Mapping a Global Strategy for Tufts

Fletcher professor Diana Chigas, F88, tapped as university’s first senior international officer

Diana Chigas

Tufts faculty have been key players in the landmark Paris climate accord; in thwarting Ebola, Zika and other infectious diseases; and in confronting the European refugee crisis—all in just the past few years.

The university’s international footprint continues to grow. Right now faculty and students are working on projects in nearly 140 countries on issues as diverse as women’s empowerment, religion in colonial Bengal, energy access for the poor, and diet and cardiovascular disease.

Provost David Harris says he’s convinced that Tufts’ international outreach and impact can be even more dramatic with the development of a concerted global strategy that would bring together disparate initiatives and forge partnerships among faculty, students and others who may be attacking the same problem from different angles.

To lead that effort, he’s appointed Diana Chigas, F88, as the university’s first senior international officer. Chigas, who has been involved in top-level negotiations in hot spots around the world, also has been named an associate provost and will continue to teach as a professor of the practice at the Fletcher School, as she has done for 15 years.

“Historically, Tufts has had a strong commitment to understanding the world and using that knowledge to address global challenges,” says Harris. “We’re intent on pursuing interdisciplinary research and scholarship and engaging our far-flung networks of alumni, friends and others for the benefit of society,” he says. “Diana will help us develop a comprehensive strategy that will enable us to do that in a more purposeful way, while also helping our students broaden their perspectives.”

Chigas says she’s spending this year learning about the international work happening across Tufts and identifying ways to share that information more widely. There’s a lot of it, from the popular study-abroad programs that Tufts has offered to undergraduates for 50 years to faculty research and scholarship—and that’s not counting the more than 6,300 alumni who live outside the United States.

The provost’s office is also convening an international advisory group that will help identify priorities for a global strategy. “We need to think—are there geographic priorities we should have?” says Chigas. “And what kind of presence abroad? We have many partnerships abroad, but we need to coordinate them more.”

Chigas, who holds a J.D./M.A.L.D. from Harvard Law School and the Fletcher School, first worked internationally through the Conflict Management Group, a nonprofit started by former Harvard law professor Roger Fisher. She was involved in negotiations between El Salvador’s government and rebels and between South African anti-apartheid movement leaders and that country’s minority white government, among other assignments.

She started teaching a course on negotiations at Fletcher on a temporary basis in 2001, and soon became a fixture there, while also signing on with CDA, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the effectiveness of international development and conflict resolution work. She co-taught a course on that and also teaches in Fletcher’s Global Master of Arts Program (GMAP).

Chigas was able to get a bit of a head start on her new position, which she officially began on Sept. 1. Since August 2015, she worked a day a week in the provost’s office on global strategy, and helped lead a faculty survey to get a sense of the international work happening across the university.

Among the findings: faculty reported scholarly activity in 138 countries. They’re also very interested in learning about what their colleagues are up to overseas and how they might collaborate more. For example, Arts and Sciences faculty might be doing work in Rwanda, and knowing that Cummings School researchers are there, too, could seed productive collaborations to address related problems.

Chigas is also assisting in the administrative coordination of international work. “If someone has a project in Tanzania, and they want to hire someone, how do they do that? And with grants—we need to be able to collaborate and connect with them,” she says. Chigas works with Claudia Jackson, who oversees international safety and operations, “to make sure we can support international work well.”

Some of that is underway. The provost’s office funded a training session on the practicalities and ethics of working in post-conflict regions, such as Guatemala and Congo, knowledge that is relevant, for example, for dental school faculty and students working in clinics in those countries as well as researchers from the Feinstein International Center and the Fletcher School.

Yet international experiences don’t only happen off campus. Tufts has nearly 1,600 international students, and China has been the top feeder country for a decade. The university’s 459 international faculty and scholars are natives of 69 countries, from Afghanistan to Zambia.

“We also need to think about how we organize ourselves on campus so students here, including those who do not study or do clinical or internship work abroad, can have a global experience in some form or another,” Chigas says.

Another issue is supporting international students who come here—especially those in the health sciences, where there are fewer organized support structures. “We need to orient them and connect them with activities here,” she says.

See the Global Strategy page on the provost’s website for more information.

Taylor McNeil can be reached at

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