News Items from UNC Greensboro

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woman in front of food truck
Dr. Penelope (Nell) Pynes, departing Associate Provost of International Programs, welcoming participants to UNC Greensboro’s popular International Festival in 2018.

Global engagement is a core value of UNC Greensboro.

The global learning and global connections that Spartans have pursued, particularly over the past few decades, have imprinted international engagement onto UNCG DNA in a way that will enrich the campus life and global impact far into the future.

Typically, around 25 faculty-led study abroad programs operate each year through the International Programs Center with more than 300 students studying abroad and an additional 220 students going on exchange programs, and in return, the same number coming from abroad to study on UNCG’s campus.

How on Earth (throughout Earth) has all this been facilitated?

In large part, by Dr. Penelope Pynes, who has played a leadership role in international programs at UNCG for more than 20 years. She will step down from her position as Associate Provost of International Programs on June 30, and will be honored with a Zoom virtual celebration on June 2.

Pynes joined UNCG in 1991 as a faculty member in the Department of German and Russian, just as the International Programs Center was being founded. She served as director of Study Abroad and Exchanges from 2001 to 2008, and since then as associate provost. She has spearheaded many initiatives, including co-chairing UNCG’s ACE Internationalization Lab (2010-12) and most recently serving as the director of our Global Engagement Quality Enhancement Plan (GE QEP), a direct extension of the ACE Lab experience.

Her office has produced UNCG’s longest-running, largest, and perhaps most beloved event – International Festival, or “I-Fest” – year after year.

people dancing in costume

“We think of it as students engaging in culture,” says Pynes. “It’s not just about the event but preparing students for global learning and engagement and giving them an opportunity to share.”

woman with flag

As associate provost, Pynes’ contribution to UNCG life has been tremendous, not just in expanding opportunities for global study and forging international connections, but in managing the behind-the-scenes necessities such as visa assistance, transfer credit support, and crisis or risk management when students study abroad or when international students come to campus.

She has assisted faculty in designing and leading innovative programs, such as those that look at air quality, field studies in Tanzania and Greece, conservation-focused exhibitions to Costa Rica, education in China, art in Italy, music in France, social work in Scotland, business studies in Brazil, and nursing in China, to name just a few. For faculty, Pynes has helped to raise awareness of service-learning opportunities, so they can design community-engaged programs.

Before coming to UNCG, Pynes herself traveled to Heidelberg, Germany, on a Fulbright, an experience which fueled her interest in expanding global learning opportunities for others. Her commitment to international learning is inspirational, and she steps down from her position with a strong legacy in place. Read the interview with her below to understand more of her thoughts on and contribution to UNCG’s global impact.

Could you describe the unique ways students grow as they study abroad?

The interesting thing to me is that when you study abroad, you really learn about yourself – what makes you tick and what scares you. You learn what it means to be a U.S. citizen and you learn how you have an impact in the world. For me, because I’ve always loved languages, I appreciate how much language filters into your ability to actually learn about culture. That’s the experience we want students to have during a semester or year-long program.”

Instead of just traveling, international learning is about living in and being integrated in a culture as much as you can. When students take that opportunity, it’s going to have an impact. With that depth of experience, they become more self-sufficient, more creative, and more empathetic. When students are struggling with living abroad, I have helped them create short-term goals – what to accomplish that day or that week. And as they go through, it’s amazing how resilient they become.

What do you remember about first coming to UNCG and moving into a leadership role in international programs, and what drew you to the position?

When I did my job interview to join the Department of German and Russian here at UNCG in 1991, one of the questions posed by the chair was: would I be willing to help students study abroad. At the time we had very few opportunities for students. Of course, I enthusiastically said, “Yes.” In the same year that I came so did Dr. Charles Lyons, the first associate provost for International Programs. When he met with our department that fall, I volunteered to learn more and to work on exchange. In fact, the first two students who went on our exchange program were students in my German classes. I’ve always been proud of that. Later he tapped me for specific tasks such as transfer credit articulation, advising protocols, and reentry activities. He and Steve Flynn, the assistant director, taught me a lot about the field. As a faculty member, I had set two areas that I thought I could provide service and those were international, and diversity and inclusion, and even today I see these as intertwined.

Do you have any reflections on the heritage of UNCG in international programs, and the impact?

We’ve moved from a campus with “pockets of internationalization” to a campus that even in its mission and vision explicitly mentions that we are “a global university integrating intercultural and international experiences and perspectives into learning, discovery, and service.” Everybody considers this core to what we do, and that’s such an important thing. We know the students we send abroad are made up of the same demographics as our institution, and that our faculty and staff members and students understand the value.

What impressions and memories will you take with you as you leave the role?

I will remember how unique UNCG is in its collaborative and supportive community. I have been so grateful that individuals across campus have been so involved in creating an inclusive environment and worked toward increasing our global skill sets, mindsets, and “heartsets.” There are too many to mention here, but they will recognize themselves in this statement: I am grateful to those who served on committees and task forces, made site visits to our international partners, participated and led delegations abroad, conducted research, took students abroad, advised them, participated in and conducted classes, workshops and events that helped enhance our personal, academic, and professional lives and hosted international guests.

How has international programs changed and grown during your time as Associate Provost?

I can say it’s been a journey. UNCG participated in the ACE Internationalization Laboratory in 2010-12, an 18-month university-wide internationalization self-study. That experience resulted in (among other things) the Global Engagement Quality Enhancement Plan (GE QEP) that just finished its fifth year at the end of 2018/19. We spent this year analyzing data and seeing what lessons we have learned. Our participation in this initiative was critical as we supported all activities of the QEP in one way or another.

As far as students traveling abroad, we have really grown the numbers over the years, particularly for the LIHC whose students participate on our study abroad and exchanges (they make up about 25% of our population of students who travel abroad.) Those numbers have taken a hit a couple of times (2008/9 and now with COVID-19, where we had to bring almost 140 students back this spring and cancel summer and fall programs.) Nonetheless, we are proud that the students we send abroad match our demographics of our campus.

What accomplishments during your time at UNCG are you most proud of?

First, I think it was the Baden-Wuerttemberg /North Carolina State to State Program that I was able to pilot under the direction of Charles Lyons. That three-year pilot led to the establishment of the UNC Exchange Program (UNC EP) which served the UNC System for about 20 years before changing its mission. We still manage that original program on behalf of the UNC System here at UNCG thanks to Denise Bellamy.

What can you recommend regarding international connections during this time when most programs will not be happening and travel is unavailable?

Internationalizing the curriculum is not just about transnational experiences. It is also about global connections as well. Learning how to be engaged in the world both appropriately and effectively here at home also translates into global awareness and global engagement. We are working here at UNCG to create new virtual international experiences by building on the strengths of our faculty and staff and our excellent international partners. I think we are well poised to expand our global connections through digital means and travel as soon as safe to do so.

What are your future plans?

As you can imagine, my day – for most of my career here – has begun around 5 a.m. reading about every political, health, and natural disaster around the world to determine what steps might need to be taken to help our faculty, staff, and students who might be abroad or whose families are abroad. So, I am happy to let that part of the job go.

I am going to begin by traveling a bit. My husband and I have been avid campers and bike riders (even though we have slowed down quite a bit) so our first task is to really get back in shape so that we can do both these things.

I do plan to keep connected with the international field at least for a few years by continuing my work part-time as an ACE senior associate for internationalization helping other universities enhance their international profile. I am also keen to keep up with intercultural training, a passion of mine.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with the campus community about international programs?

Although I regret having the COVID-19 situation be my last experience here at UNCG, I do know that the individual crises that were shorter in nature over time have prepared us to navigate the next couple of years. I am hopeful that the world community will recognize this time as an opportunity to reset some of its sustainability goals, because they are more critical now than ever. I would like to see UNCG emphasize the UN Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) as a path to provide solutions not only to our local communities, but also to the wider world.

I’d like to thank UNCG for giving me the opportunity to serve and promote world peace over the years. I am very proud to have been connected to the University and to have worked with such a talented and committed staff.

There is a Virtual Retirement Celebration for Pynes on Tuesday, June 2. See instructions for joining below.

To register to join the celebration, please go to the registration page here.

To sign the virtual guest book, visit the submission form here.

For more information about the celebration, contact Wendy Tapia at w_tapia@uncg.edu.

Interview by Susan Kirby-Smith, University Communications
Photography by Martin W. Kane and Jiyoung Park, University Communications

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