President Martha E. Pollack made an official visit to South Korea over spring break.

Cameron Pollack / Sun Senior Photographer

President Martha E. Pollack made an official visit to South Korea over spring break.

April 10, 2018

Pollack Makes Official Visit to Korea, Emphasizes Importance of Liberal Arts

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President Martha E. Pollack flew to South Korea over spring break, becoming the first Cornell University president to officially visit in 11 years, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily.

The last president to conduct an official visit was David J. Skorton in 2007, during which he praised the “deep connection” between Cornell and its worldwide alumni network in a special reception.

According to Pollack, students from Korea are Cornell’s fourth largest international student population, and the Cornell Club of South Korea has over 1,200 alumni who are “active members.”

“During this first year of my presidency, I felt it was important for me to get to know Cornell’s worldwide alumni body, not just when they visit our campuses, but also in key locations around the world,” Pollack said in an interview with Korea JoongAng Daily. “Korea was high on my list.”

As a part of this initiative, Pollack also made official visits to Mumbai, India, and London, UK, over winter break.

A professor of computer science, information science and linguistics with a research specialty in artificial intelligence, Pollack also discussed the importance of a university education at a time when entrepreneurship and artificial intelligence are rising. She emphasized the necessity of the “study of future work” in light of concerns that AI-powered robots could take humans’ jobs.

“In our role as university educators, we need to provide our students with the kinds of skills that will not be part of a robot’s or advanced AI system’s repertoire, at least in the foreseeable future,” Pollack told Korea JoongAng Daily.

Pollack mentioned in the interview that although technology is continually advancing and becoming incorporated into learning analytics, “most problems [throughout the world] are not purely technical,” but rather “socio-technical” or “humano-socio-technical.”

She also told the Korean newspaper that many skills obtained through a liberal arts education, such as “cultural awareness, the ability to communicate and work across differences, the ability to speak and write with clarity and persuasiveness, and very high-level critical thinking,” are still important as these cannot be accomplished through artificial intelligence.

Pollack additionally emphasized the difficulty of balancing technical skills with other needed assets gained through the liberal arts.

“The challenge for all of us, I think, is to foster a compelling synergy between the liberal arts and professional study,” she said. “There is no one way to do this, but efforts to engage students with what they are learning are yielding promising results.”