By Ephreeda Banda
Recognising her exceptional leadership, dedication, and achievements in advancing internationalisation at Rhodes University, Professor Sioux McKenna, the Director of the Centre for Postgraduate Studies (CPGS), has been awarded the 2022 Internationalisation Award. Her tireless efforts have strengthened the institution's global presence and significantly contributed to the advancement of knowledge and understanding on a worldwide scale.
This award recognises the achievements of individual staff and collective groups working towards broader internationalization within Rhodes University's departments, schools, and institutes. Staff members nominate candidates or groups, including themselves or their groups.
Professor McKenna received the award for various activities, including her work in the CPGS and running a PhD program in CHERTL, the Social Justice and Quality in Higher Education international project she led, and the Phakamisa DHET-funded collaborative project in which she wrote the project proposal. She has also facilitated several Erasmus+ PhD students and staff exchanges to visit Vrije Universiteit over the last few years. She has enabled exchange visits to Kenya and the Netherlands for several research administrators. Alongside this, Professor McKenna designed and implemented the Reading across Borders project during the pandemic, which brought together 60 PhD higher education scholars from eight countries to discuss readings related to social justice in their countries. She also supervised to graduation of PhD and Master's students from Malawi, Kenya, Namibia, and Zimbabwe. She supervises students from Namibia and Zimbabwe and co-supervises students from the UK and Canada.
Professor McKenna said that the inspiration behind her work and research is based on the opportunities to engage internationally, and she is always curious about how things work. “I often wonder whether my understanding about whatever I am researching at that time, like how universities work in society or how they are funded, simply reflect my narrow world experience. International collaborations often challenge my understanding of the phenomenon I am studying in a way that reading all the literature in the world may fail to do,” said McKenna.
She emphasized the importance of thinking about the politics of globalisation in the context of internationalisation, as the internationalisation of higher education can strengthen colonial hierarchies. She said these dynamics are often embedded in the funding mechanisms, affecting how people interact. In addition, Professor McKenna reflected on this research journey and sees it as an opportunity to open doors for aspiring researchers and PhD students across borders to share, collaborate, and enjoy developing critical views of their research. She might be eight years from retirement, but receiving this award is like a lever to continue opening doors for her. “At this time, I wonder how many colleagues, emerging academics, administrators, postdoctoral fellows, and postgraduate candidates I can support to enjoy international opportunities, acquire funding, and come to understand the value of their work in the global conversation. I wonder how many lessons I can learn along the way,” said Professor McKenna.
Professor McKenna's efforts to integrate international perspectives into the curriculum have ensured that Rhodes University graduates are equipped with a global mindset and cross-cultural competencies. By developing interdisciplinary courses and incorporating international case studies, she has broadened students' understanding of global issues and prepared them to navigate the complexities of our interconnected world.
As a beacon of international collaboration and an inspiration to educators worldwide, Professor McKenna's work is a testament to the transformative power of fostering global engagement in higher education. Her passion for creating meaningful connections and promoting intercultural understanding has undoubtedly left an undeniable mark on the academic community. It has positioned Rhodes University as a leading institution in the realm of international education.