Chicago regularly ranks high on lists of “most global cities” compiled by journals and research groups for its role as a major center in international business, travel and immigration — making it an ideal site for the continued evolution of a new kind of outreach at National Louis University.
Building on a core mission of providing access to high-quality degree programs for students from diverse backgrounds, NLU is also seeking to become part of the larger global conversation about education, contributing to meaningful policy changes and adopting new innovations and approaches to better inform the work of its own faculty.
Last year proved fruitful for NLU’s international efforts. The University hosted the Global Education First Conference, inspired by the United Nations’ Global Education First Initiative. The GEFC brought together education leaders from around the world to look at how access to quality education can improve at the local level while fostering a sense of global citizenship in students. Relationships were subsequently born at the GEFC that have continued to shape international education efforts, at NLU and abroad.
One idea that came out of conference was the creation of a system in Africa that awards badges for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) — a weakness in that developing continent — to children and adults that would be recognized inside and outside of educational settings. In November, an important workshop was held in Nigeria that brought together government officials, academics and local leaders to plot a way forward for the proposed program, which they hope will promote training in critical STEM disciplines while spurring economic growth and food security, an important issue in Africa.
The new year holds even more opportunities for NLU to distinguish itself in contributing to the global education effort, said James O’Meara, Professor and one of the leaders of the internationalization push at the University. (O’Meara is also President of the International Council on Education for Teaching (ICET) and an elected member to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Non-Government Organization Liaison Committee.)
In April, a cadre of NLU faculty and staff will attend the World Literacy Summit at Oxford University in the U.K. The biennial summit brings together a wide range of important figures — including ambassadors from multiple countries, commissioners and legislators, as well as academics and other education leaders. As a group, they will explore the major issues affecting global literacy, increase awareness of the more than 700 million people worldwide who are illiterate, foster collaboration and revise the Oxford Declaration, a major literacy advocacy document.
This is the first time NLU is sending representatives to Oxford — another link made possible by GEFC connections, O’Meara said. He will present at the summit about international literacy agendas and translational research and will be joined by Sue Offutt, Executive Director of the McCormick Center for Early Childhood Leadership, who will discuss the importance of literacy in early childhood education; Debbie O’Connor, Assistant Professor, on literacy in undergraduate programs; and Monica Ramos, Student Success Coach, who will look at literacy from the perspective of an international student.
O’Meara said the summit will be a key opportunity for NLU to share ideas on literacy and contribute to shaping the Oxford Declaration, as well as a chance to borrow new approaches to help NLU programs as they prepare the educators of tomorrow to make a local impact.
“How do the best practices of NLU translate to the other parts of the world, and what can we bring back from other parts of the world to improve the learning outcomes in Chicago schools,” O’Meara asked.
Beyond the summit, O’Meara said NLU is weighing some other opportunities overseas, with details to be released as the year goes on. The GEFC team is at work planning another conference, likely to be held in November. And before that, in August, NLU will participate in a workshop in Monte Cristi, Dominican Republic, to provide hands-on field experience around the issue of literacy for current students, alumni and friends of NLU, working with orphan children to help build their reading skills and self-esteem, O’Meara said.
This continuing global focus and the fostering of a culture of inquiry at NLU in 2014, he added, can help bring the University in line with larger trends and standards in education — something that highlights NLU as a meaningful player internationally and an exciting destination for new students and partners, much like the city where it resides.
“I think in terms of distinction, NLU has a unique position as a key voice both at UNESCO and the [Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development], which are the think tank and policy generators for the world in terms of education,” O’Meara said. “And being at the table sets us apart from a lot of other institutions.”