Rudolf “Rudi” Seracino, Professor and Associate Head for undergraduate programs in the Department of Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering, takes over as chair of the University Standing Committee on International Programs (CIP) at NC State this fall. CIP has many roles, which include advising and consulting the Office of International Affairs and the Provost’s Office on matters relating to international programs, as well as reviewing and recommending policies, regulations, and administrative measures related to international programs.
Seracino’s extensive international background makes him well-suited to chair CIP: he has lived and studied in Canada, Australia, and the US; he has hosted several international scholars; and has helped head up a number of internationally-focused programs, including a starter grant for research collaborations between faculty at NC State and the University of Adelaide, and three 6-week study abroad programs for undergraduate civil engineering students.
Seracino has seen first-hand the benefits of international experiences, particularly study abroad for undergraduate students. For Seracino, it’s important students see what’s beyond their local community–and for civil engineers, study abroad experience is particularly useful because it creates context for their work: “It makes them better civil engineers,” says Seracino. “It makes them appreciate the impact of our designs and decisions on societies. Different societies perceive things in different ways sometimes.”
And this, in turn, makes students more hireable: “The challenges–the personal challenges–of living away from home for 6 weeks in our program in a place they’ve likely never been before gives them a higher level of maturity and understanding, and employers perceive that as a benefit and a skill that perhaps other graduates will still need to develop over time.”
Seracino has had a lot of success with international programs in which he’s been involved, and yet he continues to look for ways to foster greater internationalization. He’s currently working to build up access to a semester long study abroad exchange at the University of Adelaide. Through course mapping, he’s working to fit the semester exchange into the 8-semester degree plan for his Civil, Construction and Environmental Engineering students. This work is a part of the University’s Curriculum Integration Initiative in Study Abroad to help increase access to degree relevant study abroad experiences. “We value Rudi’s leadership at the department, college, and university levels to help coordinate our efforts, increasing access to and participation in study abroad. He’s brought a breath of fresh air with him in his role as Associate Head for Undergraduate Programs to help facilitate study abroad for his students and we’re looking forward to what we can do together through his leadership in CIP.” says Julia Kisner Law, Associate Director of Curriculum Integration in the Study Abroad Office.
“NC State pledged as part of the Generation Study Abroad Initiative to increase student participation in study abroad activities by 50% by 2019,” explains Seracino, “and so one of the things we’re doing in CIP is to work with departments or colleges to develop strategic initiatives and plans that will help the university achieve that goal.”
While increasing study abroad participants by 50% by 2019 may seem like an ambitious goal, there is increasing support, not just from the university, but also from funding sources outside NC State: “There are more and more alumni and partners of the university at the college level and the university level that recognize the significance of international experience for undergraduate students,” says Seracino. Even Chancellor Randy Woodson has begun a study abroad scholarship.
Along with the effort to get more students in study abroad, Seracino wants to facilitate opportunities for creating and fostering strategic partnerships by leveraging the collaborations that already exist. “The other significant initiative is what we’re calling ‘College Inventories’, and what we want to do there is to ultimately, at the college level, determine what kind of international activities are currently ongoing,” such as undergraduate exchange or study abroad programs, collaborative research, graduate student exchange, etc.
An inventory of ongoing international activities can help to “inform, in the future, strategic initiatives such as the development of hubs or key partnerships with particular countries or regions of the world,” says Seracino, thereby creating a multitude of international opportunities for students and faculty.
Seracino believes that faculty need to be drivers of internationalization. While university units like the Office of International Affairs provide a number of resources, including funding, logistics, a framework and support, it is up to faculty to take advantage of the opportunities and encourage our students to do the same. “OIA’s role is to initiate and create some of the opportunities, play a supporting role, but in the end these goals or objectives… can’t be achieved unless the faculty step up and do the work,” says Seracino.
“In the end, it comes down to us.”