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Avi Schwarzschild for Spectator

School of General Studies Vice Dean Curtis Rodgers said that the dual-degree program with the City University of Hong Kong will be permanently instituted and open to a larger group of students next semester.

The School of General Studies is planning to expand its dual-degree program with the City University of Hong Kong next semester. 

The dual-degree program with the City University of Hong Kong began as a pilot program for only a few CityU students in 2012-2013, but will be permanently instituted and open to a larger group of students next semester.

Students from CityU matriculate at Columbia in their junior years to complete two undergraduate degrees—one from CityU and one from GS—in mathematics, computer science, or biology. There are currently six students enrolled, but there are plans to eventually enroll about 30 students in total. This program follows in the footsteps of GS's partnership with French University's dual Bachelor of Arts degree program in the social and political sciences.

As of now, the dual-degree program is only a one-way deal for students coming to Columbia from CityU, but GS Vice Dean Curtis Rodgers said that the goal is to develop this into a reciprocal relationship.

“The goal of any partnership like this is to find opportunities for the universities to work together on interesting projects to come up with opportunities for faculty to engage with each other, where students can go both ways if that's possible,” Rodgers said. “But we're not at that stage in the process yet.”

Rodgers, who oversees enrollment management and international partnerships on behalf of the GS dean, recently returned from talks in Hong Kong to officially declare the initiative a full-fledged program.

“CityU in Hong Kong—that partnership—specifically came about because of a sense that the gateway curriculum … really mapped well to what we do here at Columbia University,” Rodgers said. “We were able to map the curricula to identify a good program sequence that made sense … in terms of how those students would complete two undergraduate programs over the course of four years of enrollment.”

The program started out with the math department and has since expanded to students studying biology and computer science. Administrators plan to expand the program to include economics, psychology, and sociology students in the future.

John Schiffer, GS '15, an applied math major who has taken classes with some of the students, said he thinks that the University's decision to start with the math department was particularly positive because of the universal nature of the subject.

“With a new program, there's always going be some communications barriers … but math … tends to translate pretty well across borders and across cultures,” Schiffer said.

Mayla Boguslav, GS/JTS '15 and a math major, said that the opportunity to learn among other Columbia students could be really unique for CityU students.

“What's cool about that, even though they are math majors, the courses that they take—the intro courses—are with everyone,” Boguslav said. “So they also get the experience of being in the University and not just their major cohorts.”

Yanyang “Gracie” Chen, a junior in the pilot program, however, anticipates that she will have to complete extra semesters of coursework in order to finish all her general requirements from CityU, Columbia's full Core Curriculum, and her major requirements. 

She said that the adjustment has been both challenging and stimulating.

“I'm still adapting to the new language environment, but I do think it helps me a lot to learn the new language,” Chen said. “The students here have a different attitude to studying. ... They'll ask more questions, and that also inspires me to ask more questions and figure out by asking more questions.”

Sicong “Ellen” Mo, also a junior-year participant in the program, said that being in New York City helps her pursue her interest in finance.

“I get a lot more exposure when I am here in New York City. It's definitely a more diversified place,” Mo said. “Being at Columbia there's a lot more opportunities to work with people who actually work on Wall Street at financial institutions.”

GS Dean Peter Awn said that the key to success for the program is constant contact and cooperation with the faculty, and accurate planning to ensure that specific majors are appropriate for incorporation.

“The way we have to manage it with CityU is work department by department to see if the program maps. If it doesn't, we won't do that department, and the faculty have to want to do this,” Awn said. “You have to show respect for departments who may in fact be teaching these students.”

Awn said that GS has a unique identity that allows for these kind of innovative projects.

Rodgers applauded the students coming from CityU and the academic excellence that they will contribute to Columbia's undergraduate experience.

“Being partnered with a school … that draws students from Hong Kong, mainland China, all over Asia, really allows us to identify and bring to Columbia students who may not otherwise consider an undergraduate degree program at Columbia,” he said.

“There's no other Ivy League university that has a college like [GS] that recruits people with untraditional backgrounds to mainstream parts of the undergraduate program,” Awn said. “It allows us to create very high-end and really very experimental, cutting-edge international programs.”

Yasemin Akcaguner contributed reporting.  |  @ColumbiaSpec

School of General Studies Dual-Degree program City University of Hong Kong study abroad
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