UW Tacoma professor takes a global view

As a child, media connected Dr. Divya McMillin to the world beyond her native India. Movies introduced James Bond and tumbleweed Westerns, while family bookshelves offered global art, literature and history. At age five, she created her own lending library, offering library cards to parents and siblings wanting to share her enthusiasm.

“I was exposed to the world as an exciting place to explore,” says McMillin. “The rewards for learning were exciting, deep discussions and debates. The Global Honors program is a way to continue those conversations and that excitement.” McMillin became director of UW Tacoma’s Global Honors in 2009. Founded in 2004, the campus-specific program offers upper-division seminars that focus on global themes and issues. Professors represent diverse departments and students range from nursing to business studies. Prestigious research and study-abroad opportunities are available and all students benefit from guests speakers—sometimes via Skype from distant continents.

“We’re encouraging students to literally pick up a globe in their hands, recognize their point of entry and then completely turn it and envision being a citizen from a part of the world they never imagined,” says McMillin. “What would that mean? How does the world look different from that angle?” Under McMillin’s leadership, the application-only program boasts record enrollment for 2012-2013. She hopes to expand the curriculum to a four-year model in 2014.

McMillin teaches courses in addition to overseeing Global Honors. A professor of global media studies, her childhood experiences sparked an interest in studying communications systems. How and which stories are told, who tells them and why? “There is particular value for a global curriculum at UW Tacoma. It’s a port city situated strategically on the Pacific Rim and ships come from different parts of the world. When I visit my hometown in Bangalore (India) or my sister in New Zealand, I see trains and ships with the same labels. There is a sense of global connectivity right outside our windows,” says McMillin.

Coursework encourages political and philosophical discourse, but also demands personal action. Students engage in community-building projects such as cleaning trash and blackberries from Tyee Marina.

Sitting in her office, McMillin is surrounded by elements that mark her journey as a global citizen—maps, a tapestry from India, photos of family and friends from around the world.

“I’m excited about what I teach and hope that students gain a larger understanding of the world around them,” says McMillin. “Global Honors is unique because it helps students make concrete connections between the classroom and real world.”