Message from the Dean

Enhancing Students’ Global Experience


here’s no mistaking that we live in a global society. Whether our students come from outside the United States, learn one of more than 40 languages in our classrooms or choose to spend time studying abroad, global awareness is a core competency for all of us. And “all of us” includes me.

James J. Valentini

Dean James J. Valentini during a research trip abroad.

Courtesy Dean James J. Valentini

The photo shown here was taken earlier in my career during one of my many trips to East Asia for scientific collaborations and science conferences. Those experiences showed me early on how we are all connected and how my work had an impact on a colleague on the other side of the world. We faced similar challenges, asked similar questions and sought to discover similar solutions. Together, we were able to bridge the distance and work collectively toward our shared goals.

One shared goal I have now as dean is to propel the global experience of all undergraduates at Columbia. When there was a leadership change in the Office of Global Programs two years ago, I asked the deans of Columbia Engineering and the School of General Studies, and the provost of Barnard College, to join me in thinking about a new direction for that effort. Recognizing that we had an opportunity to rewrite our vision for global programs, I wanted to be thoughtful and deliberate in building an enhanced experience for our students. I recognized the importance of engaging with
our faculty and students, along with administrators throughout the University and in our Global Centers, to determine the best model for developing our undergraduate global education. What could we do to maximize the value of our students’ global experience? How was their experience abroad complementing their experience on campus? How might it enhance their future and become part of their journey as a Columbia College student?

The College’s leadership spent more than a year interviewing students, faculty and fellow staff on Morningside Heights and at Reid Hall in Paris, assisted by an outside consultant to help carry on this substantial organizational effort. We visited peer institutions to learn about their opportunities and experiences. We found recurring themes: the need for a more diverse range of programs, expanding beyond traditional study abroad; greater research support; well-defined learning outcomes that apply to all our students; increased global opportunities on campus and in New York City; and a desire to connect more extensively with the global endeavors of faculty not only in our four undergraduate schools, but also with the faculty of Columbia’s many graduate and professional schools.

This collaborative and extensive work resulted in the creation of The Center for Undergraduate Global Engagement. Its expanded mission calls for enhancing access, supporting existing programs and developing opportunities for undergraduates to pursue global education and develop global understanding. Serving as a hub of global activity on campus, the center will bring together undergraduates, faculty from throughout the University and staff. Led by Dean Shannon Marquez, whom you met in the Winter 2018–19 issue, it will ensure that all Columbia undergraduates have the opportunity to achieve defined global competencies.

Our undergraduates participate in hundreds of programs around the world every year, and these experiences teach them understanding, self-sufficiency and core competencies to further their personal development. Our goal is to empower our students to be active and effective citizens of our global community. Whether in Uganda, France, Israel, Chile, Greece or right in Morningside Heights, we are committed to leveraging the center’s new role on campus. We are excited to see where this work will lead us as we continue to build the greatest possible experience for our students.

(signed) James J. Valentini

James J. Valentini