If there is one thing that has defined this young century, it’s how “connected” the world has become. Barnard is no exception. “During the course of your life you are going to interact with people from China, Russia, and the Middle East, if not as friends, then certainly as colleagues and collaborators,” says Barnard President Debora Spar. “The earlier people can get that exposure, the better.”
To position Barnard as a leading institution of higher education with global stature and bring a bigger international presence to campus, the College has undertaken several initiatives. Among the newest is the International Advisory Committee (IAC) to be made up of alumnae and parents of students. Though still being formed (there are now 25 members and counting), the committee’s goal is to enhance Barnard’s reputation and academic credentials in all corners of the world. In addition, committee members will assist with local contacts in various regions to pave the way for partnerships with other colleges and universities and academic opportunities for faculty and students. “It’s important to penetrate the local community if you want to have a global presence,” says IAC member Tay Yun Cho ’75, who lives in Seoul, South Korea. “If you don’t know the local community, your efforts are going to be a little less effective.” Cho is active in the alumnae association in Seoul and visits local high schools to speak about Barnard.
Currently international students comprise 4 percent of the student population, below the 8 percent to 14 percent rate of similar institutions. One explanation: With smaller numbers of alumnae going back to their home countries, there are fewer people talking about Barnard to potential students. While Barnard would like to increase the number of international students, one of the obstacles to doing so is that there isn’t much financial aid to support overseas students. Some fund- raising efforts for this purpose are beginning, “but we are not going to create more money for international students at the expense of our American students,” affirms Spar.
In addition to the IAC, there are other international initiatives: The provost’s advisory committee on internationalization has been meeting for the past five years and engages in curricular, research, and faculty-oriented issues where internationalization is concerned. In July 2008, Hilary Link, assistant provost and dean for international programs, created a coordination group with those administrators who have connections to Barnard’s internationalization efforts. The newest effort is the Visiting International Student Program (VISP), to bring international students to Barnard from partner universities for the spring semester each year.
In March 2009, an annual symposium to take place at a different overseas location each year was inaugurated in Beijing. The event addressed “Women Changing China” and commemorated Kang Tongbi, the first Chinese woman to attend Barnard a century ago. It drew several hundred participants, including scholars and media. Spar traveled to several locations in Asia, including South Korea and Hong Kong. The result was encouraging: Barnard entered into partnerships with several universities, three in China and two in Korea.
This March, Barnard will again host a symposium, in Dubai, where scholars and activists will address the roles of women in the Arab world. The goal is to create partnerships with higher- education institutions and academics in the Middle East.
The IAC is brainstorming additional ideas to advance the College. In Moscow, Maria Baibakova ’07 wants to facilitate connections between Barnard and new, American-style higher- education institutions being founded in Russia. Baibakova, who runs the Baibakov Art Project in Moscow, would also like to help the College expand its offerings of contemporary art programs to students. Nina Fischman ’86, who lives in Long Island, N.Y., but travels frequently to Israel, wants to build off the 350-person strong Israeli alumnae network to create opportunities for Barnard faculty to do research in the Middle East. Fischman’s daughter is spending a gap-year in Israel before she enrolls at Barnard this fall. Last year, she participated in an event for other Barnard students spending their gap-year there. Students came together with alumnae who spoke about campus life. “They were able to see that after 20, 35, or 40 years someone still feels engaged enough with Barnard to talk to them,” says Fischman. “That’s powerful.”
-by Ilana Polyak, illustration by Katherine Streeter