We cannot retreat from the world, Anthony Fisher will say today. We must lead. We must look out for ourselves, but we also must partner with others, with people we don't even know yet.
Fisher will look out at his audience, a group of Chattanooga State Community College students set to graduate at noon today, and tell them that the world is small and that connections are more important now than ever before.
Fisher knows. He is the director of external relations at the University of the West Indies in Barbados, an island nation in the Caribbean. His job is to create partnerships.
Today he is also a graduation commencement speaker. But he flew to Chattanooga this week for another reason. He and Chattanooga State President Jim Catanzaro spent Friday morning discussing how their two schools can partner.
Catanzaro hopes Chattanooga State and the University of the West Indies can start working together formally in the next couple of months. By the summer, he hopes college students in Barbados will watch his community college's online lectures. By next spring, he thinks some students and teachers from both schools will trade places, learning about a new country for at least a semester.
Tennessee Board of Regents spokeswoman Monica Grippin-Watts said the higher education system's central office knows about the plan, though Catanzaro has not proposed it to the board.
Depending on the type of partnership, he may not need to, she said. Under some agreements, Grippin-Watts said, colleges can act on their own.
Catanzaro, who often vacations in Barbados, first pitched the idea to Larry Palmer, the U.S. ambassador and a Chattanooga resident. Catanzaro told Palmer that connections outside the country are important.
"We have many, many students and faculty who do not yet have a global understanding of the world," he said.
Catanzaro and Fisher began discussing a partnership in January. Fisher hopes his university can learn how to connect with its community leaders as Chattanooga State has. On Thursday, he toured the Chattanooga State-operated Volkswagen Academy and Wacker Institute, products of the school's partnerships with German companies.
Peter Gibbs, the University of the West Indies dean of science and technology faculty, flew to Chattanooga with Fisher and also toured the training centers.
"These places are amazing," he said. "We don't have anything like these facilities, that's for sure. ... This is something that we would like to establish."
Fisher and Catanzaro don't have a detailed plan for this partnership yet. In addition to exchanging students and teachers, the two have talked about swapping courses and maybe creating an internship program: Chattanooga students working in Barbados in the summer and Barbados students coming here.
As he will tell students today, Fisher said earlier this week that you must learn from people of other countries. He pointed to Australia, where two years ago government officials decided to train and hire 30,000 Indian students. And he talked about Brazil, where the federal government pays its best students to study science in other countries.
"People's lives going forward -- all these graduates, mine as long as I live -- you're going to be connected to the world somehow," Fisher said. "There's a change that goes on somewhere, someplace that affects your life. You should understand it, and you should be aware of it. Change is also opportunity."
Contact Tyler Jett at email@example.com or 423-757-6476.