Global Center Opens in Santiago, Expanding Network to South America

March 21, 2012

As several American universities build satellite campuses abroad, largely in the Middle East and Asia, Columbia has taken a different approach. Since 2008, the University has launched a network of centers in key locations worldwide, opening opportunities for students and faculty to engage with people and ideas, examining issues from transnational and multidisciplinary perspectives, while building deeper connections with overseas alumni, local citizens and institutions.

On March 20, President Lee C. Bollinger and a diverse delegation of faculty, alumni, supporters and international visitors were in Chile to open a Global Center in Santiago, the University’s first in Latin America, where Columbia has a longstanding history of scholarship. In addition to Santiago, the University has opened or announced global centers for East Asia in Beijing; for Europe in Paris; for the Middle East in Amman, Jordan; for South Asia in Mumbai; for Africa in Nairobi, Kenya; as well as one in Istanbul. The centers range from relatively small offices to buildings with classroom and conference space.

“We already have one of the most international campuses among American universities, located in the most global of cities,” said Bollinger. “We have reached the stage where there’s a critical mass of activity at our network of Global Centers in which we can see both the new ways we can fulfill our responsibility to prepare students for the global lives they will lead, and the ways our scholarship can have an impact on the shared challenges facing many societies and regions.”

As the centers grow, they are adding new programs, research projects and courses that link to New York, and often with multiple centers and regions. “We think the 21st century university is one that gives every student and faculty member opportunity to learn about the world first-hand and to test ideas,” said Ken Prewitt, vice president for the Global Centers and the Carnegie Professor of Public Affairs.

This summer, for instance, a five-credit workshop will be offered to undergraduates through the Weatherhead East Asian Institute. Professors Guobin Yang, a sociologist specializing in China, and Robert Barnett, a political scientist and Tibet historian, will teach a course on the environment and urbanization in Asia, with research planned in Beijing, Shanghai and Mumbai. It marks the first time such a transnational course has been offered to undergraduates through the global centers.

In the fall about a dozen graduating seniors from the College, School of General Studies and engineering school will take part in a pilot fifth-year program “that uses the world as a classroom,” according to Prewitt. Part independent learning, part guided study, the program will begin as a three-week seminar in New York, then the students will spend six months traveling in close consultation with various professors “to extend and enrich their liberal arts education,” he added.

More than 120 faculty members, and nearly all of Columbia’s schools, currently use at least one global center for instruction and research. Mumbai has hosted lectures by Indian and South Asian art professor Vidya Dehejia. In Istanbul, art history professor Holger Klein is working with several institutes and museums to digitally document Byzantine and Ottoman monuments.

The international relationships benefit students at Columbia and in the centers’ host countries. In Amman, the Queen Rania Teacher Academy has partnered with Teachers College to offer training; the School of Social Work teaches a “Foundations of Social Work” course; and the School of Continuing Education is working on a college prep program for students from Middle East nations who plan to study abroad.

Students from the medical school, the School of International and Public Affairs and the Mailman School of Public Health travel to Nairobi for internships, and the Earth Institute’s Millennium Villages Project works with communities in rural Africa on agriculture, nutrition, health and other needs. The Graduate School for Architecture, Planning and Preservation has opened “Studio X” spaces, for exploring the future of cities, in Beijing, Mumbai, Amman and New York.

In Santiago, the opening events included a visit with Chilean President Sebastian Piñera Echenique by Bollinger and Provost John Coatsworth, a reception for Chilean alumni and a keynote address by Bollinger on global free speech at Universidad Diego Portales.

The director of the global center in Santiago is Karen Poniachik (SIPA’90), who was Chile’s minister of mining from 2006 to 2008 and minister of energy from 2006 to 2007. Columbia already has programs in Chile and has signed agreements with academic institutions and the National Commission for Scientific and Technological Research. The Earth Institute collaborated with Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture on climate risk management and is also working with partners in the region to improve water resources management.

“It is a global support system for people, programs and schools across the University to redesign scholarship and teaching in response to the opportunities and challenges of a deeply interconnected world,” says Prewitt.

by Columbia News Staff