Northwestern University
Dean Blount's Blog

Do More, Be More (continued)
August 10, 2010

After last week’s blog post, a friend forwarded me an article from Friday’s New York Times. It talked about the increasing popularity of Middle Eastern sites for student study abroad programs. She’d highlighted a great quote: "these are not the same kids who go bike touring in France.” In her note, she wrote, “That sounds like Haley."

Last week after I finished writing the blog post, Haley e-mailed to say that she had decided to come home early. She wasn’t feeling well, thought she might be fighting a parasite. In the two months she’d been traveling, she had already finished all of the interviews and field research she had set out to do. So she started the journey home—taking three buses from Nicaragua to Costa Rica, two planes from Costa Rica to New York and an Amtrak ride from New York into New England to reach her grandparents’ house by the ocean—a total of 42 hours of travel.

When her dad picked her up at 11 p.m. from the train, she wasn’t feeling so well but thought she could sleep it off. At 4 a.m., she woke him to take her to the ER and by 10 a.m., she was in the operating room for an emergency appendectomy.

The great news is that Haley is now back home and recovering nicely. But it’s been a hugely draining experience for all of us—imagining the alternative what-ifs. What if she hadn’t made it out of Central America or, even worse, had been on a rural farm in Guatemala when it happened; what if her appendix had ruptured earlier while in transit; what if , what if, what if . . . .? It’s also brought squarely home to me once again the benefits and risks of using the world as our classroom in the 21st century.

In two weeks, 500 of our incoming full-time MBA class will be heading off on week-long, student-led jaunts around the world to places like Morocco, Panama and Dubai as part of Kellogg Worldwide Experiences and Service Trips (KWEST). No bike tours in France—these trips will offer incredible educational and community building experiences, experiences that will broaden our students’ political, social and cultural understandings. But they will also introduce new dramas and risks.

I know from my work in global education over the last six years that all institutions of higher education are still working to get their hands around this new era—an era where our sphere of responsibility is no longer confined to a single tree-lined campus and its immediate environs. This new era provides both incredible opportunities and step-level change in the complexity and risk exposure that we must confront.

Managing the complexity and risk of a global educational portfolio isn’t a glamorous part of the job. Dealing with emergency protocols and insurance coverage and asking people to rework existing systems that don’t “feel broken” can be alternatively overwhelming, tedious and time-consuming. But it’s key to realizing the potential of our new models of higher education in the 21st century. It’s all about living with and managing for the what-ifs. As I was reminded this past week, they can happen.

I welcome your comments, feedback and ideas at

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