I welcome all students back to Cornell, wish you a Happy New Year and a successful and fun semester. I had the great honor and privilege of starting the new year with a nine-day trip to India and learning about the superb faculty and student exchanges and scientific collaborations that characterize our more than half-century of history in India. I returned to the United States impressed with the accomplishments and courage of our Indian colleagues in facing and conquering significant challenges in areas like agriculture, health and education and more convinced than ever of the importance of internationalization to our campus.
Why has internationalization been an emerging theme of my administration, as it was during President Lehman’s time? Why are we exploring ways to build on our partnerships with colleagues and institutions in India, China, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, Latin America and other parts of the globe? And how does internationalization impact you, as students at Cornell?
Before I answer those questions, I want to stress that Cornell is already a very international university. More than 3,000 Cornell students are from about 120 countries other than the United States. Many international students are doing graduate work here, but international undergraduates have become an increasingly important part of the student body. The Class of 2010, for example, includes students from 57 countries. South Korea, Canada, China, India and Singapore account for the largest number of international students in the first-year class, but students from Ghana, Venezuela, Kuwait, Vietnam, Kazakhstan and many other countries are also represented.
In addition, Cornell already has a strong presence around the world. The University operates programs in several international locations including Doha, Qatar, where the Weill Cornell Medical College became the first U.S. medical school to offer an M.D. degree overseas; Singapore, where the School of Hotel Administration offers a joint master of management in hospitality program; Rome, which has been the site of a College of Architecture, Art and Planning program for many years; Paris, where the law school offers a summer institute; China, where, among other initiatives, our new China and Asia Pacific Studies major is making it possible for Cornell undergraduates to study at Peking (Beida) University while working or doing internships in Beijing; and India, where Cornell students and their counterparts at Indian universities participate together the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ course, “Agriculture in Developing Nations” and in a two-week field laboratory program in India.
Internationalism has direct benefits for students, whether they share a residence hall room with someone from another country, study in another part of the world through Cornell Abroad or another Cornell program or explore issues of international importance with our faculty members, many of whom carry out research internationally or have made international issues the
focus of their scholarly work.
Student, staff and faculty exchanges in higher education are one of our country’s most effective forms of diplomacy. The need for international exchange exists on all sides. Our students and faculty benefit enormously from study abroad experiences as well as from studying, working and living with colleagues from across the globe. We must all be willing to teach and learn in the world we hope our future alumni will lead. And we need to be sure that our exchanges are truly bi-directional and that they benefit our international partners as much as they benefit Cornell.
I urge you, if you can possibly fit it into your schedule, to try to include study abroad in your educational plans at Cornell, and also to take advantage of the many opportunities for learning about the world that are available to you here, through courses, lectures, discussions, films and performances that provide insights into other cultures and global dynamics. All of us need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones and expand our horizons in order to gain from the diversity of cultures and backgrounds that are part of the Cornell community. And, as I stressed in my column about racial and ethnic diversity at Cornell, we need to create a welcoming and nurturing campus climate for all students. We need to be sure that we are doing all we can to make international students comfortable in our community.
The world’s culture, political alliances, religious traditions and commerce transcend national borders, and it is critical for all of us at Cornell to be knowledgeable about the world and to be able to work effectively across diverse cultures.
In addition, the world increasingly turns to higher education to develop and share the knowledge needed to solve its most vexing problems, and these problems know no disciplinary or national boundaries. For example, I learned of many common or complementary societal, scientific and health challenges in India and the United States, challenges that might be best met by collaborative international research.
Cornell’s roots as a land grant university with a mandate to serve society through education and research give it a responsibility to create and disseminate knowledge and to work with others to improve the human condition whether in Upstate New York, India, China, Africa or other parts of the world.
How do we implement actions that will take advantage of opportunities related to internationalization? We will continue to look for expanded opportunities for study and service abroad, whether in traditional areas of strength such as international agriculture, or in new majors, such as the China and Asia Pacific Studies Program, which have on-campus and international components. We will continue to explore models for involvement overseas that provide mutual benefit, including the tremendous range represented by current Cornell activities abroad. And we will strive to make Cornell a destination of choice for the world’s best students and faculty members and a place that brings a breadth of interdisciplinary expertise and creative insight to bear on the challenges and opportunities of the world. I look forward to developing a consensus on how best to continue the internationalization of Cornell and on how we can best serve as a land grant university to the world.
David J. Skorton is the President of Cornell University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. From David will appear every month.