In conversation with Anja Geitmann, Interim Vice-President (Global Engagement)

"The further development of McGill as a global leader will benefit Montreal and the entire province, not only in terms of visibility and brand awareness, but also because it will solidify the city as a hub with an enormous pool of talent and drivers for innovation"
Anja Geitmann, Interim Vice-President (Global Engagement)Alex Tran Alex Tran

On December 15, 2023, President Deep Saini announced that Professor Anja Geitmann had been appointed Interim Vice-President (Global Engagement). Her one-year assignment began on January 1, 2024. Reporting directly to the President, Geitmann’s mandate includes exploring new opportunities for collaboration with peer institutions, augmenting the effectiveness and reach of international activities led by various McGill Faculties and units, overseeing broad internal and external consultations to enhance McGill’s international strategy, and advancing the University’s vision for global academic leadership.

Professor Geitmann comes to her new position with a plethora of international experience, both personally and professionally. Having studied and worked in six countries, she speaks seven languages. She has led international research collaborations; been active in international learned societies; and hosted international graduate students in her lab for the past 20 years.

“I am aware of the benefits – and challenges – of international work,” she says.

As Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences for over eight years, Geitmann has plenty of administrative leadership experience and knows the inner workings of McGill.

“In that role, I was in touch with almost every single unit at McGill,” she says. “So, not only do I know what we do across the entire University, but doors open relatively quickly when I knock on them.”

The Reporter spoke to Geitmann about her new role.

What is your mandate?

A key element of President Saini’s vision is prioritizing McGill’s global view and presence, our international outreach, and our international brand. He asked me to jumpstart this.

We aim to expand and solidify our reach and better coordinate what we do within McGill in terms of international activities. Every unit and Faculty have international initiatives and relationships. My mandate is to provide coordination across units, support initiatives, and leverage our expertise.

The unit is moving from under the Office of the Provost to a new VP-level office. What are the implications of that move?

President Saini saw the opportunity to expand the scope of the Global Engagement unit’s operational role towards strategic responsibilities. Putting an experienced academic administrator with connections throughout the university at the head contributes to this change. This new VP-led unit has a pronounced horizontal mandate, meaning it reaches out across the entire University as a connector, convener, and catalyst.

We must be plugged in everywhere, from Enrolment Services and Student Life and Learning, to University Advancement and the Office of Innovation and Partnerships that is under the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

What are the challenges of this horizontal structure?

Developing a strategy that will be implemented by units not under my purview requires the buy-in from a wide range of stakeholders who need to be involved early in the strategy building exercise. This involves extensive consultations with numerous units, a process that has already been soft-launched.

Of course, the Global Engagement strategy must go hand in hand with the overall strategy for McGill, which is being developed under the leadership of the President.

What strategies are the most effective in building international partnerships and collaborations, especially in the academic sector?

A successful approach to global engagement and internationalization must be multi-pronged, and it starts right here in Montreal. One of McGill’s greatest assets is the diversity of students and staff hailing from all corners of the globe. This creates a dynamic international environment, right here on campus, that we need to leverage to train global citizens with cultural competencies and leadership skills.

We already have a significant degree of internationalization throughout our curriculum, but it is not necessarily institutionalized and efforts to enrich the curriculum with relevant competencies could be better supported centrally. I look forward to a discussion around global competencies with the office of the Associate Provost (Teaching and Academic Planning) and Faculty deans.

McGill’s Strategic Academic Plan includes increasing the proportion of students who gain experience abroad. This is achieved through exchange programs, internships, and field programs. While some students naturally gravitate towards such programs, others may experience financial or logistical barriers in accessing them. We want to analyze the accessibility to opportunities that give students an experience abroad and augment the diversity and impact of these.

Finally, our office helps catalyze partnerships. McGill has an incredible pool of talented researchers and experts. Through links with other institutions worldwide, we leverage the synergistic effect of partnerships to achieve a wide global impact. My office can help nucleate such partnerships or provide institutional structures to foster them.

In what ways will an increased global engagement contribute to the overall academic excellence and reputation of McGill?

McGill’s global reputation benefits if the students we graduate feel ready for leadership roles around the world, equipped with cultural competencies, awareness, sensitivity, and an understanding of global realities, as well as an appreciation for alternative worldviews.

We also leverage our expertise and innovative talents for the benefit of the world by addressing today’s global challenges. Whether it is climate change or sustainability, human health or artificial intelligence, we want McGill to be seen as a key academic partner in the endeavours that advance our collective knowledge and have a positive impact on society.

How will this benefit McGill, Montreal, and the Quebec academic community as well?

McGill contributes significantly to Montreal’s global reputation as a vibrant cosmopolitan city. Not only is our university a gateway for the world to visit, study, do research or even settle here in Quebec, but we also send out into the world people who often have fallen in love with la belle province while spending time here. There are no better ambassadors for Quebec than the hundreds of thousands of McGill’s alumni worldwide.

The further development of McGill as a global leader will benefit Montreal and the entire province, not only in terms of visibility and brand awareness, but also because it will solidify the city as a hub with an enormous pool of talent and drivers for innovation.

 

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Ben Locke
23 days ago

Global?? McGill cannot even survive its enrollment, tuition, and language woes with what Quebec is imposing on it, and McGill may not survive even locally after this year, and they have hired a VP for Global Engagement? What a big, laughing joke!

Sophie L
21 days ago
Reply to  Ben Locke

McGill will not be felled by the current changes in policy from the Quebec government. But they do need to pivot to find students who don’t have an issue with the new tuition structure, and they may find those internationally where currency exchange makes Canada more attractive, and in countries that may already speak French, which end runs around some of the issues recently raised by Quebec. An international perspective could be beneficial for many reasons.

Ben Locke
18 days ago
Reply to  Sophie L

Well, proof of the pudding is in the eating. A 25 percent drop in enrollment even prior to the actual tuition fee hikes tells it all. Next year, expect perhaps double that enrollment drop when the tuition increases implement and students realize the pain of mandatory French. There’ll be no global to engage for Anja. I’d rather go to America or England where universities are more highly esteemed than Canada. No one has really heard of McGill outside of Canada and perhaps some parts of the US East Coast. I am originally from Chicago and now residing in L.A. as… Read more »