Global Hub Brings the World to Students in One Bright, Engaging Space

(This article originally appeared in Pittwire, Aug. 22, 2019.)

Learn a new language while scenes of a rainforest play across a wall, meet people from a wide range of countries, or join a club to explore ideas from around the world — all in one place at Pitt.

The University of Pittsburgh’s new Global Hub, located on the first floor of Posvar Hall, is part student lounge and part academic resource center. Cozy and colorful, the Hub features the touch-screen Engagement Wall, where a visitor is introduced to all of Pitt’s global learning options. Students can find out how to learn a new language, earn an international studies certificate, explore internship possibilities, register to study abroad, take a class, join a club or enroll in service learning.

Headshot of Karen Lue, against a white background.

Karen Lue, a Pitt alumnus with a background in project management as well as curation and exhibitions, is the manager of the new Global Hub. (Aimee Obidzinski/University of Pittsburgh)

The touch-screen wall is populated with Instagram photos coming in from students currently traveling through Study Abroad programs. The even larger Experience Wall shows continuous high-definition YouTube videos of scenes from around the world, from the Brazilian rain forest to the bustling street markets of Tokyo. Comfortable furniture, meeting tables and private nooks for advising sessions round out the space.

It all looked good to Efrain Guirola, a senior majoring in neuroscience and current president of the German Club.

“Finally, a modern and open space where students and faculty alike can casually sit and have a conversation,” he said. Guirola, born and raised in Caracas, Venezuela, likes the easy access to information about the 35 languages taught at Pitt and the student organizations behind them. The more attention paid to language, the more the clubs can thrive, he said. He was chatting with Hub Manager Karen Lue about an upcoming German Hour he is organizing at the Hub at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 23 with German music, conversation and information on Pitt’s German resources, open to anyone interested.

“Pitt has taken a leap forward as far as emphasizing global competency as integral to students’ academic paths,” said Lue, a Pitt alumnus with a background in project management as well as curation and exhibitions. “Launching the Hub is a big step in continually working towards globalizing students' degrees and their overall perspectives.”  

Lue, a Richmond, Virginia, native and daughter of Chinese immigrants, has been a curator at places ranging from Indiewalls, Inc. in New York to Pittsburgh’s Andy Warhol Museum.

According to Pitt’s Office of International Services, some 6,000 students, scholars, faculty and staff make Pitt their academic home. Pitt sends more than 2,100 students to study abroad every year, where they take part in more than 350 programs in 75 countries.

Pitt also has a Global Ties program that helps international students feel welcome on campus and Pitt’s University Center for International Studies (UCIS) hosts a wide variety of workshops, institutes, mini-courses, seminars, conferences and networking events with a global focus.

“The Global Hub reflects the University’s innovative commitment to meeting students where they are and offering them new ways of connecting with the world,” said Belkys Torres, executive director of global engagement at UCIS.

Several years ago, she and her colleagues heard from faculty, students, staff and alumni on what would become Embracing the World: A Global Plan for Pitt, a four-year plan to put Pitt on a pathway to become a global and more broadly inclusive institution.

Two-floor image of Global Hub, showing students sitting in the lower floor with a giant Experience Screen showing images of Brazil

The Hub’s Experience Wall shows continuous video from locations around the world. When the video changes hourly, a digital clock above alerts people on the second floor. (Photo courtesy of Strada Architecture LLC)

“We noted students’ emphatic request for a one-stop location where they could drop in, learn about the variety of opportunities to internationalize their perspectives and connect with peers or experts from all walks of life,” she said. After several years of collaboration with the Office of the Provost, UCIS partnered with some external contractors to conceptualize and build the Hub.

As Vice Provost for Global Affairs Ariel Armony explains: “In a moment when international populations may feel uneasy with nationalist rhetoric, Pitt furthers its commitment to welcoming students and scholars from around the globe.”

The Hub’s activities will encourage international and domestic students to build friendships and professional networks. Programming suggestions will come from members of the roughly 50 student groups that have some sort of global connection. Faculty, staff and student clubs can book the space as long as the event is student-centric.

Lue envisions programming such as tea and coffee tastings or events where students can learn international board games. The large Experience Wall can be switched to a screen that will project information from a professor’s laptop. And cases hold artifacts from Pitt’s Nationality Rooms and the University Library System in what will be rotating displays.

There’s also a clock made of 12 digital panels high on the wall that flash the hourly time, when the images on the Experience Wall switch from one country to another. A staircase has been added that leads to a new second-floor study area.

There is no door on the Hub, making it an inviting space for passersby to preview the eye-catching design before the Hub's official opening on Aug. 27.

Senior Alexis Takoushian, who is majoring in Spanish and political science with a minor in Portuguese, is a student ambassador for the Center for Latin American Studies, where she is working toward a certificate. A native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, she frequently meets with students and is already looking forward to shifting her sessions to the Hub.

“This is more accessible and inviting than a fourth-floor office,” said Takoushian, looking around. “I’d much rather be down here.”

Bringing together diverse communities seems particularly important to Torres and Lue, in today’s society where outsiders are not always accepted with congeniality.

“Anyone and everyone is welcome to come in and participate in whatever might be going on at the time,” said Lue. “Being able to have a campus space dedicated to this is a significant opportunity to expand peoples’ perspectives and make those cross-cultural connections.”

Guirola agrees and even thinks the concept should expand.

“I think more global spaces like this one are needed throughout campus buildings and parks, in order to connect one another to Pitt, other universities, and the world,” he said.