Taking the Global View at UC Riverside

International study, research and relationships have never been stronger at UCR

Sir Tony Brenton, a former British ambassador to Russia, was the guest speaker at the World Affairs Council. UCR’s Kelechi Kalu moderated the discussion. Carrie Rosema

Making UC Riverside more global takes a lot of big gestures, like the October visit of a sitting head of state, President of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama. It was an event that has little precedent at UCR.

But little things matter just as much. Formal gift exchanges around shiny wooden conference tables, translators, tour guides, unfamiliar food, air travel and a lot of jet lag.

The jet lag is worth it, said Professor Sharon Duffy, who serves as the dean of UCR Extension and who has made several trips abroad in the past few years.

“During a trip last Spring to our partner, Josai International University in Japan, more than 200 students who had studied at Extension were there to greet Chancellor Wilcox. They all wore the UCR gear they brought back from their time in Riverside, and they were very excited to greet him.”

Duffy said face to face visits are the best way to build relationships. “I’m always overwhelmed by the extraordinary hospitality extended to us by our foreign hosts. Learning about other cultures and trying new foods is an added benefit.”

UCR delegation member, Sharon Duffy, Dean University Extension, meets students who has studied at UCR during their visit to Josai International University Campus in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, on Thursday, April 23, 2015. Yuriko Nakao/AP Images for UC Riverside

UCR delegation member, Sharon Duffy, dean of University Extension, reconnects with students who studied at UCR during a visit to Josai International University in Japan. Yuriko Nakao/AP Images for UC Riverside

With faculty researchers traveling the world for field work, UCR students studying abroad for credits and projects like the UC Mexico initiative endorsed by Janet Napolitano and led by UC Riverside, there has never been a more international time in UCR’s history.

The man leading the international charge on campus at the moment is Kelechi Kalu, UCR’s vice provost for international affairs.

Kalu makes an impression. He is a big man, with a sonorous, accented voice.

In his native language, his first name means “Thank God” and his last name means “God of Thunder.” He is an enthusiastic evangelist for the benefits of learning about another culture and speaking multiple languages. He says they transform people.

His position at UCR is only 8 months old, but already Kalu has represented the campus on trips to China with faculty members and UCR’s Provost. He’s also hosted many visits from international groups to UCR, from China, Japan and Ghana, among others.

The president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, visits UC Riverside. Peter Phun

The president of Ghana, John Dramani Mahama, visits UC Riverside.
Peter Phun

On Jan. 15, Kalu met on campus with the current Peace Corps Director Carrie Hessler-Radalet, for a discussion about educating UC students abroad.

And on Jan. 20, Kalu moderated the discussion at Riverside’s World Affairs Council for a visit from Sir Tony Brenton, who served as British Ambassador to Russia from 2004 to 2008.

“Kelechi is a great asset to the community, and the World Affairs Council board,” said Marylin Jacobsen, president emeritus of the council, which was co-founded by UC Riverside 50 years ago. “Kelechi sees a multitude of connections between the local and the global scene, and how to make the connections happen.”

At the end of this month, Kalu will be speaking to UC graduate students working with the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) on projects that related to agriculture, food systems and related social and economic issues.

“The world is global,” said Kalu. Born in Nigeria, he lost a sister in the strife of civil war, triumphed over the stress of immigration and assimilation, and has consulted with organizations across the world about the importance of an international perspective.

“How do we make sure our students have this international experience?” he asks. “How do we make sure that everyone speaks two or three languages?”

One of his first American role models was  U.S. President Richard Nixon, Kalu said, because Nixon once worked as a janitor. “In spite of the poor economic condition of his family, through hard work, he made sure that failure could not stop him from reaching his destiny—the Presidency of the U.S.”

Another story he likes to tell is about how much Americans smile, and how much it confused him when he first arrived. “Our cultural understanding is so much a part of who we are. We have to talk more, and travel more, to understand each other.”

His three years in a similar position at The Ohio State University taught him that it is possible to infuse a university culture with the benefits of the global experience.

A Spring 2015 trip to Beijing included Sharon Walker, professor of Engineering and associate dean. Jun Wang

A 2015 trip to Beijing, China included Sharon Walker, professor of engineering and associate dean of the Bourns College of Engineering. She is playing a Chinese zither known as a Guzheng.
Jun Wang

“Internationalization doesn’t reside in any one unit or department – for it to work, it has to be suffused across the organization,” Kalu said recently. “Comprehensive internationalization takes everybody from the students to the chancellor – everyone has to be part of the process.”

Professor Sharon Walker said a trip to China made the academic world more interconnected. “Personally, the connections with Tsinghua university were the most fruitful as they have a fantastic school of the environment,” said Walker, who works in the Bourns College of Engineering. “One of their professors did her post doc here at CE-CERT.”

Kalu said he hopes to travel with more faculty internationally. He also hopes to bring UCR’s various international resources together for a more seamless experience for students, staff and faculty.  Not all of them will report directly to Kalu’s office, but all of them will work together in common cause.

“We must be global in our awareness,” said Kalu. “The oversight of our food supply is done in many countries, by the students we train. How we capture and store rainwater during a drought is a skill that we must develop for our own survival. And it is a skill that young people in my village know already. Why are we not storing rainwater here on campus?”

Kalu suggests we all greet UCR’s international students and visiting faculty as they walk across campus; highlight the stories of our faculty research in other countries; and encourage our domestic students to travel and speak multiple languages.

When he works with young people, they remind him of his younger sister, who was killed when she was 6 years old and he was only a year older.

He said he wears her memory like a comfortable backpack. It is not a burden, but a fact that has shaped him as a person.

“I see her in every young person I meet, including every UCR student,” he said. “Her promise and her future are still in front of her. I don’t think I will ever forget her.”

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