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Asher Krell for Spectator

Executive Vice President for Global Centers Safwan Masri (r.) discusses the future of the network at the first day of the second Global Center summit.

 The second annual Global Centers Directors' Summit kicked off Monday, bringing together the directors of Columbia's eight centers on the Morningside campus to outline their goals and priorities for the upcoming year. 

The week-long summit will address how to streamline the infrastructure of the centers, increase outreach to the areas surrounding the respective centers, and bolster the centers' presence on campus.

The first summit developed a business plan for the centers and determined how to make the centers into research hubs and study abroad sites for students.

“At last year's summit, everything was fairly new,” Vice President for Global Centers Safwan Masri said at the introductory event on Monday. “There was the intention of show-and-tell—I think it was successful.”

In the last year, the Global Centers have worked with faculty and schools to increase the number of study abroad opportunities for students. In April, administrators launched the President's Innovation Fund, which provides the opportunity for faculty to compete for research and teaching grants at the centers.

While the rest of the summit will focus on undergraduate engagement and collaboration with graduate schools, Monday's meetings focused mostly on internal issues, including reflections on current programs at each center and areas for potential growth. 

“We're going to be focused across the network, but our biggest focus is going to be China,” Masri said. “It has the greatest needs, but the greatest opportunity.”

Joan Kaufman, director of the Beijing center, discussed plans for the center to collaborate with universities in China to increase visibility and address some of the challenges of working in East Asia, including air pollution, Internet censorship, and politically sensitive topics. 

“I think we've honed in on those areas in which we can really make an impact,” she said. “That's our strategy for the coming year. We need revenue-generating projects.”

Administrators at Reid Hall, which launched as the Paris Global Center in March 2010, also proposed some major changes to its current facilities. 

“We have recommendations that can make Reid Hall more European,” Paul LeClerc, the Paris center director, said. 

The proposal includes improving existing libraries and adding wireless Internet. LeClerc expressed an interest in forming a closer relationship with Columbia's curriculum.

LeClerc has also overseen the planning of Reid Hall's World Writers' Festival, a joint venture between the center and the Library of France to celebrate French writers through discussions, debates, and performances across Paris.

“This has been a very large undertaking,” LeClerc said of the festival, scheduled to be held Sept. 22-23. “It's the talk of Paris. It's a huge accomplishment.”

The festival will be broadcast on the Global Centers' website, which will support similar projects in the future.

Another online venture, known as Columbia Global Debates, will engage Columbia faculty and international leaders and scholars in debates. The debates will be filmed at the Global Centers and will ultimately be uploaded to the revamped Global Centers' website.

Masri said that this program would allow the directors to use the network as a platform to engage in global debates.

A pilot debate will be held Oct. 29 at the Rio de Janeiro center and will focus on how the 2016 Olympics can help Brazil address some of its challenges in urban planning and development.

“This has the potential of showcasing Columbia globally,” Masri said.

Abby Abrams, Elizabeth Sedran, and Natalie Felsen contributed reporting.  |  @sammcooney 

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