Vice Provost for Global Engagement James Keenan, S.J. (Lee Pellegrini)

The coronavirus has made it a challenging time for global outreach in academia, given international travel restrictions and financial uncertainties throughout higher education. But the Boston College Office of Global Engagement, under the direction of first-year Vice Provost James Keenan, S.J., has made significant advances nonetheless.

Fr. Keenan has succeeded in meeting the ambitious agenda he set for himself by strengthening the Strategic Alliance of Catholic Research Universities, or SACRU, creating new partnerships with Jesuit institutions, and working with the Office of the Provost to bring the Office of International Programs and Office of International Students and Scholars under the auspices of the Office of Global Engagement this semester.

Citing a desire to “honor the legacy” of the late Alberto Godenzi, BC’s inaugural vice provost for global engagement, Fr. Keenan has worked with each of the eight SACRU schools to form working groups with interdisciplinary committees in their respective institutions to respond to COVID-19 through research and teaching, and develop plans for collaboration on environmental issues. In addition, he has leveraged the existing study-abroad programs between Boston College and five of the seven SACRU partners: Pontifical Catholic University of Chile in Santiago, Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Sacro Cuore in Milan, Sofia University in Tokyo, and Australian Catholic University in Melbourne to develop further cooperation among faculty and graduate students, while also working through BC’s Jesuit Institute to organize an annual semester-long visiting professor fellowship for a SACRU faculty member to teach at Boston College.

New partnerships

Beyond SACRU, Fr. Keenan has recently overseen the signing of memoranda of understanding between BC and three Jesuit schools—Ateneo de Manila University in Manila, Philippines; Pontificia Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, Colombia; and Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth in Beirut, Lebanon—that will establish faculty and student exchange programs, academic partnerships, and future collaborations.

The MOU with Ateneo de Manila University seeks to inaugurate a partnership between BC’s School of Theology and Ministry and AMU’s Loyola School of Theology for online courses; collaborations between the school’s environmental sciences departments and their respective programs in global public health and entrepreneurship; and an alliance between Ateneo’s Science and Art of Learning and Teaching initiative and the Lynch School of Education and Human Development’s Learning Engineering Program.

The Pontificia Universidad Javeriana-BC MOU would create collaborations between their respective schools of social work, particularly in the areas of migration and reconciliation; the development of programs with BC’s Earth and Environmental Sciences department and PUJ’s Faculty of Rural and Environmental Studies and its Water Institute; and online courses between the Woods College of Advancing Studies’ Applied Economics program and PUJ’s master’s degree programs in artificial intelligence and health economics.

Boston College and Université Saint-Joseph de Beyrouth look to launch joint research opportunities between nursing schools; online courses, and possible faculty exchanges between USJ’s Faculty of Religious Studies and BC’s School of Theology and Ministry.

Fr. Keenan said the accomplishments of this past year are due in no small part to the strong working relationships he and Office of Global Engagement Associate Director Bryan Fleming developed with the President’s Office, the Provost’s Office, Office of International Programs, Office of International Students and Scholars, and the “very active” Global Engagement Committee composed of delegates from each of BC’s eight schools.

“Because of these relationships, we have had a very successful launch of SACRU, which is already promoting various research working groups. We’re also preparing for visiting professorships at our allies’ schools and launching a weeklong summer global training program in 2023 for roughly 50 doctoral students annually. And we have signed five major MOUs with the Jesuit Refugee Service, the Pontifical Council of Culture, and three major Jesuit research universities. We are pleased with the accomplishments that we have achieved thus far.”

New global umbrella for BC programs

Fr. Keenan said the move of OIP and OISS under the umbrella of Global Engagement will strengthen their outreach, allow them to work more closely together, and create more diverse and rigorous opportunities for international study. He praised former OIP Director Nick Gozik—who left BC to become dean of global engagement at Elon University last month—for being “an enormous help” in the transition.  

“Larry Pickener is doing a superb job as OIP interim director, with the search for the new OIP director to begin in April,” said Fr. Keenan.  “We want OIP to have a global reach that is more reflective of a Research 1 University, and this means working with undergraduate program directors to make study abroad a more ambitious time for developing students’ academic portfolios, and offering a program that is more expansive than our predominantly Western European offerings.”

 He added that OISS Director Adrienne Nussbaum “has been indispensable on the Global Engagement Committee; in time, we will have conversations about other ways to support our graduate students coming from overseas.”

BC’s academic leadership has welcomed the changes.

 “It makes complete sense that the Office of International Programs works under the umbrella of Global Engagement,” said Vice Provost for Undergraduate Academic Affairs Akua Sarr. “The mission of OIP to educate students for an increasingly diverse world is directly in line with the vision of Global Engagement to advance international education and global cooperation on our campus. The promotion of internationalization is an important strategic goal for BC, and I think this partnership will be fruitful. I look forward to continuing to work with Jim Keenan, Larry Pickener and the entire Global Engagement team.”

Added Vice Provost for Faculties Billy Soo, “OISS has come a long way from  when its sole role was to assist international students and scholars with visas. Today, it has a host of programs and services that help welcome and integrate our international community with the greater Boston College universe. With the establishment of the Office of Global Engagement, OISS has found a natural home where they can share their expertise and experience to a broader company who have the shared goal of magnifying Boston College’s presence in and impact on the world.”

Fr. Keenan noted the potential for additional partnerships with universities whose expertise aligns with Boston College’s interests and strengths: At present, a group of BC faculty are in discussions with their counterparts at the Ateneo, the Javeriana, and Saint-Joseph, he said, and by next semester he expects some 50 BC faculty to be “building bridges” with the Jesuit universities in Manila, Bogotá, and Beirut. Three more MOUs are likely to be signed this spring with the Jesuit Hekima University in Nairobi, Trinity College Dublin, and eventually a major Jesuit university in India.

“These six universities, together with the seven universities in SACRU—located in 13 very different international cities—will be the critical, global partners that will define BC’s actual and future global engagement. We are very excited about the future of global engagement at Boston College.”

Jack Dunn | University Communications | February 2021