Window on the World: International and Global Research and Education at Pitt
In sub-Saharan Africa, where the spread of HIV lingers as a public health crisis stunning in its scope, Pitt professor Sharon Hillier leads a study to test the effectiveness of topical microbicides and antiretroviral drugs in stopping the spread of the virus.
In the Indian Himalayas, where earthquakes wreak havoc on concrete and masonry buildings, Pitt engineering students ally themselves with students from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur to promote building with bamboo, which is well suited for the environmentally sensitive region, even as they develop comprehensive building standards for the use of bamboo in Himalayan structures.
In the United States, amid concern surrounding the global spread of the H1N1 influenza, health officials call upon Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) to assemble a team of experts to perform computer modeling and simulation of epidemic control strategies.
With the world drawing ever closer—infectious diseases moving like lightning from an isolated outbreak to a pandemic, sovereign debt crises roiling international markets, and remote bands of extremists disrupting international travel—Pitt has long understood the need for its students to have a mature awareness of the world in which they live and for all to realize that gifted faculty members have the expertise to help solve complex global problems.
An established leader in international education and research, Pitt recognized more than a half century ago that an American academic institution of merit cannot isolate itself from issues and opportunities that arise beyond U.S. borders and set in motion a strategy that over time made the University one of the most highly regarded in international and global research and education.
“Because a well-educated student should be prepared to function in an increasingly integrated world, we want every student receiving a Pitt diploma to be sophisticated in international issues,” says Pitt Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Patricia A. Beeson. “We also want our faculty to be highly qualified to educate our students on those issues, and we encourage and support them to pursue research questions that involve other parts of the world.”
To those ends, Pitt embeds global and international research and education within its disciplines, schools, and departments—and ensures that those initiatives are adequately supported—so that today, an international research component is found in nearly every department and school, from anthropology, history, medicine, and public health to engineering, law, and business.
Pitt’s International Coordination Council—comprising the leadership of Pitt’s schools and other academic units—developed a universitywide plan to guide global and international initiatives across Pitt’s campuses, ensuring that such initiatives are today inextricably woven into the fabric of the University and lie near the core of its mission. The plan provides a foundation that, according to Beeson, “clarifies our intention and offers guidance to anyone pursuing these kinds of projects.” The key network for these endeavors is provided by the universitywide center UCIS (University Center for International Studies) and focuses on specific fields of study or regions of the world and offers operational support.
International Centers of Specialized Study
Each year, UCIS helps hundreds of faculty and students across a wide spectrum of disciplines conduct field research abroad, leverages the support that allows a growing number of students to study in foreign lands, and provides resources that enable professors to bring the world to the Pitt campus through specialized courses, visiting professorships, seminars, conferences, and exhibitions.
Created in 1968 in recognition of the growing importance of applying faculty expertise to the fluid and complex issues beyond U.S. borders, UCIS has emerged as a leader in advancing international research and education programs in the arts, sciences, humanities, and professions, with an emphasis on multidisciplinary collaboration.
“UCIS is designed to pull people together to work on common questions,” says UCIS Director Lawrence Feick. “It is intrinsically multidisciplinary and driven by a set of global, regional, and thematic foci.”
At UCIS’ core are four centers renowned for their expertise in regional studies: Asian Studies Center, Center for Latin American Studies, Center for Russian and East European Studies, and European Studies Center. Each ranks among the elite in its area of study, having in the past earned designation as National Resource Center (NRC) by the U.S. Department of Education. This year UCIS’ Global Studies Program was designated an NRC for the first time, and two other centers were redesignated. UCIS is also home to a European Union Center of Excellence (EUCE), one of only 11 such institutions in the United States funded by the European Union.
The mission of UCIS is to integrate and support international scholarship, including research and teaching, in addition to public service. Comprehensive in scope, UCIS’ reach extends to schools and other jointly sponsored and affiliated units across campus. It coordinates international education curricula and provides a home to support such services as Pitt’s Study Abroad Program. Many other U.S. research universities have since adopted this design, which was unique when UCIS opened its doors more than four decades ago.
UCIS does not have its own faculty; it has faculty affiliates from across the University, connecting more than 600 members with opportunities to advance their work in international scholarship. It awards academic certificates to students who successfully complete specialized courses of international study while pursuing degrees from schools across the University
From 2005 to 2009, the number of undergraduate and graduate students earning certificates increased by nearly 60 percent, reflecting both the steady rise in student interest in international studies as well as the heightened emphasis within the University on providing such international opportunities. UCIS’ organizational structure has helped create highly developed international areas of expertise, an intellectual environment that attracts top talent, and educational resources that, in many cases, are second to none.
The majority of the faculty affiliated with UCIS and its international centers of study are from the School of Arts and Sciences, including the directors of the four regional studies areas. Many are distinguished professors who are leading experts on international and global economics, history, art, architecture, music, literature, and the sciences, among other disciplines. When, for instance, Oxford University wanted a comprehensive history of Afro-Latin America, the distinguished British academic institution turned to George Reid Andrews, Pitt Distinguished Professor of History, who not only is an expert in Afro-Latin American history, but also is fluent in Spanish and Portuguese.
Many Arts and Sciences faculty members are leaders in international and global research, including, for example, Distinguished Professor of Archaeology Robert D. Drennan, a member of the National Academy of Sciences who has focused on the origins and development of complex societies in northern South America, Mesoamerica, and China; Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Contemporary Art History and Theory Terry Smith, who is investigating the contextual influences on the creation, analysis, and viewing of art across the world; and University Professor of History Evelyn Rawski, whose research has included the examination of the historical evolution of a northeast Asian tradition of political and social organization that affected politics in ancient and premodern Korea and Japan as well as several dynasties in early China. European studies students benefit from such renowned faculty as EUCE Director Alberta Sbragia, the Mark A. Nordenberg University Chair and Jean Monet Chair ad personam, whose expertise includes European integration, public policy, trans-Atlantic economic relations, and comparative European-American politics. Sbragia is the newly named vice provost for graduate studies.
Professional Schools With a Global View
The Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business founded its International Business Center (IBC) more than two decades ago as a joint venture with UCIS to build international competence among business students, faculty, and practitioners. It was one of the first such centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education. In the years since, IBC has fostered the ongoing development of the business school’s global character. The Katz School, for example, operates Executive MBA programs in major cities in three far-flung countries—Pittsburgh, Pa., in the United States; Prague, in the Czech Republic; and São Paulo, in Brazil—and is considering opening another one in Asia. Such resources not only deepen the school’s international education offerings, but also provide faculty researchers with contacts, collaborators, and case studies.
IBC fosters research by helping to fund, for instance, a study on the role of human networks in bringing about industry globalization. Coauthored by Ravi Madhavan, Pitt associate professor of business administration, the study shows that the rate at which U.S. venture capital is invested in start-ups in other countries is predicted by the rate of professional emigration from those countries to the United States, with a several-year time lag. A newer research initiative, the Business of Humanity project, led by John Camillus, the Donald R. Beall Professor of Strategic Management in the Katz School, and Bopaya Bidanda, Ernest E. Roth Professor and chair in the Department of Industrial Engineering in the Swanson School of Engineering, examines the idea that companies benefit economically when they effectively address such issues as quality, safety, diversity, social sustainability, and environmental impact, especially in developing nations.
Like the business school, other schools across the University recognize that the realities of a shrinking world mean that for them to remain vibrant they must continually strengthen their international character.
The School of Law, for example, offers the International and Comparative Law Certificate Program, which gives students a foundation in the application of legal regimes to transnational and international relationships. In addition to hosting international conferences and lecturers, the Center for International Legal Education (CILE) provides opportunities in the study of foreign, comparative, and international law, including courses taught by Pitt faculty and visiting foreign law professors. Perhaps most important is the depth of expertise, scholarship, and experience in international legal issues and environments that is found within Pitt’s law school faculty, as exemplified by CILE director and law professor Ronald Brand, who represented the United States at Special Commissions and the Diplomatic Conference of the Hague Conference on Private International Law that produced the 2005 Convention on Choice of Court Agreement.
International research and education opportunities are key features of the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation in the Swanson School. This center of excellence was established in 2003 to provide research, education, and outreach initiatives with the intention of inspiring innovations that lead to a more sustainable community infrastructure. The Mascaro Center has developed a number of international experiences for undergraduate and graduate engineering students with the understanding that today’s practicing engineers must work effectively on multinational teams and within cultures and nations other than their own.
One such experience is an ongoing project in India where Pitt students work with a team of students from the Indian Institute of Technology in Kanpur in the steep, earthquake- and flood-prone mountains of Sikkim and Darjeeling. They are trying to return to popularity the traditional bamboo-frame structure known as the ikra, replacing the more favored building material of reinforced concrete, considered by many as more modern and of higher status. Although bamboo is native to the region, affordable, largely resistant to earthquakes, and gentle on the steep, loose-soil hillsides, it suffers from an image problem in a region where people associate it with the poor. Under the direction of Pitt’s William Kepler Whiteford Faculty Fellow Kent Harries, the students hope to overcome such skepticism by demonstrating bamboo’s value as a sustainable and cost-effective option by working with a local sustainable engineering and design organization.
On the University’s campus, the number of visiting scholars and international graduate and postdoctoral students attending Pitt programs increases yearly. The global reach of the School of Medicine, for example, extends to every continent but Antarctica. Each year, the medical school attracts hundreds of postdoctoral scholars, graduate students in biomedical science, and visiting scholars from more than two dozen nations, among them Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Iran, Italy, Japan, Korea, Lebanon, Peru, the Netherlands, the Philippines, Poland, Russia, Spain, Turkey and the United Kingdom. In 2009 alone, about 58 percent of the postdocs studying in the School of Medicine were from countries outside the United States, drawn to Pitt by the breadth and depth of the expertise of Pitt scientists and physicians and the leading research facilities found within the top-10 ranked School of Medicine and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC).
“We have extensive resources and opportunities here that are attractive to someone who is competitive and interested in being a leading scientist,” says Steven Kanter, vice dean of Pitt’s School of Medicine. “The bonds that are made here at the University are lasting. There are research collaborations that develop, for example, and when medical school graduates go back to their homelands, they take a little bit of the University of Pittsburgh with them. In a sense, that means the University exists all over the world.”
Policy as Practiced on the World Stage
The Graduate School of Public and International Affairs (GSPIA) opened its doors in 1958 against a backdrop of global tension and change. Today, more than 50 years later, the widespread emergence of global economies, international crime and terrorism, global climate change, and ethnic strife and genocide underscores the importance of understanding complex and disparate governments, movements, and policies.
Perhaps it is not surprising, then, that GSPIA, ranked among the nation’s best programs for international relations, is experiencing a surge in the number of students interested in pursuing international policy studies. “GSPIA from its founding included a Master of Public and International Affairs (MPIA) degree. But, over time, the school has become more attractive to students everywhere,” says John Keeler, GSPIA dean. “It was ahead of the curve early on and continues to remain at the forefront of schools of public and international affairs.”
Global security, a high priority in the United States and throughout the world, is an area of study in which GSPIA is particularly strong. More than a decade before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States, Pitt opened the Matthew B. Ridgway Center for International Security to educate the next generation of security analysts, conduct research, and provide impartial analysis to help policymakers make more informed decisions when confronted with complex international security challenges.
Ridgway Center Director Phil Williams is a widely recognized authority on transnational organized crime and terrorism and financial cybercrime. His recent research focuses on alliances between criminal organizations and on terrorist finances, drugs, and violence in Mexico. Williams formerly worked at the Strategic Studies Institute at the U.S. Army War College, with which Pitt is now expanding its long-standing ties in an effort to develop a program of faculty and student exchanges and other cooperative ventures.
GSPIA’s Ford Institute for Human Security conducts research on such issues as the causes of violent conflict, displaced populations, and the challenges of rebuilding political, social, legal, and economic institutions in the aftermath of violence. The work of the institute is based on the idea that national security and the security of a nation’s citizens are mutually reinforcing—that governments face their greatest challenges when the lives and livelihoods of their people are threatened from inside or outside the country.
A Global Vision in Public Health
In 2010, Donald Burke coauthored a commentary published in The Lancet, and the title alone—“Global Health Is Public Health”— explains why Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) is moving more deliberately than ever to extend its reach beyond the United States.
“When you talk about public health, it’s about issues of population, disease prevention, sanitation, environmental health, aging, and population. All of the public health issues in the United States are played out in the world with the same kinds of problems,” says Burke, GSPH dean, UPMC-Jonas Salk Chair in Global Health, and Pitt’s associate vice chancellor for global health.
GSPH leadership has long recognized the importance of public health in a global context. The school’s first dean, Thomas Parran, a former U.S. Surgeon General, chaired the committee that drafted the constitution of the World Health Organization. Burke, who came to Pitt from Johns Hopkins University in 2006, began his career as a U.S. Army medical officer and, while investigating infectious diseases, helped conduct trials in Thailand for a Japanese encephalitis vaccine that today protects as many as 40,000 children from paralysis or death each year.
Under Burke’s direction, the University in 2009 created the Center for Global Health to coordinate, support, and expand global health research by bringing under one umbrella University scientists and medical researchers working on projects throughout the world—projects that are of increasing importance to the health and well-being of children and families here and abroad. As of 2009, the center was represented in more than 60 locations worldwide.
In five countries of sub-Saharan Africa, a study of the effectiveness of topical microbicides and prophylactic use of antiretroviral drugs in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV is being led by Sharon Hillier, a professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences and of microbiology and molecular genetics in Pitt’s School of Medicine. The study, the first of its kind to evaluate both a microbicide and oral antiretroviral pill, could have a profound impact if the interventions prove successful. As many as 40 percent of the young women in some sub-Saharan regions test positive for HIV.
Such infectious diseases as HIV and influenza are among the global health issues that GSPH is particularly well suited to address. In 2009, GSPH was awarded $13.4 million to create a Center for Excellence in Modeling of Infectious Diseases as part of the National Institutes of Health Modeling of Infectious Disease Agent study. The center puts Pitt researchers at the forefront of the development of computer simulations that will enable public health officials to evaluate strategies to contain the outbreak of infectious diseases.
GSPH researchers are also working to create computer models of epidemics with the goal of optimizing vaccine strategies for specific diseases and regions with the support of a $10 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Their work is part of the Vaccine Modeling Initiative, a research partnership headquartered at Pitt that also includes disease-modeling teams from Pennsylvania State University and the Imperial College of London.
That ability to collaborate effectively was put to the test in 2009 when GSPH was asked by the U.S. Department of Health to build computer models and simulations that could help evaluate strategies for controlling the H1N1 virus, which had grown from a regional outbreak to a pandemic. “I had two faculty in D.C. with skills in modeling of infectious disease epidemics and evaluation of control strategies,” says Burke. “We’d have a conference call every day or two about how to build the model. Sitting around the table were family practitioners, economists, computer scientists, epidemiologists, behavioral experts, lawyers, and people from infectious diseases, public health, and preparedness— because those are the disciplines you need to think through epidemic control strategies and how to simulate them.”
A Door to the World Open to All Students
The role of a university today clearly includes making sure its students graduate with the skills, knowledge, attitude, and experience to competently navigate in a world that is increasingly interconnected. This phenomenon of connectedness is leading students in record numbers to seek educational experiences that enrich their understanding of other cultures.
“People need language skills, but they also need an in-depth understanding of particular cultures and should be exposed to comparative methodologies,” says John Cooper, the Bettye J. and Ralph E. Bailey Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. “We prepare our students by not only giving them certain sets of knowledge about how the world is, but also by giving them ways of thinking about the world and its structures that are grounded in good comparative methodologies and theoretical frameworks.”
Key to that preparation are the Arts and Sciences’ faculty, resources, and opportunities that are made available to students. Some of those opportunities can be quite uncommon. In Cuba, for example, the Center for Latin American Studies collaborates with the University of Havana so students can study in the only Western Hemisphere nation that’s been under continuous Communist rule for nearly 50 years. There, they spend a semester exploring Cuban history, politics, health and environmental policy, economics, culture, and society from a Cuban perspective while living in the country to gain a comprehensive and balanced view of contemporary Cuban life.
Pitt students also are offered a wide range of opportunities to study or conduct research in other nations and regions of the world. Statistics suggest that students are taking advantage of those opportunities at a rate similar to that of students at comparable leading public universities. Pitt’s participation rate in study abroad was about 27 percent in 2009-10, according to Open Doors, an annual report published by the Institute of International Education, which looks at the number of undergraduates studying abroad in an academic year as compared to the number of undergraduate degrees awarded that year.
“Students are seeing study abroad as part of their education, part of the college experience,” says Cooper. “And that has not slowed down in the post-9/11 environment.”
The University offers a number of study-abroad programs and scholarships, including the Provost’s Scholarship for Study Abroad, the Nationality Rooms Scholarships, and the Vira I. Heinz Scholarship Program for Women in Global Leadership, a competitive program Pitt administers for The Heinz Endowments that provides an opportunity for international study as well as mentoring, supervision, and leadership-development training.
Among the University’s innovative, homegrown study-abroad opportunities is the Multi-region Academic Program (PittMAP). This new, comparative study-abroad initiative enables 30 students a year to spend a semester in three countries exploring a common theme. The inaugural PittMAP cohort of students traveled earlier this year to Brazil, South Africa, and China to explore the theme state memory/private lives; they looked at ways memory systems are constructed and sustained across cultures. Future themes include exploring epidemiology and examining economic issues related to global health.
“It’s another way of thinking altogether,” says Nancy Condee, Pitt professor of Slavic languages and literatures. “The world is accessible to you in a very different way.”
In Argentina, for example, students witnessed how the “disappeared”— young political activists murdered in the 1970s and ’80s by the ruling military dictatorship—receive scant public commemoration. In South Africa, local faculty helped the students examine the contradiction of a state-promoted “rainbow nation” image and the racial tensions and legacy of apartheid that still exist today. In China, local faculty compared the state image of a harmonious society in which civil activism is unnecessary to contradictory experiences and attitudes among citizens.
“It’s not so much a criticism of those three countries,” says Condee, who accompanied the students. “It’s a question of what sense do you make of the gap between what the state would like you to remember and what you remember, and what the state would like you to forget and what you remember anyway.”
Academic Partners Around the World
Rounding out Pitt’s global and international research and education initiatives are a growing number of academic partnerships with universities in countries ranging from Switzerland to China— partnerships designed to facilitate faculty research and enrich undergraduate and graduate students with international learning opportunities.
These partnerships offer a number of Pitt schools and departments stable ties to universities abroad that offer such benefits as research collaboration, contacts, data access, and student and faculty exchange programs. In Germany, for example, Pitt’s English and German departments, School of Law, and Katz School have those kinds of partnerships with the University of Augsburg.
Wuhan University in China is the base for the Pitt in China study-abroad program and works in partnership with Pitt’s Confucius Institute to advance language and cultural studies. GSPH is another partner. Pitt researchers, for example, are investigating issues related to environmental health in the Wuhan region, which is undergoing the kind of industrial development Pittsburgh experienced many decades ago.
GSPIA has similar partnerships in Europe, Asia, and the Pacific, including one in China with Nanjing University’s School of Government. Nanjing University has a center similar to GSPIA’s Center for Disaster Management that has led to research and study opportunities for both students and faculty with specialists who have worked on such projects as the May 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
“We have a large number of critically important one-on-one relationships between our faculty and programs abroad, and these will always play a crucial role in our global approach,” says UCIS Director Feick. “But, institutionally, we are developing and nurturing a set of multifaceted relationships with key institutional partners abroad, involving Pitt faculty and students in the best academic programs the world has to offer.”
Other Stories From This Issue
On the Freedom Road
Follow a group of Pitt students on the Returning to the Roots of Civil Rights bus tour, a nine-day, 2,300-mile journey crisscrossing five states.
Day 1: The Awakening
Day 2: Deep Impressions
Day 3: Music, Montgomery, and More
Day 4: Looking Back, Looking Forward
Day 5: Learning to Remember
Day 6: The Mountaintop
Day 7: Slavery and Beyond
Day 8: Lessons to Bring Home
Day 9: Final Lessons