Diversity and Democracy

From the Editor: Engaging Global Challenges: The Interconnected Effects of Individual Actions

Scale can be an extraordinarily difficult thing to envision. What does it mean to be a singular person on a planet of over seven billion? For college students, some of whom may be grappling to adjust to being one of a class of several hundred or several thousand, such questions can be overwhelming. What part do I play not only in relation to my own immediate communities, but also within the world at large? What role do greater global systems, in all their messy interdependency, play in my life?

While neither question has an easy answer, the second is in some ways more approachable than the first. It's easy to see that, if not precisely how, global systems—of wealth, health, migration, politics, and climate, among others—variably, and inequitably, affect the lives of everyone on the planet. But it can be more difficult to envision one's particular role at the crux of these different systems—or, as Hilary Kahn puts it in this issue, to see oneself as a "global knot" whose actions are affected by, and can have an impact in, far-flung contexts.

And yet the task of prompting students to envision these relationships is not only within higher education's reach—it is critical to preparing students for twenty-first-century realities. Today's college students, whether they are seventeen or seventy, will witness first-hand the implications of global interconnectedness, encountering global challenges—including climate change, economic instability, political violence, and social inequity—that they can choose to address or exacerbate. Higher education must equip students with the information, skills, and capacities they need to make the decisions, large and small, through which they may compromise or contribute to the greater good.

Fortunately, as this issue's contents illustrate, global challenges offer critical opportunities for learning. To prepare students to address the globally complex challenges that they will encounter as graduates, there is no better practice than addressing global challenges in the curriculum and cocurriculum. By working with engaging global challenges, students can become engaged global learners, prepared to excel in their own lives and to address the most pressing problems facing society.

This issue's authors focus less on the specifics of these pressing problems than on the different methods by which higher education can involve students in addressing them. Contributing authors describe service learning, inquiry into "big questions," and project-based learning as possible avenues into this work. They examine cross-institutional, interdisciplinary, and discipline-specific approaches to global challenges—including practices aligned with the vision that the Association of American Colleges and Universities (AAC&U) recently outlined in The LEAP Challenge (2015). They raise pressing questions about inclusion and equity in a global society, and about how higher education can advance these principles.

The question for readers of this issue is how they can similarly engage students in addressing global challenges at their institutions. What role can you and your institution play in helping students understand the magnitude of their responsibilities on a global scale? By what particular means will you prepare your students to contribute to the shared end of a more healthy, sustainable, peaceful, and equitable global community—and to gain the skills they need for their own success in the process?

If that last question seems overly idealistic, consider the words of Worcester Polytechnic Institute student Luke Perreault. Reflecting in this issue on his project-based learning experiences in college, Luke concludes that "when you jump up, you move the world down, just a tiny bit. Everyone is a world mover." Globally engaged learning experiences, spread across four years of the curriculum, led Luke to believe that "being a world mover isn't impossible: it's just physics." Imagine what the world would be like if every educator and every student came to the same conclusion.

—Kathryn Peltier Campbell
Editor, Diversity & Democracy

If you are interested in exploring global learning in collaboration with others, consider attending AAC&U's Network for Academic Renewal conference on Global Learning in College: Defining, Developing, and Assessing Institutional Roadmaps on October 8 to 10, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.


AAC&U. 2015. The LEAP Challenge. Washington, DC: AAC&U.

Kathryn Peltier Campbell is the editor of Diversity & Democracy.

Previous Issues