Tuesday, September 27, 2011

“And I thought it was all about the science…”

Tom Guerin holds a Ph.D. in biochemistry and is vice president of research and development at Kerry Ingredients & Flavours. Kerry is an Irish global company with locations in many countries on every continent. Tom himself has worked and lived in Ireland (his home country), Brazil, Malaysia, Canada, Germany, and now the U.S. The scientists who work for him in the Beloit R&D unit come from every part of the world and bring with them different cultures, languages, and different ways to approach and solve problems. “When I interview candidates for positions as scientists at Kerry,” Guerin says, “I look for the ability to see different sides of a problem, and I look for people who are still grounded in their culture of origin. I am not that interested in assimilation to an Anglo-Saxon lifestyle or point of view.” He feels strongly that diversity of viewpoints strengthens the work in R&D, especially when a global corporation like Kerry places products in markets worldwide. “If you insist on assimilation among your employees, you are bound for failure. If, on the other hand, you encourage diversity of  opinion and approaches to solutions, you will succeed,” Guerin says. “When I started out in this line of work 13 years ago, I thought it was all about the science. I found out that it’s not. Much of my work has to do with being able to communicate effectively with people from very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds.”

Tom Guerin does not stand alone with this experience working for a global company. Johnson Controls, headquartered in Milwaukee, has about 137,000 people working in 150 countries. “We are looking for candidates with cultural flexibility,” says Kimberly Bors, VP for global resources. And Tim Sullivan, CEO of Bucyrus International (now Caterpillar) adds: “We are a very domestic-centric country. So we need to start exposing kids in our schools to world languages, which is a hook that gets them interested in another culture. And then we have to teach them about other cultures beside our own.”

These voices from major global corporations in Wisconsin speak to the need for a solid global and world language education in our schools. They are asking for the very skills that all world language teachers and global educators talk about: Cultural insights and sensitivity, knowledge of the world, flexibility and openness to other cultures. For so many reasons, speaking English only and approaching world issues simply from the narrow perspective of the American point of view is no longer good enough. As Miles Turner, executive director of the Wisconsin Association for School District Administrators, puts it: “If we as leaders in American public education can’t be aware of the importance of intercultural relations and intercultural knowledge, we are failing our students.”

Take another look at the videos in Global Wisconsin. Those programs provide precisely the kind of global education that Tom Guerin, Kimberly Bors, and Tim Sullivan are talking about. Many other schools do the same thing, all of them with very little funding but plenty of enthusiasm and leadership. Eventually, though, funding will be needed to sustain these essential programs for a 21st Century education. I hope we will find the support of local school boards and business leaders to deliver opportunities for global education in all of our school districts for all our students.

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