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A User’s Guide to U.S. Higher Education in a Global Context
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by John M. Davis, PhD
- Texas State University-San Marcos
Categories: International Focus
Often, I think, we miss the point that Psi Chi stands for more than psychology.
Our purpose is broad. “Psi Chi is a international honor society whose purpose shall
be to encourage, stimulate, and maintain excellence in scholarship of the individual
members in all fields, particularly in psychology, and to advance the science of
psychology” (Psi Chi Constitution, Article II). Excellent scholarship in all fields
is a far-reaching mandate. But, today’s complex problems call for far-reaching solutions,
solutions often involving interdisciplinary—sometimes even international teamwork.
Psi Chi, with more than 20,000 new lifetime members each year, can partner in creating
these solutions. To do so, individual members must understand U.S. higher education
in global context.
Remarkable for the number and diversity of its institutions of higher learning,
the U.S. has 17 of the 20 best universities in the world (Institute of Higher Education,
Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005). Yet our size and our successes may have blinded
us to advances made in other countries. Jürgen Mlynek, president of the Helmholtz
Association of German Research Centres and former president of Humbolt University
in Berlin, says, “If we compare our university system to the U.S., on average our
universities are better. But we were always missing top universities that were visible
internationally” (Feder, 2007, pp. 29-30). Determined to make a few of its universities
equal to the best in the world, Germany has adopted an excellence initiative. On
October 13, 2006, the German government announced that Ludwig Maximilians University
in Munich, the Technical University of Munich, and the University of Karlsruhe will
receive generous additional resources and research support enabling them to grow
to the status of Harvard, Oxford, and MIT (Feder, 2007).
Germany is not the only country seeking excellence. Universities in India are producing
many of the top scientists and engineers in the world. China, too, is rapidly building
world-class universities to train its best students. Shanghai Jiao Tong University
has begun ranking universities worldwide in order to identify the world’s 500 best
universities. Rankings are based on objective criteria such as alumni and faculty
winning Nobel prizes, publications in prestigious scientific journals, and citation
counts (Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University, 2005). China
is sending many of its best students to these universities and also rapidly developing
its own university system to comparable levels. In 2004, I visited the Institute
of Psychology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences in Beijing and was favorably impressed
with the quality of work being done there by both faculty and students.
As other countries surpass the U.S. in some key areas and compete to catch up with
us in others, I urge you to consider seriously the science offerings as you select
your courses. We know that the sciences, technology, engineering, and math are crucial
for a deep understanding of today’s world, yet American university students are
not wellrepresented in these areas. Almost half of computer science students are
foreign-born and more than half of the doctorates in engineering are awarded to
foreign-born students. Almost 30% of the science and engineering doctorate holders
employed in the U.S. are foreign-born as well (U.S. Department of Education, 2006).
In considering these numbers, you can see the importance of combining your study
of psychology with increased course work in other sciences, for example, physics,
biology, chemistry, and mathematics. The fascination of one of these subjects may
lure you into a field that will prepare you to make a real difference in your life’s
Rising globalization and the growing hunger for democracy are also powerful forces
in today’s world. I urge you to prepare yourself for these forces as well with appropriate
coursework. Particularly valuable, I believe, are courses in regional and world
geography, regional and world history, English literature and world literature,
and at least one foreign language. Such courses will prepare you to better understand
and interact with people of other countries and cultures. These courses not only
will enrich your life but also will make you more competitive in the job market.
Since my student days, I have followed the above advice. Though my degrees are all
in psychology (BA/MAT, Oklahoma City University; MS/PhD, University of Oklahoma),
I majored in physics and biology before coming to psychology. I have pursued studies
in Germany at the universities in Heidelberg and Erlangen-Nurnberg and in China
at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and have taught in Germany, China, and England.
My experiences have convinced me that our universities can provide an excellent
education. To take advantage of this, however, you must select wisely from the many
choices available. As an honor student, you can have a major impact on our world.
Your knowledge of psychology will be invaluable in whatever field or endeavor you
Feder, T. (2007, January). Germany singles out universities for excellence. Physics
Today, 60(1), 28-30.
Institute of Higher Education, Shanghai Jiao Tong University (2005). Academic ranking
of world universities–2004. Retrieved on January 24, 2007, from
U.S. Department of Education (2006, September). A test of leadership: Charting the
future of U.S. higher education. Retrieved on January 12, 2007, from
John M. Davis, PhD, is graduate professor of psychology at Texas
State University-San Marcos. He received his BA with honors from Oklahoma City University
and his PhD from the University of Oklahoma. He has completed advanced studies in
German language and literature as well as in psychology at the German universities
of Heidelberg and Erlangen-Nurnberg. He began his university teaching career at
Schiller International University in Germany. His research focuses on interpersonal,
intercultural, and international relations. In recent years much of his research
has been centered on international themes. Recent publications include chapters
on countering international terrorism, international psychology, health psychology
in international perspective, social justice and global security, and articles on
Vietnamese-Americans. He is actively involved with several of the major international
organizations in psychology and has taught and conducted his research on three continents.
He has served as president of the Southwestern Psychological Association. At Texas
State University, he founded the study abroad program in psychology at the University
of Kent (Canterbury, England). He has served as faculty advisor to the Texas State
University Psi Chi Chapter for many years and receives enormous satisfaction from
the accomplishments of the chapter, the officers, and the members. He has served
as Psi Chi Southwestern Regional Vice-President for two terms and Psi Chi President
(2006-07). As President-Elect, President, and Past-President, he led the successful
effort to transform Psi Chi from a national to an international honor society.
Spring 2011 issue of Eye on Psi Chi (Vol. 15, No. 3, p. 10), published
by Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology (Chattanooga, TN). Copyright,
2011, Psi Chi, The International Honor Society in Psychology. All rights reserved.