Expanding Georgia Tech's Global Footprint and Influence

With trips to visit alumni, students, friends, and partners around the globe in France, Panama, and China, it has been a busy summer. Indeed, these visits have spanned the world and represent the reach of Georgia Tech’s international activities. For Georgia Tech, being a global institution means attracting the best and brightest students, educating leaders and problem-solvers, and then proudly witnessing their impact on the world.

More than six years ago, we set out to “Design the Future” with our Strategic Plan. Goal Four speaks to an imperative that pushes our institutional boundaries. It states that Georgia Tech will “Expand Our Global Footprint and Influence to Ensure That We Are Graduating Good Global Citizens.” This summer’s travels demonstrated just a few of the ways we are making those aspirations a reality.

Celebrating 25 Years of Georgia Tech-Lorraine

My first stop this summer was in France, where we celebrated the 25th anniversary of Georgia Tech-Lorraine. Few universities, if any, can claim such consistency of presence and such success. Georgia Tech-Lorraine is located in the beautiful city of Metz, a central location just a short drive or train ride from Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy, and Switzerland.

In the last academic year there, more than 180 students were seeking master and Ph.D. degrees in mechanical and electrical engineering, and computer science. These are Georgia Tech degrees, offered by Georgia Tech faculty. They enjoy a close relationship with major European companies and access to a unique, state-of-the-art facility oriented to photonics and nanotechnology at the Institut Lafayette. During the past academic year, more than 500 undergraduates spent a semester at Georgia Tech-Lorraine attending classes taught by Georgia Tech faculty, but living in dorms shared with Ecole Centrale-Supelec, one of France’s great polytechnic universities, and traveling extensively throughout Europe.

Historically, more than 5,800 students have participated in study abroad at Georgia Tech-Lorraine. A common refrain that we hear from many: It is life changing.

Marveling at the Expansion of the Panama Canal

Another stop took us to Panama. “The Path Between the Seas” is the title of David McCullough’s classic book on the Panama Canal. The 102-year-old canal and its brand-new expansion are not only a path, they are a lifeline of commerce between the West and the East. Panama and the Canal are the logistical valve of the Americas, controlling the flow of goods between the Pacific and the Atlantic. We were proud to join with students, parents, and esteemed alumni to mark the expansion’s opening. It was a time of national pride and Georgia Tech pride since a disproportionate number of Panamanian business, technical, and political leaders are Georgia Tech graduates.

Strategically located, Georgia Tech’s Panama Logistics Innovation & Research Center opened in 2010. There we can bring our world-renowned supply chain and logistics expertise and create a lasting link to the state of Georgia (another logistics hub). The Center does research on logistics issues and provides educational opportunities to many in Panama and around the region. We are presently in the process of significantly expanding our Panama activities to help in the education and research infrastructure development, an area of critical importance to that nation.

Growing Georgia Tech’s Presence in China

Lastly, we certainly cannot claim global reach and reputation without a significant presence in China. Georgia Tech has a small but high-quality joint Ph.D. program in biomedical engineering with Peking University. More than 130 undergraduates participate in summer programs, exchanges, and other study-abroad opportunities in China each year. There are more than 700 registered alumni/ae in China from a pool known to be larger than 1,000.

In the past two years we moved operations to the city of Shenzhen, where we offer a Master in Electrical and Computer Engineering while in residence in the Shenzhen Virtual University Park facilities, provided by the municipal and regional governments of Shenzhen. Shenzhen is, in my opinion, the most exciting city in China. Located across the bay from Hong Kong, it has enviable accessibility. It is a planned new city with extraordinary architecture and infrastructure. It is the heart of the Pearl River Delta, the center of China’s growth.

Shenzhen, the technology center of China, is populated by all major multinational and national corporations. Many Georgia Tech alums are leaders, founders, and owners of businesses in China and Shenzhen, in particular. Although most are of Chinese origin, they hail from places such as California, Georgia, and different locations in China. Georgia Tech is presently exploring a partnership with Tianjin University and Shenzhen’s city and regional government to develop a “Specialized Institute.” Tianjin would focus on offering undergraduate degrees, while Georgia Tech would focus on graduate degrees and research. We would be collocated in a “campus-like” facility to be built and financed by the city government. It is truly exciting!

Indeed, our travels this summer were a great demonstration of Georgia Tech’s international engagement and commitment to our overall global strategy. But why does global matter? The answer to that question is multidimensional and has exciting implications for our students, faculty, and staff, and the institution as a whole.   

  1. Our ability to attract the best faculty and students, including in-state students, is completely based on reputation, and that reputation is very much dependent on not just national, but global brand recognition. The Georgia Tech brand should be right up there with Coca-Cola and Delta Air Lines.
  2. This is indeed a flat world; our students must be comfortable with different people, cultures, ways of doing business, and environments.  They should be educated to be world leaders, irrelevant of their physical location.
  3. The state of Georgia, Atlanta, and Georgia Tech must be welcoming to the world in order to fuel its economic development. The best way to welcome the world is to reach out.
  4. I am a firm believer that the thousands of our students (more than 52 percent of all our students) who go out to all corners of the world, facilitated by our activities elsewhere, are the best ambassadors of our country’s greatness.
  5. As illustrated above, our strategic partnerships offer opportunities, facilities, and experiences that are simply not available in Atlanta, creating incredible potential and value for the faculty and students involved.

But in the end the answer is in the observation of an undergraduate from Georgia I met in China, paraphrasing (since I do not recall the exact words): “I have never traveled before, but this is my second visit — I have learned so much, I love it.”

 Rafael L. Bras 



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