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Broadening Global Experiences for All Tritons

Inaugural Assistant Vice Chancellor of Global Initiatives Tamara T. Cunningham will create a university-wide internationalization plan

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 At UC San Diego, learning isn’t confined to the campus. In fact, faculty and researchers are leading an estimated 400 field work projects, clinical trials, start-ups and other initiatives in partnership with institutions in more than 50 countries. Similarly, hundreds of students venture outside the classroom each year to gain new cultural knowledge through global experiences. According to Tamara T. Cunningham, who was recently named inaugural assistant vice chancellor for Global Initiatives, there are no limits to what can be achieved through global alliance.

“The tagline for my candidacy was ‘to the moon’ because global is even restrictive in its own way—we are going into the universe; there’s nothing we can’t do together,” said Cunningham, who arrived at UC San Diego in Nov. 2022.

Portrait of new assistant vice chancellor for global initiatives Tamara Cunningham
Tamara T. Cunningham

With more than two decades of experience leading international efforts in higher education, Cunningham will develop and implement a strategic internationalization plan for UC San Diego that will unify existing programs on campus and grow opportunities for research, teaching and collaborations worldwide.

As leader of Student Affairs’ Global Initiatives (formerly known as Global Education), she manages a team of experts who drive strategic international engagement in support of comprehensive internationalization as well as welcomes and supports international students and scholars. These include the International Students and Programs Office, International Faculty & Scholars Office and Study Abroad.

“For a global campus of our distinction, we needed a leader whose primary responsibility is to collaborate across all aspects of UC San Diego and the world to ensure we fully realize our mission,” said Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Alysson Satterlund. “AVC Cunningham will help broaden global experiences for students and scholars, leading to better understanding of the perspectives, values, beliefs, traditions, expertise and experiences across and within cultures. When this happens, innovation emerges and opportunities for peacemaking abound.”

First impressions

During her first 100 days on campus, Cunningham has been learning about the university’s myriad global engagements to begin to map out a strategic internationalization plan. She is guided by four key recommendations that were identified in the American Council on Education Internationalization Laboratory Report. These include:

  • Supporting faculty and scholars as frontline champions for internationalization
  • Breaking silos and building bridges
  • Cultivating a culture of global citizenship 
  • Creating a community of lifelong Tritons

Though UC San Diego already has a reputation of being highly connected around the globe, the imperative to collaborate with others who have different expertise and providing students with access to high-impact learning experiences is stronger than ever. Fighting a deadly, highly contagious virus like COVID-19 cannot be successful without the input of the world’s top medical minds. And mitigating the catastrophic impacts of climate change is impossible without the unique knowledge of experts from different hemispheres.

Cunningham believes that offering UC San Diego students, faculty and research scholars international experiences should be non-negotiable. “If we want to educate and prepare global changemakers who can address issues like world war, pandemics and geopolitical issues with wisdom, intelligence and compassion, these opportunities can never be seen as a luxury.”

Another goal is to enhance support for international students and scholars who leave their home to study and make contributions at UC San Diego. Originating from more than 110 different countries, the campus’s international students bring diverse perspectives, knowledge and experiences that strengthen classrooms, research and the chance to build cross-cultural competency. 

“If we want to educate and prepare global changemakers who can address issues like world war, pandemics and geopolitical issues with wisdom, intelligence and compassion, these opportunities can never be seen as a luxury.”
Tamara T. Cunningham
A collage of three images showing students next to an ancient temple in Greece, dressed in traditional Japanese clothing in Japan and sitting on a high mountaintop in Switzerland, all part of Global Seminars.
Each summer UC San Diego students have the chance to enroll in two courses through the Global Seminars Program. Classes are taught in English by a UC San Diego professor, who immerses them in the culture and history of different countries, from Greece to Japan and Switzerland. Photos submitted by students Ceres Trinh, Tiffany Do and Skye Porter.

Working with the Office of Research Affairs, Cunningham is also helping faculty and researchers find and secure grants to expand teaching and research abroad, as well as mitigating barriers for students seeking global experiences. She is approaching this by unifying the principles of internationalization with equity, diversity and inclusion efforts as described in her co-authored article “Intersections of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and Internationalization: A Framing Guide,” published by the American Council on Education. This means integrating equity into the international education curriculum while also considering how global education can become more inclusive.

What does this look like in practice? It could be enhancing scholarship funding so that students from all financial backgrounds can participate in an education abroad experience. Or supporting faculty members in adding an international component into their curriculum. And for those who have an interest in travel but may not be able—such as students who are undocumented—Cunningham explained that there are field projects and community engagement initiatives happening in San Diego or within the United States that can offer similarly valuable experiences.

“AVC Cunningham will be just the driving force we need to greatly expand our already strong portfolio of international research and collaboration done in the service of global good,” said Vice Chancellor for Research Corinne Peek-Asa. “We have one of the most dynamic research faculty and scholar communities in the nation and we look forward to building more opportunities.”

A foundation for these experiences already exists at UC San Diego, with plenty of room to grow. The Rady School of Management hosts an innovation course each spring that brings together graduate students from UC San Diego and Israel to collaborate on a 48-hour business case and start-up strategy. And through Global TIES, undergraduates have the chance to design sustainable solutions working with nonprofit organizations in San Diego and developing countries around the world, from designing an earthquake-resistant school in Fiji to memorializing COVID-19 pandemic stories of UC San Diego community members.

A UC San Diego researcher sits alongside three researchers from Mexico as they investigate a cave in Mexico.
The Cultural Heritage Engineering Initiative at UC San Diego’s Qualcomm Institute (QI) is partnering with Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History to study and preserve ancient Maya architecture and artifacts. QI’s Scott McAvoy (second from right) plans a scanning session with Mexico’s team members (R-L) Helena Barba Meinecke, Gabriel Quetz León and Erick Sosa Rodríguez.

Strengthening UC San Diego’s network of global changemakers

Beyond offering the opportunity for Tritons to gain global experiences, Cunningham plans to strategically leverage UC San Diego’s institutional collaborations to jumpstart even more activity around the world. Named the 20th best global university by U.S. News and World Report in their 2022-23 rankings, UC San Diego is already top of mind for many international students and scholars.

Over 2,000 international faculty and scholars are visiting, studying, teaching and conducting crucial research projects across UC San Diego. Among U.S. universities, UC San Diego is the seventh most popular host institution for international scholars, according to the latest report from Open Doors.

And partnerships are often multi-dimensional. For instance, UC San Diego established a strong connection with Japan’s Kyoto University in 2014. Initially centered on programs at UC San Diego’s School of Medicine, the cross-disciplinary collaborations that have been catalyzed now span every school at the university. UC San Diego and Kyoto University have also held joint symposium events to propel research and advance knowledge. And UC San Diego is home to the Kyoto University San Diego Research Centerestablished in the Center for Novel Therapeutics in 2019 to promote joint research and academic exchange.

In addition, the university is currently engaged in approximately 400 active international agreements with organizations and higher education institutions around the world that integrate research, industry and experiences abroad (explore them all at A key facilitator of these experiences is UC San Diego's International Institute, which coordinates and supports multidisciplinary scholarship and teaching on international issues, while also offering support for dissertation research and undergraduate Human Rights Fellowships. These multilateral partnerships and networks provide funded opportunities for students to gain experience abroad while at the same time connecting faculty to networks of international colleagues that spark unimagined directions. 

UC San Diego researchers are regularly journeying abroad to join international collaborators in making exciting discoveries that fill in historical gaps. Through UC San Diego’s Cultural Heritage Engineering Institute, housed within the Qualcomm Institute, scholars have traveled to Greece, El Salvador, Switzerland, Mongolia, Spain and many other locations to “engineer a future for the past.” Using advanced conservation tools, they help monitor, preserve and restore monuments, sculptures, archaeological sites and natural environments that are vital parts of our world’s cultural heritage.

The scope of worldwide initiatives already happening and the potential to transform the lives of students as they become global citizens is what excites Cunningham the most. “I can't believe I have this opportunity; every day I wake up to do this work, I feel like I'm making a real change in the world,” she said. “I want to look at this work as though I'm affecting generations. This one student, their children, their children’s children—when you start to add it up, there's no calculating the impact.”

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