, then intercultural learning is essential.”

So what can we learn from Drake’s Nelson Fellows program? I asked Dr. Senteza and the Fellows what advice they’d offer other institutions looking to increase faculty engagement in intercultural learning.

Dr. Stilwell suggests following Simon Sinek’s motto: start with WHY. “Communicating purpose and relevance is of the utmost importance.” Dr. Senteza also emphasizes the importance of why we need to do this work as educators: 

“It’s incumbent upon us to ensure that our instructional approaches are very mindful of the world in which our graduates are going to be living, operating in, getting married in, socializing in… if we keep ourselves detached from that, we’re not doing them any favors. This just has to be done; there’s really no question about it.”

- Dr. Jimmy Senteza, Faculty Director of the Nelson Institute

It’s a testament to the Nelson Fellows program that many faculty participants suggest replicating the Drake model, and then creating ways for Fellows to stay connected and continue supporting one another after their completion of the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program.

Of course, the reality of most institutions—Drake included—is that resources are limited. Dr. Senteza recognizes this and suggests, “Look at how you’re using your resources. There are always resources dedicated to global engagement. Figure out pragmatic ways of ensuring your faculty can deliver in a manner where they can help students develop a global mindset. Find your dollars and make sure your dollars are working for you to help ensure your students become global citizens. And this is one way to do it, through your faculty.”

Enjoy podcasts?

Listen to an interview with me and Drake Professor (and Nelson Fellow) Neil Ward on the Lecture Breakers podcast to learn more about Facilitating Intercultural Learning and how participating in the program has impacted Professor Ward’s work as an educator.

Want to Build Intercultural Capacity at Your Institution?

To learn more about how True North Intercultural helps higher education institutions build intercultural capacity, click here. Or click below to book a strategy call with founder Tara Harvey to discuss your institution’s intercultural goals and how we could support you in achieving them.