Dal is embracing internationalization by teaming up and sharing data, infrastructure and best practices—and creating world-leading student and research experiences in the process.
Dal student Emily Higgins may be working on her Master of Science degree in Halifax, but her research project is submerged in water more than 8,000 kilometres away. Through the Schulich Ocean Studies Initiative, Higgins studies colonization in coral reefs in the Red Sea. This past fall, she went to Israel and installed ceramic tiles off the coast of Eilat in the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba to see what sticks to artificial reefs versus natural reefs. Now back in Canada, her Israeli research partners do photographic sampling every four weeks to help Higgins assess what the differences are in the conditions and growths on these two types of reefs.
Higgins is studying the efficacy of artificial reefs and whether they can help mitigate the effects of climate change on sensitive environments, saying the implications of her project could be profound if artificial reefs enhance growth or overall supply of coral reef animals. “Measuring and evaluating that is important in knowing whether to build other structures, and how to design them to address conservation goals,” Higgins explains. It allows others to do a cost-benefit analysis before building similar structures.
Understanding marine sciences is crucial to understanding and protecting the global environment, and as oceans don’t conform to national or continental borders, neither does ocean science. “It’s very much a global initiative,” says Oceanography Professor Marlon Lewis (PhD’84). He teaches Israeli students who come to Dalhousie on exchange. Their intensive summer course, in which they study alongside Dalhousie peers, involves field research on fishing boats in the Halifax Harbour, Bedford Basin and beyond. Students catch plankton, and test water and mud samples. “It’s not just academic—there’s a social perspective, too. I get to interact with them,” Dr. Lewis says.
He’s also one of eight Dalhousie faculty members with a Schulich research grant, funded by philanthropist Seymour Schulich. Dr. Lewis analyzes the colour of the surface ocean and like much of “big science”—large-scale projects involving many scientists, institutions and governments—it’s expensive. His measurement tools include billion-dollar satellites funded by NASA through consortiums with the European Space Agency and countries including Japan, China, India and Israel.
“Teams extend across national boundaries to address our shared problems,” Dr. Lewis explains. He’s also lectured at Israeli universities through the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences, plus he travelled to Brazil last year to work on a joint project with a former student who had returned to the country after after completing her degree at Dalhousie.
Martha Crago, Dalhousie’s vice-president research, understands the goals and challenges of conducting international research and the importance of mobilizing resources to support it. “Countries [must] work together. The worst thing is when they compete instead of collaborate,” she says. Dr. Crago is a proponent of science diplomacy: scientific collaboration among nations to address common problems and build constructive international partnerships. She advocates for more shared resources, particularly infrastructure, citing the Arctic as an example of a research frontier rich with data that is enormously expensive to access. “Why have countries spending the same money for their own equipment when they can share it?” she asks.
“Why have countries spending the same money for their own equipment when they can share it?”
Dr. Crago is working to make Dalhousie both a national and international hub of research, believing the best universities in the world are truly global institutions—ones that attract students and scholars from around the globe and collaborate with leading departments no matter where they’re based. Under Dr. Crago’s leadership, Dalhousie is establishing research connections far beyond campus, increasing opportunities for international faculty and staff, welcoming international students and supporting research papers co-authored by Dalhousie and international researchers. For all this, Dalhousie achieved 125th spot (the fifth-highest ranking within Canada) on the 2015 Times Higher Education ranking of the world’s most international universities.
The ranking offers some satisfaction but the practical benefits of collaboration are what stay top of mind for Dr. Crago. “Profs share resources. They work with colleagues who are terrific,” she says. “Students meet people from other countries. They make friends for life.”
Partnerships and friendships
Kaitlin Burek, a fourth-year Dalhousie Marine Biology student, was impressed by the warmth of her Israeli classmates when she took a credit course through the Interuniversity Institute for Marine Sciences in Eilat over Christmas break. “They took care of us and made us feel welcome. They even cooked for us. They didn’t know all our traditions but sang Jingle Bells with us on Christmas Day,” the Toronto native says.
Because Israeli students complete mandatory military service before their studies, they tend to be older and offer a different worldview and perspective. The diversity in the classroom was matched by the extraordinary reefs Burek witnessed in the Red Sea. Studying fish settlements in branching corals, Burek’s fieldwork involved snorkeling. She describes being so overwhelmed by the Red Sea’s beauty she was in tears the first time she emerged from the water.
“I feel so fortunate to see what I’ve seen,” Burek says, describing exotic fish and invertebrates within the pristine waters that are home to bright pink and purple coral. “It makes the degree so much richer.”
Alain Boutet is Dalhousie’s executive director in the Office of International Relations, which he calls a “one-stop shop for international partnerships.” Dr. Boutet’s objective is the internationalization of Dalhousie, or as he says, “trying to build well-rounded partnerships.”
“We live in a global world. Our philosophy is teaching students to become global citizens.”
The trend toward global teaching, learning, research and services is now entrenched in Dal’s internationalization strategy. It focuses on strengthening existing connections and identifying research partnerships. In the five years since he came to Dalhousie, “our [international] profile has increased big time,” Dr. Boutet says. For this, he credits signing agreements with France, Brazil, China and Germany; attracting students; forming research collaborations; supporting faculty who teach international students and want a more global classroom; and sponsoring exchanges.
Best of all, Dr. Boutet says, Dalhousie’s international partnerships boost the research impact of the university by allowing Dalhousie to access centres of excellence. “We partner with the best. By understanding best practices through comparative learning we can implement that here at Dalhousie.”
The time has come
Grad student Higgins has seen first-hand the necessity for adaptation in her Red Sea research. When she observes coral communities, she’s inspired by their resilience and willingness to change in new circumstances. “We do see glimmers of hope through studies that look at adaptation. Communities can and will change. They are fragile but there is a lot of capacity for adaptation. There’s promising research that shows the earth can rally if the rate of climate change isn’t too fast.”
It appears universities, through internationalization, are likewise adapting. “It’s a small world. We need to reach out and collaborate with other countries,” says Pat Rodee, Dalhousie’s director of international research and development. She says 15 years ago there was limited government funding targeted toward joint research. The situation was the same in Europe. Today, it’s still not easy to access funds for joint research but it’s not impossible. “We’re all interconnected now,” says Rodee. “Many challenges are global challenges.”
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