Last June, Dr. Pedro Bidegaray brought his extensive international education expertise to Western Illinois University. As the new director of WIU’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, Bidegaray said the opportunity offers him the “chance to make a difference” and “to work with a group of committed professionals in the provision of international opportunities and perspectives to students at WIU.”
Before arriving in western Illinois, Dr. Bidegaray was based in Minnesota, in a position at Educate Tanzania (a non-governmental organization) and supported efforts to develop an academic curriculum for a new agricultural college in Karagwe, Tanzania. Prior to that (2011-14), he was the director of international programs at the University of Minnesota College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Sciences. In that role, he was responsible for integrating an international perspective into the mission of the college, with an emphasis on internationalization of curriculum and global development. From 1995-2010, he worked for EARTH University in Costa Rica, serving as director of international academic programs from 2006-10.
As a new Council of Administrative Personnel (COAP) member at Western, Dr. Bidegaray agreed to share a bit more about his background and goals for his latest pursuits in international education on this Big Blue Planet.
Q: What interested you in coming to Western Illinois University?
Dr. Bidegaray: I was born in Peru and studied anthropology. I was intrigued by the idea of working with rural communities in my country. Later, I came to the U.S. to get my Ph.D. in cultural anthropology, and after I was awarded my degree, I traveled to Costa Rica to work in a small international college. Five years ago, we (my wife and two children) decided to come back to the U.S.
Q: What does a typical day at work at Western look like for you so far?
Dr. Bidegaray: It is becoming busier day after day. Since I started at WIU, I have dedicated a significant portion of my time to visit administration and faculty, in an attempt to get to know about the institution, content of their academic programs, and their understanding of the role that international education might (should) play in WIU.
Our unit, the Office of Study Abroad and Outreach, is a unit that provides services to faculty and students. In order to achieve this goal, we need to understand what is academically meaningful and feasible, and translate that understanding into initiatives that will encourage the adoption of international perspectives into their academic programs.
To succeed, we are committed to be prompt communicating with students and faculty, trying address their concerns and finding specific solutions to challenges they might face as they look to enrich their academic experiences.
Q: What is your favorite on-the-job memory?
Dr. Bidegaray: My favorite on-the-job experience has been through my interaction with co-workers in Costa Rica. I worked for an institution at which the employees cared deeply for their students and their abilities to succeed as professionals and citizens. We were a tight group of professionals from all over the world and disciplines, forever discussing how to engage students creatively and meaningfully in the classroom or when they were in the field visiting rural areas. We were all part of a learning community committed to the ideal of the education of leaders of change. Sounds corny, but that is what we believed.
Q: What has been the most rewarding professional experience in your career so far?
Dr. Bidegaray: Regarding my most rewarding experience in my career, well, I don’t know… I have several. As a professor and as a person who has traveled extensively, I have always been moved by people’s generosity and ability to connect, irrespective of cultural differences. People have an incredible ability to surprise me with unexpected reactions of kindness and creativity.
Q: What are some of your goals for Western’s Office of Study Abroad and Outreach?
Dr. Bidegaray: I have several goals, which include: to extend the benefits of international education to most WIU students. This is something we will achieve by developing a program that not only encourages students and faculty to go abroad, but also by developing an academic program and a university culture that integrates international perspectives comprehensively. It is not necessary to travel to other countries to develop an understanding and addressing cultural differences. The world as we know it is here around us. Here on campus, we have students from close to 60 different countries. Do we know who they are? What do we know about their countries? Do we bring that experience to our classrooms?
Another goal is to work toward making WIU a preeminent professional development destination for young professionals and college students. This goal corresponds to the outreach component of our office. Our goal is to identify those jewels of knowledge, unique pieces of information, and transform them into training opportunities that can be marketed globally.
Q: Tell me a little about your favorite activities outside of your job (e.g., hobbies, family or friend activities, etc.).
Dr. Bidegaray: I am a father of four kids. Two of them are still with us and are very much part of what we (my wife and I) do every day. We enjoy family life, and the times we spend together doing sports or enjoying a good meal.
I love doing sports, all kinds of music (indie and classical), good books, and international cuisine. My wife is a great cook, so that is an easy pick.
Q: What is your favorite quote?
It is difficult to say. I like to tell students that “they should dare to dream big.” Also, I like to paraphrase John F. Kennedy’s speech of 1961, when he tells his audience: “And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
I reference these words when I invite people to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.