09/05/2013 11:29 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2013

Dreaming and Doing in Middle Georgia -- About Things National and International

"The tragedy of life doesn't lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy lies in having no goal to reach. It isn't a calamity to die with dreams unfilled, but it is a calamity not to dream." So said one of my intellectual heroes--Benjamin E. Mays, the late, great American educator and one-time, long-time president of Morehouse College.

My mantra as the Ninth President of The Fort Valley State University is about dreams and dreaming. We're in the "Dreams Business" in middle Georgia, as one of three public HBCUs in Georgia, and one of the state's only two land-grant universities, the other being the University of Georgia. We inspire dreaming among more than 3,000 wonderful students from Georgia and beyond, some of whose parents and grandparents dared not dream about college, much less access it.

We challenge our students to dream big, to dream of pursuing excellence in all they do -- in their classes, labs and clinical placements, the athletics teams they participate in, the fraternities and sororities they pledge to; in all their college experiences. We challenge them to dream big dreams--of graduating on time, of embracing integrity, self-respect, and respect for others, and of building successful careers and strong families, whether they proceed to graduate or professional schools or directly into the workforce.

Yet, we cannot only dream; we also have to do, in order to make the dreams of those students and of our faculty and staff members come through. Importantly, too, our dreaming and doing must have an international dimension. Thomas Friedman reminded us in his best-selling book, The World is Flat, that global interdependence is a reality that our nation and our business, government, and other enterprises cannot afford to ignore. Indeed, doing so will be at our peril.

This also is true for universities like ours. As such, one of my goals is to design and deliver a global engagement strategy. Our academic constellations--comprising colleges of Agriculture, Family Sciences, and Technology; Education; Arts and Sciences; and Graduate Studies and Extended Education--position us to sustain and extend the international linkages that currently are episodic as a university, and mostly maintained by our Ag school, although the college of Arts and Sciences has some international linkages.

Our global strategy will be both intentional and strategic; happenstance will not do. It will extend the perimeter of engagement in all the areas critical to our mission: teaching, research, and community service. Being strategic means having to do several things systematically: assess current strengths and deficits, leverage those strengths to meet desired mission outcomes, address deficits, and create networks to benefit our students and faculty in particular and the citizens of Georgia in general.

In this respect, we'll build on the existing linkages of our Ag school -- with universities, businesses, and governments in Belize, Nigeria, Jamaica, the Philippines, Belgium, Honduras, and other nations. But we also have to pursue new opportunities, and extend our global reach. One such opportunity relates to connections being established with the Bahamas.
Later this semester, we will host a delegation from the Bahamas, where the College of the Bahamas (COB), the country's only public university, is launching an agricultural and marine sciences program. While in the Bahamas this past June to speak at a conference celebrating their 40th independence anniversary, I heard Prime Minister Perry Christie announce that initiative in declaring the COB conference open.

As fate would have it, the head of the COB governing council, Alfred Sears, a former minister of education and attorney general of the Bahamas, is a friend of mine. I offered to host a team from COB to come to Fort Valley and formalize a partnership to share our research expertise, build a pipeline for students to come and study for undergraduate and graduate degrees, and more. This visit will occur this fall.

Beyond this, we will make more substantial use of the wealth of expertise on food and allied matters in the colleges of Agriculture, Family Sciences, and Technology, and Arts and Sciences. One way we'll do this is by establishing a research center on homeland and global food security, to meet teaching, research, and community outreach goals and to benefit both our nation and the flat world. This initiative is in the planning stages.

Needless to say, intentionality and inclusiveness are key considerations in dreaming and doing global design in any university with diversity in terms of schools and disciplines, among other things. Indeed, they constitute a cardinal feature of any credible effort -- whether educational, corporate, or civic--to connect people and places locally with people and places globally, irrespective of whether the locus of action is the middle of Georgia or the middle of Germany.