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 Together While We’re Apart: A Q&A with Devin Walker, Director of Global Leadership and Social Impact

image of Devin walker

image of Devin walkerThis time last year, Devin Walker, director of the Office of Global Leadership and Social Impact, was busily preparing his a large cohort of students—many first-time world travelers— for a summer of a lifetime in Beijing, China. Now with international travel on a hiatus, he is working from afar to keep up the momentum for future study abroad adventures.

We caught up with Walker to learn more about his work, the insights he has since gained during the age of  telecommuting, and what the future holds for the DDCE’s signature study abroad trips.

First and foremost, how are you doing? How have you been navigating this challenging time away from campus?

I am doing fine but it has been challenging adjusting to the “new normal.” Initially, all of this hit me pretty hard because all of the trips that I had been working on were postponed or canceled. While of course I was disappointed, I was more disappointed for our students. For many of them, this was to be their first experience abroad so I know they took it hard, which in turn, hit me pretty hard.

Furthermore, I was supposed to get married on April 11th, 2020 but that had to be postponed as well. Thus, the first few weeks were challenging, because, honestly, I feel like I lost a lot. With that being said, I know that others have lost way more including their jobs, their livelihoods, and even their lives. Once I got over the initial shock and realized how privileged I am to be in good health and able to pay my bills, I have been able to be more productive from home, not only professionally but personally. I have been using the extra time at home to get outside and exercise with my daughter and my fiancé. I have also taken the opportunity to do more around the house which has opened my eyes up to all of the little things my fiancé does to keep the house up and running efficiently. I have learned that there is a lot more I can do to be a contributing member to our household.

What has been your biggest learning experience thus far while working remotely?

I have learned a lot about myself, but I have also learned the importance of human connection. I thrive off engaging with other people but I didn’t realize to what extent. I have also realized that our students are in dire need of human-to-human connection. I have tried to use my lecture time via Zoom to ensure that students still feel connected and human, because being in a house all day everyday can be an extremely lonely and dehumanizing experience. Instead of focusing on specific content, I have tried to focus on the actual students. I have adjusted the content to be more relevant to their lives and what they are experiencing with COVID-19.

How have you been serving students from afar, and what’s the best way for them to get in touch with you?

I have been doing my best to engage my students via Zoom, social media, phone calls, emails, whatever it takes! I love working with young people – and while this pandemic has created quite the obstacle, it has also created new opportunities and modes to engage with students. I have had numerous Zoom sessions with students, which is a totally new experience for me. The best way for students to get in touch with me is via email at devinwalker@austin.utexas.edu and/or via social media @ddceglobal.

Do you have any virtual events on the horizon?

Yes – there are a couple things coming up. I have some programming planned for summer once students finish up their semesters. The office of Global Leadership and Social Impact is going to offer a series of professional development webinars for our students. Content will focus on getting the most out of your summer, applying for scholarships and grants as well as a panel that will feature some of the DDCEs most dynamic and accomplished alumni. Many of our students have had their professional careers take off after leveraging their international experiences, and we want to share those stories with our current students.

Do you have any new programs or updates to existing programs to note?

We are eager to get our global initiatives back up and running but as my mother always said, “patience is a virtue.” I believe that global fluency is more important now than ever, but it is important for us to be responsible when planning international trips. We are looking into rescheduling our “Exploring Futurism and Sustainability in Dubai and Abu Dhabi” sometime in the fall and we hope that the rest of the programs will be able to resume in 2021.

Do you have any words of encouragement or advice to share with your students?

“Pay attention to what’s going on around you.” My father used to share those words with me often as a child and I have found them essential to my development over the years. This crisis has revealed a lot about the world, our country and our communities, and it’s important that we are paying attention and not sleepwalking. It’s important that we pay attention not only to our immediate surroundings, but to the world at large. What countries have handled this situation really well? Why? What are they doing different than us? What does our leadership truly value? What does strong leadership look like? What leadership skills are needed to effectively manage a crisis? I think there is so much to be learned during a time like this, so I hope all of our students continue to be “learners of the word and the world” even as the semester comes to an end.