Students share concerns about accessibility to global centers at World Leaders Forum event

By Jessica Spitz and Kelly Fan – September 21, 2015

Columbia Spectator

Students and faculty involved in programs offered out of Columbia’s global centers, which are a key part of the University’s efforts to create a more global education, expressed concerns about the accessibility—especially for engineering and science students—of such programs in Low Library last Friday as a part of a World Leaders Forum event.

“The global centers are there to promote and facilitate the engagement of our students and our faculty with the world with the purpose of advancing the exchange of ideas and knowledge between different parts of the world,” said Executive Vice President for Global Centers and Global Development Safwan Masri, who moderated the discussion.

But some students who attended the event shared concerns about the global center’s limited support for engineering and science students.

“We have one SEAS student [on the undergraduate arm of the Committee on Global Thought, a group which strives to bring a global education to Columbia,] who brought up the fact that none of her friends thought they could study abroad because they were engineering students,” Diana Lai, GS ’16, an economics and political science double major and co-chair of the Undergraduate Committee on Global Thought said. “There’s this idea that the programs out there are more for languages, or humanities. That’s the common conception of studying abroad—that they won’t have the time to finish all of their credits in time in order to graduate.”

While there are some programs such as the Summer Ecosystem Experiences for Undergraduates (SEE-U) available for students to conduct scientific research, the majority of Columbia-sponsored global programs are geared toward the study of language and the humanities rather than engineering.

Lai thinks that the situation could be improved with greater communication of the global opportunities available to science and engineering students.

“I think it’s a lot about students being educated or figuring out that these opportunities really do exist for them on campus, and that’s helping them to take advantage of all their resources to the fullest,” Lai said.

Michael Pippenger, dean of Undergraduate Global Programs and assistant vice president of International Education, also said at the event that the number of science and engineering students who study abroad has been increasing in recent years.

“There are just so many different scientific things that are in so many different countries, and people just aren’t being exposed to these different ideas and those different ways of thinking that they would get if they were studying abroad,” Lai said.

Panels of students and faculty who participated in programs in Tunis, Paris, and Istanbul also spoke about their experiences and what they had learned at the event.

John Huber, a political science department professor, Benjamin Drachman, CC ’17 and an associate sports editor for Spectator, Monique Williams, CC ’17, and Hannah Zhang, CC ’17, discussed their experiences in the Democracy and Constitutional Engineering program, which took place in Tunis and Istanbul. A total of 15 students, paired with students attending regional institutions, studied statistical methods applied to the study of comparative democracies.

“We wanted students to interact with people who had a range of experience with democracy, and who have different cultural perspectives on what democracy can do and what we can expect from it,” Huber said.

Other students, along with professor and music department Chair Susan Boynton, presented Art Humanities and Music Humanities in Paris, a six-week summer program in which students took the two Core Curriculum classes in conjunction with each other.

“We only had to take two classes, and so we had enough time to explore and really take advantage of what Paris has to offer,” Christy Chung, CC ’16, said. “If I had taken this class here or in Europe during the fall or spring semester, I would not have had the chance to visit more than three or four museums a week.”

Students also discussed the Istanbul: Byzantine and Modern Greek Encounters program, which is designed to allow Columbia students, who enroll in classes with Turkish and Greek students, to think about how people in the West viewed Turkey in the Byzantine era and how these observations shape modern perspective.

“It’s very easy to describe being a global citizen as merely sharing experiences that cross boundaries, that cross regions, that cross countries, and of course that’s important, but it’s quite a different thing,” Halima Gikandi, CC ’16, said. “It’s much more difficult of a thing to be able to generate something new that’s the result of the synergy from different students, different peoples.”

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