Donald Hempson will join Virginia Tech as associate vice president for international affairs beginning Sept. 10. He currently leads Ohio State University’s centers in China, India, and Brazil.

Vice President for Outreach and International Affairs Guru Ghosh said of Hempson, "Don’s breadth of experiences in the world of consulting, engagement with private industry, and his track record at a sister land-grant institution are both unique and exemplary. His passion for intercultural understanding and depth of knowledge on global affairs, along with his acumen as an engineer, will make him an ideal fit at Virginia Tech. Don’s experience in international administration is broad, and his accomplishments in advancing global centers and partnerships is stellar. I am looking forward to Don’s leadership in helping shape Virginia Tech’s global land-grant agenda.”

Hempson will play a key role advancing priorities in the university's new strategic plan approved by the Board of Visitors in early June. The international portfolio in Outreach and International Affairs includes oversight of study abroad programs, such as those emphasized in the Global Education Office, which encompasses the Steger Center for International Scholarship in Switzerland.

Other key areas of engagement and research under Hempson’s purview are the Language and Culture Institute; International Support Services; the Center for Research, Education, and Development; working with the university’s centers in Valdivia, Chile, and Chennai, India; and expanding the university’s presence around the world with new strategic partnerships.  

A theme of Hempson's research is that international engagement requires candor to be successful. In this YouTube video, he explains how that value applies to universities: 

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At Ohio State, Hempson directed international initiatives for the College of Engineering before taking over leadership of the university’s centers called “Global Gateways” in Shanghai, China; Mumbai, India; and Sao Paulo, Brazil. The gateways serve as launching points for student recruitment, study abroad, and faculty engagement. Hempson said his mission over the past year was to “re-envision” the centers, and, in the case of India, expand into research partnerships with Indian institutions of higher learning.

Trained in industrial engineering, Hempson veered from that career path to earn graduate degrees in history. His master’s degree in European and Middle Eastern history is from DePaul University in Chicago and his Ph.D. in international history–diplomatic and business affairs is from Ohio State. He worked as an independent consultant on international business matters, drawing clients mostly from private industry, from 2000 to 2007.

Hempson’s career change was prompted when he observed fellow engineering colleagues encounter obstacles while setting up manufacturing facilities in Eastern Europe. Many missteps were related to an underappreciation for the region’s culture, tradition, and history. In one such incident, a factory ribbon-cutting event – almost a year in the making – came to a halt when the workers in a small Bulgarian town declined to enter the renovated building. The assembled bigwigs from the U.S. corporation waited while an Orthodox priest from the village was found, along with the requisite palm frond, to ceremonially bless the threshold. Once religious custom was satisfied, the workers filed inside for the ceremony.

“That struck a chord with me and inspired me to travel and pursue graduate studies,” Hempson said. “I’m fascinated with the dynamic of how you engage and have the conversations you need to have, especially when you’re attempting to move into a new environment with economic development or policy aspirations. If you spend time understanding the cultural dimensions, and explore the motivations on both sides, you can bypass a lot of headaches.”

Hempson also was impressed when working as an industrial engineer for Ingersoll Rand in Greenville, South Carolina, shortly after earning his bachelor’s degree. He saw how neighbors and colleagues embraced new cultural influences. “They began to re-envision Greenville as part of a global landscape after high-profile international companies developed a presence there and the city landed firms from half a dozen nations,” he said.

“What’s exciting about Virginia Tech is that it’s committed to defining what it means to be a global land-grant university,” Hempson said of his decision to relocate to Blacksburg. “When you look at what Virginia Tech has done and has the structure to do, it’s exciting, and there’s an accomplished team in place. I can see how we might find further expansion opportunities in Africa and Latin America.”

He also noted that a focus on India has created momentum with recent announcements involving the planned association with the Kalinga Institutes in Bhubaneswar and creation of the Thapar-Virginia Tech Center of Excellence in Frontier Materials in Punjab.

Hempson speaks Czech, French, and German. He is adviser to the Global One Health Initiative at Ohio State and is also involved with the College of Engineering’s Global Water Institute. His publications include “European Disunion: The Rise and Fall of a Post-War Dream?” in the September 2013 issue of the journal Origins. 

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