Learning to Change Myself:  #WHYTIEC Spotlight on Dennis Hart, PhD, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley

Dennis Hart, PhD, Associate Vice President of Global Engagement, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV)

According to Dennis Hart, PhD, a career in international education was never a path he thought would be for him. Growing up in upstate New York, he says it was really the United States Navy that sparked his interest in international students and education. The military first sent him to language school to learn Korean, then to South Korea, and his life was changed forever.

Today, he helps lead international efforts and global initiatives as the Associate Vice President of Global Engagement at The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV).  Located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, it is a pretty important job for a university located so close to the United States’ border with Mexico.

TIEC sat down with Dr. Hart to learn more about his passion for all things international, and what makes UTRGV so special:


1. Tell us about yourself and how you got into international education.

When I was living in South Korea and working with farmers, I grew to respect the forms of work, culture, and beliefs they possessed, especially when they differed from my own. This, in turn, required me to reassess and rethink my own assumptions about work, culture, and beliefs.

I learned to change myself instead of simply expecting others to change for me. I carry this fundamental lesson into my classes and into my professional work. After returning to the U.S., I went to school at the University of Washington and received my BA in East Asian Studies, MA in Korean Studies, and PhD in Comparative Politics. I was a faculty member for nearly two decades before entering international education administration at Kent State University, University of Pittsburgh, Michigan State University, and now UTRGV.

2. Tell us about your Texas university and what makes it so special.

UTRGV has 27,000+ students and offers a range of degrees, including PhDs, but what sets us apart is our location and students. We are very close to the border with Mexico. How close? We often go for lunch in Mexico, that is how close. This location makes UTRGV the go-to American university for many schools in Mexico, but particularly for those in the neighboring state of Tamaulipas.

We have so many joint research projects, outreach projects, study abroad programs, certificate programs, and students from Mexico. We also host the annual Global Border Studies Conference each fall, one day in Mexico and one day in the U.S.

UTRGV is on its way to be a completely bilingual institution and will be able to offer its degrees in both English and Spanish. We already offer some of our online MA courses completely in Spanish. The majority of our students are bilingual already. After receiving a degree from UTRGV, they will be also be trained and educated in both languages for their professional careers.

3. Why is UTRGV part of TIEC, and what do you see as the purpose of having a Texas-wide, internationally focused consortium at your university?

UTRGV joined TIEC for a number of reasons. First, by working with our TIEC partners we learn a great deal about international education (IE) in general, and IE in Texas in particular. Each meeting with TIEC teaches us at the Office of Global Engagement, about how to do our jobs more efficiently and serve our students and faculty better.  We are a better office by learning from our partners. It also opens the door to UTRGV collaborating with other schools on study abroad, international programs, sharing resources, and much more.

By the same token, I believe UTRGV has a unique international studies and education profile and that others in TIEC may benefit from our experiences and challenges. We all share related and similar challenges and a passion for international education. By sharing our knowledge and skills, we hope that we can assist other schools. UTRGV is among the larger schools in TIEC, so we sometimes have access to resources or opportunities that we can share with our partners. We also are happy to share our extensive international contacts, especially those in Mexico.

4. What are the priorities and/or strategic goals for international programs at your university?

The Office of Global Engagement (OGE) will help lead UTRGV’s globalization by identifying, creating, and supporting global initiatives while opening a range of opportunities for faculty, students, and senior leadership. OGE provides funding and other support through funding generated by the Language Institute, International Admissions and Student Services and International Programs and Partnerships fees and revenue, OGE fees and budget, grants, programs, endowments, and scholarships.

Globalization will be an ongoing and vital part of UTRGV’s life by OGE:

  • Joining in the university strategic planning process

  • Faculty research, teaching, and engagement

  • Study abroad

  • Funding of research by faculty

  • Organizing and directing annual Global Border Studies conference with Mexico

  • Internationalization of the curriculum

  • Supporting for student activities such as Model United Nations

  • Supporting for international academic minors such as:

    • Asian studies

    • Middle Eastern studies

    • Border studies

    • Latin American studies

  • Recruiting of international students and scholars

  • Negotiating and housing Memorandum of Understanding

  • Conducting international outreach and cultural events on campus and in the community