Intertwining Strategic and Internationalization Planning at the University of Kansas Through the ACE Internationalization Lab

​​​August 2022 ​​​​​

The University of Kansas (KU) is a public R1 research university that serves more than 25,000 students. Its mission is to “lift students and society by educating leaders, building healthy communities and making discoveries that change the world.” The university's faculty and staff recognize that achieving this mission requires being of and connected to the world around them. Thus, when new provost Barbara A. Bichelmeyer joined the KU community, KU applied to and joined Cohort 18 of the ACE Internationalization Lab. Bichelmeyer and her colleagues strived to align the work of the Lab in parallel with the strategic planning process that was being undertaken by the university as a whole.  


KU set four primary goals associated with participation in the Lab:  

  1. ​Inventory the university’s international engagement and investments and gain a sense of its level of international activity and where it currently resides
  2. Involve faculty, staff, students, and administrators in a broad and specific set of discussions about how to be engaged strategically in international education and contribute to the world, including what KU is doing well, what should be discontinued, what KU's structural limitations and barriers to internationalization are, and what areas should be developed
  3. Develop an organizational approach, a set of alignments, and a set of strategic action plans to move forward institutional goals around comprehensive internationalization
  4. Develop a comprehensive international communication plan that would embrace KU’s identity as an international research university, tell its story as it has never been told before (at every level of the university), and celebrate its many successes and contributions on the international stage


The KU Lab team developed a series of recommended actions with specific, targeted action steps for the university along three themes: 

  • ​​THEME A: Improve Communication and Coordination of International Resources  
    1. ​​Create an international engagement index that captures faculty, student, and staff international activities and outcomes as they relate to KU’s internationalization goals
    2. Develop a clear, one-stop platform and communication strategy for external stakeholders that showcases KU as an international research university with global impact and improves access to and opportunities for engagement
    3. Develop and integrate into onboarding materials staff trainings on internationalization resources and supports, intercultural competency development, and global engagement programming, as well as important policies and practices that guide and define international staff engagement
    4. Establish an institutional definition for “internationalized curriculum and learning outcomes” that is inclusive of language and area studies content, but also of courses across the humanities, social sciences and natural sciences disciplines, as well as the professional schools
  • ​THEME B: Invest in and Strategically Align KU’s Existing International Strengths and Resources 
    1. ​Strategically realign the National Resource Centers (Area Studies) to enhance their institutional visibility; better connect them to KU’s international and broader administrative resources; align them with interdisciplinary opportunities in research and teaching across KU’s schools and academic departments; and maximize governmental, corporate, and educational outreach related to internationalization
  • ​THEME C: Develop a Culture That Values and Rewards International Activity and Associated Outcomes  
    1. ​​Use the international engagement index and associated metrics for KU faculty, student, and staff efforts to make visible the work that is getting done and communicate the outcomes associated with that work through an annual international engagement report
    2. Build internationalization goals from the index into annual staff evaluation processes; intercultural competency development should be explicitly supported and encouraged as a critical dimension of KU’s diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging efforts


Key outcomes of the process included reinvestment of institutional funding to support international affairs administration (decoupling the leadership team, planning efforts, and overall management of KU's internationalization efforts from the student fee structure and recognizing that internationalization is more than student services to inbound and outbound students). The establishment of a new provost-funded Institute for Global and International Engagement, which will serve as an institutional umbrella for KU's strong area studies centers and national resource centers was also significant. Finally, and most importantly, the recommendations of the Lab have not only been incorporated into KU's strategic action planning, but comprehensive internationalization has been built into the university's plan as one of five core foundational principles. All university leaders will have to build internationalization goals and objectives into their plans. 

​“The ACE Internationalization Lab has been a tremendous opportunity for us to have a broad, open, and rigorous set of conversations about our international work, to identify missed opportunities and unnecessary barriers to our international work and to build an integrated set of plans into the institution's strategic planning process in support of comprehensive internationalization. The ACE Model for Comprehensive Internationalization; ACE's expertise; and the guidance we have received from our Lab adviser, Cheryl Matherly, have been invaluable.”—Charles Bankart, Senior Internationalization Officer, KU


KU offers the following advice to institutions considering embarking on the ACE Internationalization Lab: 

  • ​​Remember that this process is a two-year marathon, and a solid plan and regular engagement are key to success
  • Executive leadership buy-in and support are critical
  • The Lab steering committee is also a great opportunity to involve positive and critical voices in the self-study in a rigorous way and work on recommendation development; stakeholders need to be active participants rather than just supporters in order to transform and change institutional culture
  • Hire or assign a person to manage the Lab logistics, as there is a lot involved and having someone keep track of everything and pull it—as well as the team—together is essential

​The ACE Internationalization Lab  

The Internationalization Lab provides customized guidance and insight to help colleges and universities achieve their internationalization goals. Learn more about the Lab and how to apply.