Going Global for Students of Distinction

Mary Beth Furst, Tara Eisenhauer Ebersole, with the Global Distinction Faculty Learning Communities
Innovation Showcase

The Community College of Baltimore County (CCBC) and Howard Community College (HCC) of Maryland have teamed up to create Global Distinction, a new academic enrichment program for students. Global Distinction recognizes students who have pursued a globally intensive curriculum through identified general education courses, world languages, and international experiences. The mission of Global Distinction is to provide a framework to ensure that students become global citizens prepared for both academic and professional endeavors in the interconnected and interdependent world of the 21st century.

Higher education organizations such as the American Association of Colleges and Universities (AAC&U), the American Association of Community Colleges (AACC), and the American Council for Education (ACE) recognize the importance of global education, and promote it as a means to prepare students for today's interconnected world. Employers, too, recognize the importance of global skills. The results of a recent AAC&U survey of employers found that over 60 percent of employers stated that too many recent college graduates do not have the necessary global skills to be successful (AAC&U, 2007). The results of national surveys suggest that young people in the United States--the most recent graduates of our educational system--are unprepared for an increasingly global future.

Data from CCBC and HCC mirror the results of national surveys. In response to the opportunity to increase the skills of students who will soon enter the workforce, CCBC and HCC crafted Global Distinction to comprehensively address this need. Global Distinction relies on a three-pronged approach: the globalization of the general education curriculum, intercultural immersion, and campus events.

Building on Complementary Strengths

The catalyst for creating Global Distinction was a unique collaboration between two Maryland community colleges with complementary strengths--one with a record of assessment, analysis, and intervention; the other with a robust international atmosphere and diverse population. CCBC's data demonstrated that students needed a broader world view to satisfy the needs of employers. HCC's globalized campus focused on flags, food, and festivals, and sought to move that initial exposure to a more substantial academic understanding.

Our Faculty Learning Community (FLC) met three times each semester for a full year, alternating meetings at each college location, while we examined best practices and developed a proposal for an innovative and sustainable academic enrichment program open to all students, regardless of major and GPA. We continue to meet regularly as each institution has piloted and refined Global Distinction. Through the FLC, we have created an advisor handbook, marketing materials, and assessment strategies.

Becoming Globally Distinct

To be recognized as Globally Distinct, students must (1) complete 15 credits of globally intensive course work that includes a world language, earning a grade of a C or better, (2) engage in a significant cultural immersion experience, and (3) participate in international or intercultural campus community activities. The coursework provides students with the skills and knowledge necessary for intercultural competency, sensitivity to languages, and integration of diversity, civic engagement, and social responsibility in a global framework. Study abroad or domestic immersion addresses greater competency in working with culturally diverse people and provides a greater awareness of personal perspectives. Experiences are summarized in an e-portfolio evaluated by the program coordinator.

The globalized curriculum focuses on general education courses with a decidedly global perspective. Globalized courses either have global elements that are integrated throughout the course or an entire global orientation. Courses as diverse as English composition, sociology, business, and college algebra have been adapted to meet these standards. Faculty members have embraced the opportunity to integrate a global perspective into their curriculum and survey data demonstrate that students find global courses more engaging. For example, students in an English composition course that is globally intensive often feel compelled to take action to support causes around the world after researching and writing about a topic. This type of engagement leads to greater interest in the subject and speaks to the true intent of liberal education. The broad range of disciplines means that students are exposed to global issues from a variety of perspectives. Global issues and discussions are seamlessly reflected in the course work, and contribute to a campus-wide hum of discussions that extend beyond the confines of our locale.

On-campus activities draw our diverse community together to share experiences. The campuses are internationalized through the myriad of presentations, film showings, events, and public conversations held at both colleges regularly. Participating in theater, dance, and music, students are exposed to the world through the arts. They can hear from leading thinkers who provide a global context for issues in business, sociology, and politics. After attending the events, students reflect on their experiences in a 250-word essay that demonstrates what they learned about the featured culture or country and how the activity provided a global perspective. Throughout their participation in Global Distinction, one global event per semester is required. The reflections are assembled in e-portfolios, and may be voiced in discussions both in and out of the classroom, serving to raise general awareness of global issues among all students.

Finally, cultural immersion either through study abroad, an internship, or a domestic intercultural experience can be life-altering. Ideally, Global Distinction students will have the opportunity to study abroad, which offers them the experience of leaving their comfort zone and becoming the other. However, because community college students may find the cost and duration of study abroad prohibitive, Global Distinction offers domestic intercultural immersion such as internship opportunities with the English Institute at HCC and the Columbia Association. The intent is to integrate the students into another culture, including its language, thoughts, and norms. Because this requirement increases the number of students on campus exposed to such experiences, it enables Global Distinction students to act as ambassadors, encouraging fellow students to join them in their pursuit of a larger world perspective.

The program does not discriminate among students upon entry; rather, it is open to all. Participants in the program include students native to Maryland, international students, traditional and adult learners, degree- and transfer-seeking students. This broad base of participation encompasses the desire of many students to increase their global competency and demonstrates the importance placed on achieving greater competence.

The Global Distinction cohort members are motivated to complete the program because they gain an advantage over students transferring without the same credential. Although the data on participants and their outcomes are preliminary, we expect to see an increase in degree completion. Letters of recommendation that recognize the achievement of Global Distinction accompany students' transfer applications. At CCBC, students will receive recognition on their transcripts for each semester of their successful participation in the program. Additionally, students are submitting the details of the program to potential employers to demonstrate achievement of the skills employers demand.

Assessing Student Learning

Assessment of student outcomes is a critical piece of Global Distinction. In particular, we wish to gain a better understanding of how students achieve the following goals:

  1. Greater intercultural competency in both academic and professional areas;
  2. Improved sensitivity to other languages and cultures;
  3. Greater competency when dealing with people from other cultures;
  4. Enhanced ability to integrate the importance of diversity, civic engagement, and social responsibility in a global framework;
  5. Better preparation for successful participation in a dynamic and interconnected world; and
  6. Greater awareness of personal cultural norms and how they shape views and perspectives.

Various parts of the Global Distinction program address these goals. Coursework focuses on the skills and knowledge necessary for intercultural competency (1), sensitivity to languages (2), and integration into a global framework (4). Study abroad or domestic immersion addresses the goals of greater competency in working with people with diverse backgrounds (3) and greater awareness of personal perspectives (6). All elements of Global Distinction serve to prepare students for participation in the dynamic and interconnected world.

Further assessment requires a systematic methodology, and our post-pilot approach is bilateral: a survey to measure attitudes and student reflection that demonstrates transformation. The Bennett Intercultural Survey is a validated instrument to measure intercultural sensitivity. The survey effectively identifies the placement of subjects along a continuum, from denial through to integration. It will assess change in goals 1-3 of the program. By conducting and comparing scores for students before entering Global Distinction and after completing Global Distinction, we are able to discern if the program has made a change in students' cultural sensitivity.

Mezirow's theory of transformative learning is defined by Schroeder (n.d.) as "a change process that transforms frames of reference." We chose this instrument to assess change in attitudes and behaviors as indicated by goals 5 and 6. The end-of-semester prompts to Global Distinction students will evaluate their focus on global issues and will be compared to baseline responses from a group of students who did not participate in the program.

Global Distinction as a Model

Global Distinction students on both campuses are engaged, active members of the college community. The requirements of the program include a variety of events, classes, and experiences that broaden students' exposure to global issues on campus. The participating students, in turn, enthusiastically spread the word and drive interest in global issues and discussions. They truly are students of distinction.

Global Distinction is an effective means of enabling students to seamlessly integrate global education into their academic lives. As an academic enrichment program open to all regardless of major or GPA, students enter the program when it suits their academic needs. Global Distinction is comprised of traditional and adult learners, local and international students. Recently, Global Distinction was a recipient of the 2011 Andrew Heiskell Award for Internationalizing the Community College Campus.

The Global Distinction program is a model that will work on many college campuses--both two year and four year. Administrators at both CCBC and HCC have been widely supportive of the Global Distinction program. This support stems from the recognized need to ensure that community college students are well prepared to enter the interconnected and interdependent world of the 21st century. As students in the program gain visibility, transferability, and ultimately employability, we strive to empower an increasing number of students with global perspectives and intercultural competencies.


Association for American Colleges and Universities. (2007). College Learning for the New Global Century: A Report from the National Leadership Council for Liberal Education and America's Promise. Washington, DC.

Schroeder, Connie. (n.d.). Transformative Learning Theory. Retrieved July 13, 2012, from https://eee.uci.edu/news/articles/0601transformative.php.

Mary Beth Furst is Assistant Professor and Coordinator, Business and Computers Division, at Howard Community College in Maryland; and Tara Eisenhauer Ebersole is Professor of Biology and STEM Liaison at The Community College of Baltimore County, also in Maryland. They prepared this article with the Global Distinction Faculty Learning Communities at The Community College of Baltimore County and Howard Community College.

Opinions expressed in Innovation Showcase are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent those of the League for Innovation in the Community College.