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William B. Lacy, University of California Davis, USA

William B. Lacy was Vice Provost of University Outreach and International Programs at UC Davis for 15 years. He reflects on his tenure at the forefront of internationalisation efforts in the US and current project in Australia.

The PIE: Can you tell me about your career in international education?

"We had a donor who gave us a million dollars and we went out to try and raise 40 $25,000 scholarships, and we are well on our way to doing that"

WL: Well, it’s only been 15 years. This is my sixth career.

The PIE: What did you do before?

WL: I did student personnel, housing, I was a military officer at the 38th barrel with the Infantry Division in the US Army, I was a professor in social psychology, I was a research administrator at Pennsylvania State, and I was a cooperative extension Dean reaching out all across the state of New York in terms of education programmes with 2,500 employees, and 67 offices in the five boroughs of New York.

And then, I went to California to be Vice Provost for international programmes, building bridges worldwide, and continuing the work on outreaching communication and putting our knowledge to work in the university.

The PIE: How did that happen?

WL: Well they had combined the positions with outreach and engagement. And then before that, I was doing work on international development, undergraduate education and study abroad. I was working in India, Brazil and Sudan trying to help them build their agricultural higher education system and their outreach arm so that they could be more effective and producing food, sustaining communities.

The PIE: What sort of projects were you involved in when you were at UC Davis?

WL: A range of them, all the efforts to send more and more students abroad. We had four or five courses when I first arrived. The first courses were all in Europe, one course in Japan; last year they were on all six continents. Originally, [study abroad options] were primarily in the humanities and last year, a third of them were in the engineering and biological sciences as well.

We introduced a new course for entering freshman who were in the honour’s college. We raised the number of international students and scholars from 2,000 to 6,000, but mostly its scholars. We developed a Confucius Institute that wasn’t around language and culture, but around food and beverage culture, which builds on our strength in food science.

The PIE: You opened a Confucius Institute on campus?

WL: Yes, we opened it with the director general who came from Beijing for our opening ceremony.

We developed programmes in Cuba when our government and the Cuban government first made it possible for anybody to do those kinds of things. There were only five remaining programmes and we kept our programme alive.  Neither our government nor the Cuban government helped make that happen.

The PIE: Who was driving all this? Was it you?

WL: Well, it was, yeah. I was a ‘force behind the scene’.

The PIE: What was driving you?

WL: The motivation to build a global community, in a small way with a major university that builds bridges worldwide. And to enhance and expand the educational opportunities for our students and our faculty. To bring those leaders who wish to come to our university and benefit from our scholarship and to facilitate our faculty as well.

The PIE: How have you seen, in broader terms across the US, perhaps even globally, the internationalisation agenda change?

“It engages them and helps them understand that the world is a very complex world that they’re going to be functioning in”

WL: Well, it’s expanded. Dramatically. I worked with an organisation called Association of International Education Administrators (AIEA). I looked around for help and they were the best to work with in this section.

So, helped to build and strengthen its relationship with Australia, I bought the Group of Eight [in Australia] into that organisation when I was president. I worked with the Association of Pacific Rim Universities to build a business plan for their headquarters in Singapore at their request, and served on their policy committee. It’s a presidential organisation at the leading research university in the Pacific Rim.

The PIE: Would you want a lot more American students to care about study abroad or do you think it’s already going in the right direction?

WL: I think we give our students an incomplete education if we don’t get them overseas. I thinks it’s an injustice to take the best, and brightest students primarily from California because 80% of our undergraduates are from California. Graduate students, ironically, are 25% international, and 40% at our faculty have at least their baccalaureate degree from overseas.

But we do our undergraduate students an injustice and an incomplete education if we don’t get them overseas, in an educational experience, not in travel or tourism. It engages them and helps them understand that the world is a very complex world that they’re going to be functioning in for the rest of their lives.

“We started a scholarship fund and are close to raising two million dollars for support of students to study abroad”

The PIE: What could be done to encourage students? Is it about funding or cultural acceptance for studying abroad?

WL: Well, it’s funding and then some. 50-60% of our student body are on financial aid from the government for limited resourced students. More are at our university then at the entire Ivy League.

The PIE: Really?

WL: They often come from families where they’re the first generation to attend college, and then for them to think about leaving the country when they’ve barely left their home town, it’s a challenge. So, we also started a scholarship fund and we are close to raising two million dollars for support of students to study abroad.

The PIE: Where from?

WL: From donors including myself. I can’t ask others to donate if I’m not willing to step up, so my friend and I established two scholarships. But we had a donor who gave us a million dollars and we went out to try and raise 40 $25,000 scholarships, and we are well on our way to doing that.

The PIE: Did you ever use a third party provider?

WL: Oh, yes. We try to expand the opportunities as much as possible. We have a programme at the University of California that’s called the Study Abroad Centre. It sends over 4,000 students in the university overseas. Whereas our own ‘home-grown’ programmes, only 800-1,000. So international internships, giving them practical experience.

We have 6,000 of our students in internships. But, all those have been domestic and job placement. I wanted to get international internships to combine with the study abroad. There’s so much to do and so little time to do it.

The PIE: What are you doing here in Australia for a year?

WL: I’m quite interested in higher education in general, that’s the scholarship area. How we generate knowledge, how we spread that knowledge and how we take that knowledge and put it to work. Those are the three primary functions.

I’ve looked at how US universities do it, I worked at some of that in India, I did the same thing in Brazil, some limited work in Sudan, and now I have the opportunity to do this work here in Australia. Three university presidents last June gave a speech, and I asked “Would you welcome someone to come with an outside view and spend a year with you?” thinking one might take me up on it. And, all three did. So here I am.

The PIE: You’ve just come back from Tanzania, what were you doing there?

WL: There were three scholars funded by the state department in the US in a special programme and we were the only school in California that had that programme that hosts mid-career professionals from developing countries and we have been a part of that programme for 15 years. Three of them have come from Tanzania and meeting with those three scholars was really special.

They’re mid-career professionals so when they came to us, what we were doing was just adding to their base. One was a vet, one was a civil engineer and the third was in community development. They’re all doing quite well which was really good to see because Tanzania is a really poor country, one of the poorest in Africa.

The PIE: So, you’ve seen a lot and you’ve done a lot?

WL: I’ve been fortunate, and it’s been a good journey. And, it’s not over yet.

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