Academic News

CUNY’s University Dean for Education wins Fulbright award for International Education Administrator Seminar

December 22, 2016

Ashleigh Thompson at the SorbonneDr. Ashleigh Thompson, University Dean for Education in CUNY’s Office of Academic Affairs, received a Fulbright award for participation in the 2016 Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminar that took place in France this fall. With this grant from the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board, she traveled with a cohort of U.S. international education professionals and senior higher education officials for a two-week intensive seminar exploring France’s higher education system, culture, and society, and concluding with additional meetings in Germany. Dr. Thompson and her Fulbright colleagues visited more than 20 sites in Marseilles and Paris, France and Bonn, Germany, including high schools, universities, research labs, Grandes Ecoles, the OECD, museums, culinary schools, a teachers college, and both French and German governmental offices. Below she answers questions about her Fulbright experience and ways that CUNY can learn from and contribute to international dialogue around higher education.

What spurred your interest in international education? How does it relate to your current area of focus at CUNY?

My interest in international education started early, with study abroad and work experiences in Chile and Mexico during and immediately after college. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have international experiences threaded through my academic and professional work. At CUNY, international work has found its way into my portfolio in both purposeful and surprising ways—from conducting professional development workshops in Ireland for college students in the disabilities services field, to planning and presenting at international conferences, to organizing visits for Haitian college presidents, administrators, and faculty interested in CUNY’s academic offerings.

These experiences and others have stretched me in ways that are both uncomfortable and absolutely necessary for growth. I often discover that another country has an interesting solution for a similar issue I ponder at home, which shakes up my reliance on business as usual once back at the office, and fosters a mindset for more creative thinking in the future. Going into my Fulbright experience, I was particularly curious to learn about how France and other European countries approach key issues around student diversity, immigration trends and policies, and undocumented students, especially as those relate to higher education and the teacher workforce there.

What are some key strengths of France’s higher education system that you would like to see CUNY explore?

In France and other European countries, there is a serious emphasis on international mobility as a crucial job and life skill. Studying in multiple contexts and first-hand awareness of the global economy are considered prized skills, and some graduate or business schools have two or three year curriculum where each year of study occurs in a different country. The structures and governance of these programs could be useful models for CUNY to study as we consider ways of integrating more international exposure into curriculum.

Global competency isn’t only fostered through study abroad, though—over the course of the seminar, I learned about many intriguing strategies for connecting students with campus-based opportunities for global exposure. Engaging international faculty (and more informally, international students) in advisory or mentoring roles is one example.  Several French and German universities we visited offered programs for both exile and refugee scholars and students.  European universities often use the “co-tutelle” model by which doctoral candidates have two advisors from two different countries.

There are also examples of non-credit certificate programs that help students acquire intercultural competencies and ways of articulating these to prospective employers, which would be of great value to our students as they navigate New York’s competitive and globally-savvy job market.

From your perspective, are there areas where CUNY’s expertise could be informative and helpful for universities in France and other parts of the world?

In France, small, elite undergraduate and graduate schools are beginning to consolidate into unified systems. With a 50-year head start on this process, CUNY could be an international advisor for integrating university systems. This is an area of interest among French universities, with a goal of maximizing their counts of prestigious faculty and graduates, research labs and other metrics for the Shanghai Rankings. As they hammer out questions of philosophy, economy of scale, budget, and governance, CUNY could serve as an important resource and technical advisor to these emerging university systems.

Student diversity is another area where CUNY could be a strong partner for French universities. The French Ministry of Foreign Affairs hopes to recruit more American students from all backgrounds for long-term study abroad. Given the diverse composition of CUNY’s student body and our interest in making study abroad more widely available, this seems like an important avenue for us to explore.  Also, with the growth of France’s African diaspora and Muslim communities, there are corresponding implications for the P-12 education system—more Arabic-speaking teachers are needed, for example—and CUNY may be well-positioned as an exchange partner, where teacher candidates in New York and in French cities can learn from one another, gain clinical experience, and share effective practices.

Ashleigh Thompson with Fulbright colleagues in Marseille.

Dean Ashleigh Thompson oversees Teacher Education across CUNY, a portfolio encompassing more than 16,000 education students pursuing associate to doctoral degrees, and convenes the Deans and Chairs from CUNY’s Schools and Departments of Education, creating and implementing University-wide strategy for teacher preparation both internally and with outside partners. She also directs CUNY’s NYC Men Teach initiative, an engagement and recruitment effort of the Mayor’s Office aimed to inspire more men of color to become teachers in New York City, and serves as Principal Investigator on CUNY’s NYC Teaching Fellows partnership with the NYC Department of Education. She leads a diverse array of University-wide Academic Affairs initiatives focused on student access and success, and represents CUNY on boards and committees across the University, City and State.

Offered in multiple countries throughout each academic year, the IEA seminars provide grantees with new channels for building partnerships, encouraging study abroad participation and supporting international students. Learn more about the Fulbright International Education Administrators Seminars.