As Columbia expands its global presence abroad through the creation of four new global centers, the place of undergraduates in the system is still uncertain, though some programs are in the works.
Peter Awn, the Dean of the School of General Studies, said that serious discussions regarding how undergraduate students will participate in the centers haven’t happened yet, and probably won’t until the funding for the centers is more definite.
The University has opened four research-based global centers in Jordan, China, India, and Paris, while four new potential future centers are in the works in Turkey, Kazakhstan, Kenya, and Brazil.
Currently, “both students and faculty are trying to figure out what they [the centers] are about,” Awn said, adding that interest amongst students and faculty will probably increase as the centers get more fully grounded.
Columbia College Dean of Academic Affairs Kathryn Yatrakis, however, said that some programming is already in the works.
“The undergraduate academic programs at the centers are not pre-packaged or previously planned but are meant to be created by faculty thinking about how best to design appropriate undergraduate programs so that students will be able to take full advantage of the centers and the unique educational site that they offer,” Yatrakis said in an email.
“This is starting to happen, and we are working closely with faculty in various fields who are thinking about academic programs located at the Centers which would be particularly suited for our undergraduates,” she added.
Yatrakis said that Columbia is in the process of designing a sustainable development program in the Amman, Jordan center, among other initiatives. Also, both the Amman and Beijing, China, centers are offering language programs.
“At this point, we [the University] want to see what we can get off the ground,” Awn said, adding that the centers have an experimental component to them. Columbia is the first university to use this model, which utilizes the areas as research centers as opposed to campuses abroad.
Awn, as the director of the Middle East Institute, also said that he is hoping to sponsor an undergraduate student conference in Amman, which would involve both Arabic students and Columbia students.
But Yannis Tsividis, the newly-dubbed School of Engineering and Applied Science undergraduate curriculum advisor to the dean, said in an email that the global centers have not been considered at all in the school’s curricular deliberations.
Ken Prewitt, vice president of the global centers, said that the University could consider curricular innovations to best utilize the centers.
For example, he said, a student could be allowed to go to one of the centers to work on a major project in his or her field for six months. The main problem may be the current strict degree requirements for undergraduates at Columbia, which span from major requirements to the Core to electives. “How can we coordinate with that so that we are additional to it and not trying to compete with it?”
Prewitt said the University could make changes on campus by creating courses that would allow for the students to spend time abroad at one of the centers.
In the future, Awn said also that he could imagine possibly offering courses where a student spent half of the course at a center and half at Columbia.
However, Prewitt said that one of the major constraints is the fact that “a lot of students came here to be in New York.”
Despite the uncertainty, students seemed optimistic, though skeptical, about the centers.
“I think it is important for Columbia to increase its global presence because it is important for the students to get a global perspective and understand different cultures. The best way to understand other cultures is to immerse oneself into other cultures and countries,” Abby Bates, CC ’14, said.
Bates, who is studying Swahili, the language of Kenya, said that she is particularly excited about the potential center in Nairobi, Kenya.
“I could definitely see myself traveling to the global center in Kenya because I am interested in conservation, and Kenya has a lot of environmental issues that could be studied and improved with simple, small changes,” she said.
Madeline Rumer, CC ’14, could also see some future advantages of the centers. “How are we supposed to fix the world’s problems if we don’t know anything about our neighbors across the sea? I think everyone would benefit from going to a global center because they’d have a reason to go to another country and they’d be connecting with people from other cultures,” Rumer said.
“I’m a huge proponent of expanding the global village and learning from different cultures, and I think by having these study centers rather than, like, a study abroad program, it’s a great opportunity for people to just go abroad and learn about new cultures and, like, you can still study what you love but being in a different environment that can give you a different perspective on things,” Sewa Adekoya, CC ’14, said.
Spencer Capalby, CC ’13, however, is skeptical, believing that we can achieve the same goals of a global center through study abroad.
“I just think it’s [the global center initiative] really unnecessary. You can already achieve the same goal through other venues,” Capalby said, adding that “there are more important things closer to home to take care of.”
“I could not see myself benefiting from a global center, because there are already ways for me to benefit from a global center without a global center,” he said.