The Power of an International Perspective

I recently returned from Tanzania, Africa, after a dream vacation with my wife. The natural beauty I witnessed there and the wonderful people I met lead me to contemplate how lucky we have been. Over my life I have visited all seven continents and from my travels, I have distilled several lessons. I have learned that Earth is beautiful but very fragile, and we are nothing in the expanse of the universe. Only we can destroy that nurturing beauty – or save it. I have seen that the great majority of people around the world are wonderful; they share the same aspirations for well-being, happiness, and prosperity for their families. I have also learned no one has a monopoly on wisdom or knowledge. I have learned to learn.

When I left Puerto Rico as a young man to begin my undergraduate career at MIT, I could have never envisioned all my figurative or literal "travels." I could have never envisioned that the opportunities provided to me, a son of a small Caribbean island, would lead me to where I am today. Looking back over an exciting and rewarding career in academia, I certainly could not have envisioned how much the world of academia and the sciences would change. In more than 40 years in higher education, I have had the pleasure to work with colleagues and students from all over the world and have watched as my classrooms and programs have become more diverse in appearance, intellectual views, and disciplinary interests. One of the most welcomed and enriching forms of diversity has been a growing number of women, students of color, and varying nationalities.

I have had the opportunity to participate in multinational, interdisciplinary projects and have seen the power of collaboration harnessed in extraordinary ways. Through rapid advancements in technology and globalization, we have rich opportunities to interact with talented people from different cultures throughout the globe – including right here on our campus.

I am a firm believer that international exchanges, both personal and professional, have a lasting impact on our perspectives. They cause us to think differently and see the world through a broader lens. Through exposure to new belief systems and cultural norms, we begin to understand our place in the world and have a clearer understanding of those different from us. 

I am proud to be part of a global research university and the greater international body of scholars. The role of the research university is to help students learn to think and discover their own path to success. But equally so, our role is to think big, discover, and find solutions through science, built on expertise and leadership with the rest of the world and for the benefit of humanity at large.

In realizing our vision to be truly global, we have research collaborations in more than 100 countries, and institutional partnerships in more than 30 countries. In the last six months alone, I traveled to France, Panama, and China to continue to foster important global partnerships and celebrate the ongoing work at our Lorraine campus and grow our presence in China with the new educational collaboration with the city of Shenzhen and Tianjin University.

Solving global issues requires global thinking. We must continue to encourage our students to see all corners of the globe and recruit the world’s finest educators and researchers. We are a community of problem-solvers, innovators, and entrepreneurs. As a campus of 33,000, our students, faculty, and staff come from more than 120 countries. Large numbers of our international students with advanced degrees have become US citizens or residents, enriching the economy of Georgia and the country at large. The others go back and remain proud of the lessons learned in this great institution. They are our ambassadors to the rest of the world. We are a community of imagination, all bound by the desire to transform the world around us through the discovery of new ideas and the dissemination of this knowledge.

The days and weeks following the Jan. 27 immigration executive order have been fraught with uncertainty for many of our colleagues across the nation, and have had personal impact on some of our community here at Georgia Tech. We will continue to support our international students and colleagues. We will continue to watch closely and provide support and resources to our faculty, staff, and students. Georgia Tech’s Office of International Education is updating a resource page as new information becomes available. 

As part of the larger academic sphere and one of the leading research universities in the United States and the world, we will continue to embrace a global imperative that bringing together the world’s brightest minds, irrespective of their origin, is the best way to solve some of our toughest challenges.

-Rafael L. Bras

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