Pamala Morris, Purdue University – Learning More About Our Own And Other Cultures

Pamala Morris

On Purdue University Week: To help future employers manage a global workforce, start with students.

Pamala Morris, professor of youth development and agriculture education at Purdue University, examines how teaching students strong intercultural skills can help them bridge gaps in their future careers.

Dr. Pamala V. Morris is currently an Assistant Dean/Director of the Office of Multicultural Programs and an Associate Professor for the Department of Youth Development and Agricultural Education, in the College of Agriculture at Purdue University. As faculty, her primary focus is to inform youth and adults, on an international, national and local level, about the changing faces of our global society and to increase their understanding and appreciation of cultural differences and similarities within, among, and between groups. As Dean, she provides leadership in the area of multicultural education for faculty, staff, and students in the college. She developed and implemented two diversity awareness courses that serve as two out of three ways to fulfill a new Multicultural Understanding Requirement in the college.

Dr. Morris has been actively involved in the National Association for Multicultural Education since 2000. She served as Region 5 Director from 2004-2007 and has served as chair for the NAME Awards Committee for the last four years.

Learning More About Our Own And Other Cultures

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Soon more than 9 billion people will share our planet. Increasing demands for food, water, energy, and infrastructure are pushing nature to its limits. At the center of these changes is agriculture, with 2.6 billion of the world’s population working in small scale agriculture businesses. As agricultural organizations move beyond their borders and reach into other terrains, a global mindset is crucial. Now, teams work virtually across borders via technology, with a variety of ethnicities at home, and with a globally-dispersed customer base. Intercultural skills are necessary for all employees in agriculture industries if we are to maximize the effectiveness and productivity of diverse teams addressing today’s complex agricultural and environmental challenges. Over the last few years research has identified a four-step developmental process for bridging differences: first, working to be more aware of our own norms for behavior and the cultural values underneath them; second, building a solid foundation of knowledge of other cultures; third, managing our emotions and thoughts in the face of ambiguity and challenging circumstances; and fourth, bridging cultural gaps between ourselves and others. This is what it takes to shift perspectives and adapt in effective and culturally appropriate ways.

Considering the need to develop intercultural competencies, the College of Agriculture has responded by implementing a “Multicultural Understanding Requirement” for undergraduate students. Grounded in research on the four-step process of developing intercultural competence, these courses help students develop more self- and other-awareness through service learning projects in the community, experiential activities, and guided dialogue sessions with their peers. Through pre- and post-testing with validated survey instruments we have been able to demonstrate that these courses are indeed effective in building the skills that future agriculturalists will need to succeed in a diverse world.

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  1. Guven Peter Witteveen

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