UNC Center focuses on global understanding

By Todd Cohen

RALEIGH, N.C. — In Wake County, which has over 900,000 residents and is the second-most-populous county in North Carolina, 12 percent of the population is foreign-born, a segment of the community that has grown 62 percent since 2000.

Fifteen percent of the population age five and older speak a language other than English. And foreign companies employ nearly 20,000 people in the county, where exports total over $2.2 billion a year and imports total over $1 billion.

Those are just a few facts from an interactive “heat map” developed by the Center for International Understanding in partnership with SAS Institute in Cary that in features 53 “data points” that show education, demographic and economic information for each of the state’s 100 counties.

The Raleigh-based Center hopes the map will help lawmakers, government officials, policymakers, economic developers, educators, civic leaders and others better understand the state’s global connections and help take advantage of opportunities in the global marketplace.

“From one end of the state to the other, we are active in the world in our education systems and our businesses, and we are being impacted and are taking advantage of the world,” says Adam Hartzell, the Center’s executive director. “We hope the next part of the story is how can we start to take that story and be pro-active about taking advantage of the opportunities that a globally-engaged state could have.”

Formed in 1979, the Center is an arm of the Chapel Hill-based General Administration of the University of North Carolina system.

It operates with a staff of six people working full-time, plus independent contractors and part-time employees and interns, and an annual budget of $1.3 million.

State funds account for about 30 percent of its budget, with a charitable arm of the Center known as the Council raising contributed dollars that represent another 20 percent to 25 percent, and program fees and other earned income accounting for the remainder.

To advance its mission of “promoting awareness, expanding understanding, and empowering action through global education,” the Center provides a handful of programs that focus on schools, policy leaders or communities in the state with growing Latino populations, and that connect public policy, business and education.

The Center has helped 27 schools across the state launch programs in Chinese language and culture that include guest teachers from China, for example, and it has taken 650 teachers for study abroad.

The Center also works to help educate political leaders throughout the state better understand best practices throughout the world on key policy issues.

The Center in 2010 took a delegation of state lawmakers and other leaders to Europe for two weeks to learn about clean-energy practices and policies, and another group to China last year to look at trade opportunities for the state, and will host another trip to China this year to look at developing ties in the health-care industry.

And it will take teachers to India in 2013.

The Center also provides strategic advice on statewide issues involving policy, business and education.

And since 1998, the Center has taken nearly 800 leaders from throughout the state to Mexico as part of an effort to help them better understand immigration issues and to develop programs to better integrate Latino immigrants into North Carolina communities.

A separate trip to Mexico in 2009 to study economic and educational ties with North Carolina was the catalyst for discussions that led to development of the global heat map.

“It’s a way to start to measure how communities are taking advantage of global opportunities,” Hartzell says, “and be able to identify some best practices others can evaluate.”

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