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Executive summary Expanding Skidmore's international perspectives

Executive Summary:
Expanding Skidmore's international perspectives
by President Philip A. Glotzbach

I recently received an e-mail from a Skidmore alumnus who runs a company in the Far East that describes the new “Global City” being built in Manila. He notes that more than two million high-paying jobs have been created there over the past ten years. He adds that this remarkable economic progress gives new meaning to the term “developing country,” which was once a polite way of saying “undeveloped” but now connotes an exciting, dynamic, and growing place with a highly educated workforce. Other countries in the developing world are making enormous investments in education, often drawing upon expertise from our own country, such as the effort underway in Qatar to create a new “Education City,” NYU’s initiative to build a second campus in Abu Dhabi, and China’s plan to construct one hundred new “world-class” universities.

The point I take from these realizations is that the second goal of our Strategic Plan—to challenge “every Skidmore student to develop the intercultural understanding and global awareness necessary to thrive in the complex and increasingly interconnected world of the 21st century”—is right on the mark. In fact, our alum’s description of Manila reminded me of how, ideally, a college campus should feel—it should provide fertile ground for the development of young minds, mixing equal parts enthusiasm and skepticism, energy and creativity, a place where both new and old ideas can be studied, interrogated, and tested.

To achieve this goal, we must ensure that Skidmore serves as a marketplace of ideas from around the world, where conversations are informed by the newest ideas and yet situated within a broad (and deep!) cultural and historical context. Likewise, our students must be both open to new ideas and equipped with the capacity to judge which of them are sound and which are not. The question for the college is just how to accomplish that task. How can we truly connect Skidmore,in Saratoga Springs, to the wider world?

One answer is to populate our campus with individuals steeped in many cultures and traditions who are interested in looking beyond their backgrounds to understand others across whatever cultural divides might separate them. Over the past several years, as we have worked to enhance the diversity of our domestic student population, we also have steadily increased the number (and geographic diversity) of international students studying at Skidmore. These students bring with them a wide range of talents and life experiences that enrich the campus in myriad ways. In addition to pursuing their studies, they participate in athletics, the arts, student government, and many other activities. We also have a number of US students, sons and daughters of new immigrants to our country, who bring rich intercultural perspectives to campus life.

Bringing these students to Skidmore can be a costly undertaking, one that involves not only our financial aid program but also an administrative and academic support system designed to help them negotiate the particular challenges they face. This commitment has been aided by our partnerships with organizations such as the Shelby Davis Foundation and the United World Colleges (UWC). You may have seen a report on the NBC Evening News last May about the Davis UWC Scholars program that provides assistance for students from all over the world to study in the US. We have participated in this program for several years and are proud that next fall we will host a total of twenty-five Davis Scholars. We must continue to increase the number of international students studying at Skidmore.

A second answer is to create opportunities that enable our students to engage directly with other cultures. Again, we have invested significantly in creating an academic and administrative structure to identify, monitor, and review the dozens of study-abroad programs to which we send our students. Several years ago we changed our policy to allow financial aid to “travel” with students studying abroad, to ensure access for all of our students to this crucial educational opportunity. We also have varied our study-abroad options—ranging from short study trips to full-year immersion-style programs—to suit the needs of as many students as possible. The result is that now nearly 60 percent of each graduating class will have studied abroad.

Finally, we have developed a wide range of curricular initiatives to provide opportunities for deep and rigorous study of other cultures and of the interplay between cultures. These options range from instruction in the relevant languages to the study of international politics, economics, and culture.

Nearly half a century ago, Josephine Case, then chair of Skidmore’s Board of Trustees, charged the architects of our campus to make it a place that would be open to the world. That vision is even more important today than it was when our “new” campus first began to take shape. I hope you will see from the stories in this magazine that this historic vision continues to inform not only what we are doing here in Saratoga Springs but also what our students and our alumni are doing around the world.

Editor's note:  For more, visit the new "Global Skidmore" Web portal.