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Leading global initiatives at Stanford University

April 25, 2012
Michelle Drewes

Established under the auspices of the Office of the Vice Provost and Dean of Research, the Office of International Affairs (OIA) provides a centralized location for international related services to faculty and students.  We had the opportunity to meet the newly appointed director, Dr. Brendan Walsh, and to discuss how the Office serves the international related needs of the Stanford community.

Q. How long have you been at Stanford?

I arrived at Stanford in mid-July of 2011 and was lucky enough to have a great new colleague waiting for me to help set up the Office. Pauline Larmaraud, who had been arranging visits for international delegations at the Bechtel International Center, officially joined OIA in August and was instrumental in guiding our early outreach.


Q. What are your responsibilities as the Director of the Office of International Affairs?

The purpose of the Office is pretty broad, so we have been building out our capabilities in stages. During this first year, we are focused on consolidating the services and processes that support global initiatives. For example, I work regularly with the deans, faculty, and research staff to address legal and regulatory requirements that may have an impact on international research. I’ve also been working with other offices on campus to coordinate the University's international contingency planning process. Really, the purpose of the Office is to develop the infrastructure to support Stanford's international activities.


Q. What do you hope to achieve? What is your vision for the Office?

The Office is a resource for faculty, students, and staff to help facilitate new international research and collaborations. Our goal is to make it easier for faculty and staff to collaborate on overseas research and projects. If we can help the faculty to become more deeply engaged in international work, we believe it is more likely their international experience will be represented more broadly across the curriculum. This, in turn, will create more opportunities for students to have an international experience.

More than anything, we want the University community to view us as an “ideas” office that connects people who have international interests.


Q. Where were you prior to Stanford?

Prior to Stanford, I was working in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs at the U.S. Department of State. Before I went to the Department of State, I was a Senior Researcher in the Program in International Education at New York University.


Q. Do you see any similarities/differences between government and academia?

The State Department is similar to Stanford in that they are both distributed organizations. The State Department has a much larger global footprint, but it is pretty tightly vertically integrated. On the other hand, Stanford has a smaller footprint but administratively is much more horizontal. So, I would be hard-pressed to say which is more de-centralized. Regardless, both situations require consistent and coordinated outreach to know what everyone in the organization is doing.

The most striking similarity between the two is the intellectual pool of talent.  At the State Department, I was constantly amazed at the depth of knowledge that regional and policy experts brought to every discussion. I have had the same experience here at Stanford, though the nature of the work here obviously is more academic and less immediately policy-oriented. As for differences, the most obvious is that Stanford is able to be a bit nimbler in its work. At the State Department, every project involves numerous stakeholders and even seemingly small decisions can have profound policy implications. Here at Stanford, the project and research-based nature of the work makes it easier to implement a project on a much shorter time horizon.


Q. On a different note, what was the last book you read?

I try to alternate between a research or trade book, and literature. The last work of literature I read was Joseph Conrad’s Lord Jim, on my flight to and from Beijing. Next on my list is Eric Hobsbawm’s On the Edge of the New Century. I realize that I’m about twelve years behind on that one, so I figure it’s about time to include that among his other works that I have read.