Undergraduate engagement was the focus of the second day of the Global Center directors’ summit, with students and administrators discussing ways to get more undergraduates involved with the centers.
The 20 undergraduate students who traveled this summer to Europe and Asia in Columbia’s new Global Scholars programs presented their studies at a conference on Tuesday night, while administrators emphasized experiential learning as the most promising new model of global education during a lunch earlier in the day.
University President Lee Bollinger provided the opening remarks for the conference, titled “Engaging the World: The First Undergraduate Global Scholars Report Back.”
“It’s a really important moment for the University,” he said. “This is the return of the pioneers who have gone out and, as global scholars, have set a pattern for what we hope will be a much broader educational experience.”
Throughout the summit, a theme has been the value of educating students outside of the lecture hall.
“We need to have new opportunities for students to engage with the world in diverse settings,” Madeleine Zelin, acting director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute, said. “What excited me as a teacher was this combination of rigorous research that it provided these students with and the opportunity to engage in a different type of learning.”
Earlier in the day, Michael Pippenger, dean of undergraduate global programs, asked the Global Center directors to think about a new model of undergraduate education in which “the students are the practitioners as well as the learners.”
“It’s not enough anymore to provide international education programs that don’t have those kinds of [practical] mechanisms built into them,” Pippenger said.
In 2013, the Nairobi and Istanbul global centers will begin two of these kinds of “hands-on” programs, as Pippenger put it. In the Kenyan program—“Columbia’s first semester-long science program,” Pippenger said—students will conduct sustainable development research, while in Turkey, participants will be part of a mapping and architecture program.
But even as Columbia continues to launch new global programs, administrators recognize that those programs are still inaccessible to many undergraduates. History professor Victoria de Grazia, the former director of the Paris Global Center, debated whether shorter or longer programs abroad would appeal more to busy students.
A shorter stay “is a form of educated tourism,” she said, while, after a long trip, “one comes away with very important questions that will drive you.”
“I think if you go and stay and get in, it makes a potential difference in how you’ll live your life,” de Grazia said.
Another problem that Columbia students face is fulfilling the Core Curriculum while making time to study abroad, de Grazia said.
“Students have a very full courseload,” de Grazia said. The one semester-plus program in Paris allows students to spend a semester and a summer at the center, often for internships or extra research, so that they still spend a substantial time abroad without missing a significant period of their schooling in Morningside Heights. “We adapted it to the Columbia curriculum,” she said.
Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis said at the lunch, “We do have a Core Curriculum, but that’s not necessarily what stops students from going abroad. And I want to say that, and I’m going to say it again and again, because if we focus on that, it’s not going to get us very far.”
Funding also remains a concern, especially because Columbia does not provide financial aid for the summer programs.
“If we want to up the participation of undergraduates in an educational experience abroad, summer is a good time if we can find the funding,” Paul LeClerc, director of the Paris center, said, adding that he thought many alumni would be interested in providing funds.
During a panel discussion, students who participated in Global Scholars programs reflected on the research that they pursued abroad.
Cassandra Nozil, CC ’13, researched large-scale three-dimensional printing for use in emergency architecture in Paris, which enables digitized objects to be “printed” into the real world by fusing together thin layers of material.
Nozil said that the most common reaction she received from her peers when asked about her experience with the program was: “Why didn’t I apply?”
“I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into—I just knew it was compatible with my architecture program, and I could study abroad with it,” she said. “It’s something you will never regret, and you learn so much from it.”
Nozil plans to bring the work of Enrico Dini, who created an environmentally friendly 3-D printer, to North America in hopes of bolstering sustainable housing solutions.
Other scholars talked about how jarring experiencing a new culture was at first.
Connie Cheng, BC ’13, analogized her first moments in Asia as being “thrown into a watery abyss,” but said that she had “a net to catch her.”
Former Global Centers vice president Ken Prewitt called the research of the scholars “remarkable,” and urged the students to share their experiences with their classmates.
“It turns out that the local is universal, and the global has got to be contextualized,” he said. “A lot of experiential learning can happen in a few weeks if things are well put together.”
Sammy Roth contributed reporting.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated Madeleine Zelin's title. She is acting director of the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Spectator regrets the error.