Meet Professor Penelope Morris, our Dean for Global Engagement in the Americas

Penelope discusses the positive impact of international engagement on a professional and personal level, including new opportunities resulting from hybrid working.

A committed internationalist

Ever since I spent a year abroad as an undergraduate student as part of my degree in Modern Languages, I have been convinced of the dramatically positive effects – both for individuals and for institutions – of engaging internationally. This conviction has only been reinforced by years of researching and collaborating internationally, and of seeing my own students return energised and enlightened by their experience of living and learning in a foreign context.

My role as Dean for Global Engagement

In this role, I lead the University’s international strategy in the Americas, identifying exciting opportunities and working closely with higher education institutions and other stakeholders to facilitate new and growing collaborations. My region covers Canada and the United States, and the Caribbean and Latin America. Across this area we have a very wide range of partnerships including various kinds of research collaborations, student mobilities, staff and teaching exchanges, summer schools, internships, joint research calls and more.

A new, hybrid way of working internationally

Of course, the ways in which we work changed drastically with the start of the pandemic, and I was sorry to have only had 5 months in my new role to visit our partners in person and experience their wonderful countries and campuses. But very quickly we all found innovative ways of engaging virtually.

In some cases, this meant preparing for post-pandemic times, such as the new student exchange in Law with McMaster University in Canada, due to start in person next academic year, but established entirely through online communications. In other cases, we’ve been able to start our collaborations virtually. For example, an online research ‘speed dating’ event between colleagues in International Relations at Glasgow and at Federal University of Minas Gerais, Brazil, proved to be the ideal way for the two groups to get to know their counterparts and their research before the new faculty teaching and research exchange scheme begins in person later this year.

The following are two more examples of partnership events that took on a different form because of the pandemic, but were ultimately very positive experiences. Heralding a new, more thoroughly hybrid way of engaging internationally, which is environmentally conscious and draws on the advantages of both online and in-person communication.

The Smithsonian Institution

Our partnership with the Smithsonian Institute dates back to at least 1993 when a Scheme of Association was established between the Freer-Sackler Galleries and Glasgow’s The Hunterian museum and art gallery. This was consolidated later by the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two institutions. There are now many shared research, teaching and public engagement projects and an exciting range of future activities are under development.

For the renewal of the MoU in January this year, celebrating in person in either Glasgow or Washington was impossible due to the pandemic. Instead, the signing of the agreement went online and the celebratory round table, inspired by the recent decision to create a new American Women’s History Museum, brought together curators from the Smithsonian Women’s History Initiative and Glasgow’s Centre for Gender History to discuss the very current issue of women’s history and museums. It attracted a large audience from all around the world, opening up the conversation in ways that would not have been possible in a more traditional format.

McGill University

The first MoU between Glasgow and McGill University was in 2015, but in fact the relationship goes back a great deal longer as James McGill was an alumnus of the University of Glasgow, graduating in 1756. Celebrating these historic links, but also developing our more recent collaborations and seeking new opportunities, the signing of the renewed MoU in January this year was marked by an online symposium which brought together over 70 academic and professional services colleagues. Breakout discussion rooms provided the fora for investigations into English literature, Political Science, Nutrition, Neuroimaging, Animal and Veterinary Science, the Caribbean, Early Career Researcher + Joint PhDs, and Slavery Studies. Here too the scope and range of the event would have been much more difficult in person and unsurprisingly, many of the planned follow-up activities are also hybrid.

Right now I’m very excited to be travelling again – later this month I’ll be visiting our partner the University of Denver and attending both their Internationalisation Summit and the NAFSA Annual Conference and Expo – but I’m also very much looking forward to working in the constantly evolving space of our online collaborations.