Thoughts from the CONAHEC conference

I arrived at the University of Regina Kīšik Towers under cover of night.  It was late and I had traveled for many hours; I hardly glanced out of my dorm room window. During the next two mornings, campus was draped in fog and rain. As the campus was clearly designed to accommodate indoor movement during the cold winters, once I was in the main buildings, I barely stepped outside again throughout the CONAHEC 18th North American Higher Education Conference.

CONAHEC is the Consortium for North American Higher Education Collaboration and they always have thought provoking programming. This time the conference was focused on Purposeful Internationalization. As the organization works at the intersection of Mexican, Canadian, and U.S. internationalization efforts for higher education, ECE is an odd fit as a participant. But we have been attending for a long time because there are university presidents, representatives of government and licensing boards, international education directors, and more, all in one room! It is important to remind our colleagues that credential evaluation can be a consideration when dealing with international exchange. The CONAHEC staff recognizes the role our field plays in the international education landscape and give us a chance to be part of the conversation.

First Nations University of CanadaThis year’s conference was preceded by a new development conference hosted by CONAHEC, which focused on Connecting Indigenous People in North America. As the locals kept reminding us, our lovely host sits on Treaty 4 and Treaty 6 lands. They choose to honor the past. The University of Regina is as well known for their indigenization efforts as their internationalization efforts. Even with Canada’s 150th birthday this year, truth and reconciliation councils continue to meet across the country to explore their fraught colonial history. It seemed like everyone was talking about honoring the the native populations of Canada. Even the in-flight magazine!

 Several of the attendees were involved in both conferences, so some of our sessions naturally turned to the topic of how to introduce international students to indigenous populations in the host countries. I have a graduate degree in cultural anthropology and a long history in international education, so my mind was blown. What?!?!?!  I had never thought about it before. In the U.S., we have indigenous populations like they do in Saskatchewan, but is that fact actively acknowledged by our educational institutions? Or sensitively modeled to our students, international or otherwise? If one of the key reasons to promote internationalization is to introduce students to diversity, then why not look in our own backyards too? Would you set up an exchange with Navajo Technical University?

Wascana LakeOn the morning I was leaving, the weather cleared up and I finally had a bit of time to walk around and explore.  It turns out the beautiful Wascana Centre Park was across the street and I saw countless waterfowl, some very tall and aggressive rabbits, and a muskrat. I had been oblivious to the natural beauty just feet away from my door and that seemed to be a metaphor for how I had never thought about indigenous education in the U.S. before. I also passed by the home of the First Nations University of Canada, an institution that shares space with the University of Regina.  I had heard about the First Nations University at the conference and I was excited to see their building in person. But it made me wonder whether there were indigenous colleges in my state? If so, do they have international students? Do they want to collaborate? Do my local higher education institutions already do outreach to our indigenous populations? I recognize that I’m just a credential evaluator with institution envy, but this seems like great opportunity to develop new relationships, like those encouraged by CONAHEC.

Thanks to all the CONAHEC attendees, presenters, volunteers, and staff, who continue to make me see my field in a bigger light!

Martha Van Devender is a Senior Evaluator and has been with ECE since 2005. She specializes in education from Anglophone Africa and Latin America. She is also interested in online research and verification tools.



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