New associate dean sets sights on global impact

Tom Thompson, who had been the head of the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Sciences since 2011, was recently named the college’s associate dean and director for Global Programs. We sat down with Thompson to talk about his vision for the new program and his own globe-trotting experiences.

What international projects have you been involved with during your career?

I’ve worked with scientists on projects in China, Haiti, Mexico, Malawi, Senegal, and Kenya. I took a sabbatical in Israel and developed friendships and collaborations that are still active. My most extensive international project was in Haiti. It focused on helping smallholder farmers adopt conservation agriculture practices.

Why is it important these days to think in a global context?

We exist in a global economy and we must be prepared to compete globally. This is really true for our students. In agriculture and the life sciences, so many of our challenges — food security, human and global health, emerging diseases — demand global knowledge and solutions.

What do you think the college has to offer partners around the globe?

First, we have faculty and students who are tackling the problems mentioned above. Second, our faculty members are experienced in global engagement and have worked all over the world. Add to that other types of expertise at Virginia Tech, and we can contribute literally anywhere in the world.

What advice would you give students when they consider studying abroad?

I have two pieces of advice for students: One is to select a study abroad opportunity that will challenge their assumptions and take them somewhere very different. The second piece of advice is to go abroad for as long as possible — perhaps for a semester or a year. My goal is that we will have study abroad experiences that are accessible to every student.

What is your vision for the new global program?

Even before Global Programs existed, many faculty members and students have been involved in global engagement. Through this new office, we will create partnerships and opportunities so that more faculty and students are globally engaged and are making important and far-reaching contributions. My vision is that in five years we are seen as a top-tier, globally engaged college.