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Resident Director Profile: Roger Williams

Roger Williams and students abroad in China

Program: Forest Research - China 
Location: China 
Year as Resident Director: 2015 
Affiliated Department: School of Environment and Natural Resources

What inspired you to develop and/or lead this study abroad program?

“First, the study abroad concept has always been interesting and fascinating to me because it melts together two things I enjoy doing very much. I love to travel abroad, but more specifically spend time in a particular location and learn about the different cultures and lifestyles. Plus, I want to explore a variety of different forest ecosystems around the world – I am always learning something from these ecosystems that I can use in both research and classes.

Secondly, I love to work with students – it always thrills me to see them learn, and see their response to this new knowledge they have gained. This and the fact that they are in another culture enables them to become better global citizens in the future. To think that I have guided them in this learning opportunity is gratifying. Second, research has been a very satisfying part of my work. From the student’s perspective, it helps them to develop analytical thinking and provides them another dimension into the field of study that they would not otherwise experience or learn. They learn the research process and scientific method, which overall will make them a better contributor to society.

Third, China has always been fascinating to me. Over the years of performing consulting work in China, and hosting several scholars from the country, I have developed several contacts of friends and colleagues that are always willing to help me arrange events while in country.”

What did you enjoy, or was most memorable, about being a resident director for study abroad?

“I cannot pick out just one favorite memory from the past five years with this program without mentioning several others. However, there are a few memorable things that are across the board to all the study abroads I have been on. In taking a small group (4 – 6 students) on this experience gives the students a better opportunity to develop long-lasting friendships. I often bring together students who are initially total strangers, but after the program have become the best of friends. We work together in the forrest, we often eat our meals all together and spend free time together. It is fascinating to watch this dynamic over a period of time, and to see not only the friendship bonds develop but to watch these students mature before your eyes. And of course, I am right in there with the mix, so I develop a unique bond with these students, and even after the program is long gone, we stay in contact. From start to finish this is a year-long program with project development, project execution, data analysis and write-up. Students learn to work well together as a result, and this is all of very memorable to me.”

Roger Williams on the Forest Research - China programWhy do you think it is important for faculty to develop and/or lead study abroad programs?

“In some respects, the faculty members are not different from students. Just as students need to get out of their box of comfort, we faculty need to do this also. We can get into the proverbial rut, and lose perspective of our fields. While we can learn much and gain new knowledge from what we read, a lot more is understood and put into a better perspective if we experience new and different events in our fields. As part of a larger process to help students become better global citizens, faculty need to experience international travel and different cultures to gain a world perspective too. It is easier to impart knowledge regarding global citizenry if we have experienced it ourselves. To be a leader of a study abroad group helps faculty to learn more leadership skills. There are many intangibles that faculty can learn that will help them not only professionally, but also personally, which in turn helps them to become better professionals, teachers and researchers.”

How does your study abroad program raise student awareness of what it means to be a global citizen and to have global perspectives?

“Students in this program have the opportunity to work with Chinese students and faculty. Students see and learn not only the differences in forest ecosystems globally, but they experience the differences in the lives of Chinese college students both on and off campus. They can see how different forest management is from the United States and even the differences in how research is conducted. They can see how different the housing situation is in China, etc. Students learn how and why professional practices are different in another county and how peoples’ lives are different. In the future, when these students are employed they will have their career set in the context of this global experience, creating a better appreciation of their colleagues in the world.”