Columbia in Asia
Dean Austin Quigley led a College delegation to East Asia
in June, meeting with students, parents, alumni and government officials
Lim Chuan Poh, second
permanent secretary of Singapore’s Ministry of Education,
meets with Dean Austin Quigley and the rest of the College
delegation on June 18. From left: Executive Director of Alumni
Affairs Ken Catandella, Dean of Student Affairs Chris Colombo,
Poh, Quigley, Dean of Alumni Affairs and Development Derek
Wittner ’65, Director of Admissions Jessica Marinaccio
and Associate Director of Student/Alumni Programs Kathryn
On June 15, Dean Austin Quigley and five other College administrators
took off on a 12-day trip to East Asia, where they met with current
and prospective students, parents, alumni, educators and government
officials. Dean of Alumni Affairs and Development Derek Wittner
'65, who was making his third trip to the region in four years,
explains the reasons behind the journey and why such trips are important
to the College's future.
By Derek Wittner ’65
Columbia is committed to bringing together students of different
backgrounds as an essential element of an outstanding liberal arts
education. A lofty ideal? Maybe. But with a focus inspired by President
Lee C. Bollinger, who considers Columbia’s place in the world
a guiding principle of his administration, the College is working
to make this a reality. Given Asia’s growing influence in
the world, attracting students and connecting with alumni and parents
from that region are priorities for the College.
To place this objective in perspective, the College received 1,130
applications from East Asian students for the Class of 2008, a 40
percent increase from 1995.
There is much to be done. To be able to expand the pool of admitted
students, and to do it without financial capacity as a condition
for someone wishing to study at Columbia, is one of the College’s
1. Dean Austin Quigley
discusses the merits of general education with Tharman Shanmugaratnam,
Singapore’s minister for education, at a meeting of
the Columbia University Alumni Club.
2. Dean Quigley chats with Nick Serwer ’78, who helped
facilitate the Columbia group’s visit.
3. A close-up of the intricate ornamentation atop a pagoda
PHOTOS: KEN CATANDELLA AND KATHRYN WITTNER
On June 15, we began a journey to Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong and
Taipei. Our itinerary included meetings with government officials
and high school counselors to explore increasing student exchanges,
to welcome members of the Class of 2008 and their parents, and to
further improve Columbia’s connections with Asian alumni.
Participating were Dean Austin Quigley, Dean of Student Affairs
Chris Colombo, Director of Admissions Jessica Marinaccio, Executive
Director of Alumni Affairs Ken Catandella, Associate Dean of Student/Alumni
Programs Kathryn Wittner and myself.
It was in 2001 that Conrad Lung ’72, a prominent businessman
and president of the Asian Columbia Alumni Association, lobbied
to make Asia a College destination. His reasoning coincided with
the College’s agenda — we had just developed a five-year
plan to increase alumni participation, but we never thought as ambitiously,
as globally, as Lung encouraged us to do.
Our first trip to Singapore, in June 2001, opened our eyes. Lung
facilitated contact with the Columbia University Club, which held
its annual dinner during our visit. With Lung as our guide and local
support from Nick Serwer ’78 and Berry Kwock ’71L, P’03,
we were warmly welcomed by many College alumni and parents. However,
our visit was met with some skepticism, which Serwer explained.
“You know, we haven’t seen a lot of Columbia faculty
or alumni out here,” he remarked. “One visit every five
years just won’t do, especially when Harvard, Yale, Stanford
and other schools are here all the time.” We assured Serwer
that our trip marked a departure from the past, and that we intended
to routinely visit Asia.
1-2. Dean Quigley is presented with
a teak box by Deputy Minister Fan Sun-L of the Taipei Ministry
of Education and a magazine by Deputy Minister of Foreign
Affairs Michael Ying-mau Kau.
3. Dean Quigley speaks before the Columbia University Alumni
Club in Singapore.
4. Dean Quigley with Claire Tsai ’07 and Edward Lau
’73 Business, president of the Columbia University
Club in Hong Kong.
5. Mik Vasrahelyi ’04 tells prospective students in
Hong Kong about life at Columbia.
PHOTOS: KEN CATANDELLA AND KATHRYN WITTNER
We felt we could accomplish several important objectives during
these trips: enhance the College’s profile in an increasingly
important part of the world, establish and strengthen relationships
with local high schools, meet with incoming students to offer advice
about their programs, have them meet current students and have their
parents meet current parents, and explore fund-raising opportunities.
The expectations were greatly exceeded: All but one student who
was out of the country) admitted from Singapore in 2002 attended
an advising session, and the positive reception we received from
their parents was extraordinary. Sending a son or daughter 10,000
miles away to attend college in a big city is a courageous act;
making a Columbia contact was reassuring to many of these parents.
By 2004, we were more confident about visiting Asia. We were no
longer strangers, and the fact that Bollinger had visited Asia in
April and that Quigley was accompanying us reinforced the University’s
commitment to community in Asia. “We are delighted to join
the Alumni Office on this trip,” Colombo said at a Singapore
Alumni Club meeting. “It’s a great opportunity to reinforce
our relationships with high schools in each city and to introduce
our new students and their parents to members of the Student Affairs
team.” Marinaccio echoed his thoughts: “What particularly
impressed me was the graciousness and great enthusiasm with which
we were greeted by all generations of Columbians — alumni,
parents and incoming students. The commitment to Columbia in Asia
runs deep. We have wonderful partners there to help us achieve our
goal of attracting the best minds in world to our campus. This trip
has made those partnership ties even stronger.”
Columbia is competing not only with its U.S. peers
for Asian students, but with China.
This trip was marked by opportunities we did not have on our first
visits. Colombo, Marinaccio and Kathryn Wittner focused on meeting
with students and parents, Catandella and I concentrated on building
relationships with local alumni and Quigley met with all constituencies.
We all were guests at the ministries of education in Singapore and
Taiwan as well as the foreign ministry in Taiwan, and these meetings
with government officials reinforced the visit’s importance.
“The visits over the past four years have been very important
to us in our efforts to increase club membership, embark on new
activities and raise Columbia’s profile in Singapore,”
said Serwer. “The presence of Tharman Shanmugaratnam, minister
for education, at our dinner this year demonstrates the importance
of the Columbia alumni community in Singapore to the government.
And clearly, the presence of Dean Quigley demonstrates the importance
that Columbia attaches to Singapore and the region.”
Skyscrapers rise from the shoreline
in this view of Hong Kong harbor from the Star Ferry.
PHOTO: KATHRYN WITTNER
Quigley and Shanmugaratnam were the guest speakers at the annual
Singapore club dinner, which featured a lively and thought-provoking
discussion of the benefits of a general education and the Core Curriculum
as compared with a more specialized curriculum. “The data
show that our graduates will change careers many times,” said
Quigley. “Our Core Curriculum is designed to enable them to
adapt to different situations by acquiring a basic understanding
of many points of view.” There appears to be a growing appreciation
in East Asia of an education that prepares students for many career
changes and one that encourages interdisciplinary approaches to
education, which can only help Columbia’s status in the region.
These visits also provided an opportunity to discuss ways of increasing
contacts between Asian students and Columbia. “We look forward
to enhancing the opportunities for exchanges with Columbia,”
said Michael Kow, Taiwan’s deputy foreign minister, at the
dinner in Quigley’s honor. Many useful suggestions will involve
follow-up in the coming year, including internship programs and
student exchanges with learning institutes and high schools.
Whether in Seoul, Singapore, Hong Kong or Taiwan, however, it is
clear that Columbia is competing not only with its U.S. peers for
talented Asian students, but with China, whose dominance is felt
throughout the region. This means that Columbia must continue to
capitalize on the initiative begun this year by Bollinger’s
visit to Beijing and promote educational exchanges with the mainland
as well as foster promising relationships with Hong Kong and Taiwan.
Neon signs for Starbucks, 7 Eleven and
KFC are part of the mix in this street scene from Hong Kong's
Lan Kwai Fong district.
PHOTO: KATHRYN WITTNER
Our visit gave Quigley the chance to talk to alumni and parents
about the College’s financial aid needs and specifically our
desire to offer aid to international students. Columbia’s
current financial limits make it possible to offer need-blind admission
only to domestic students, except in unusual cases.
The trip also allowed us to promote the student/ alumni connections
program that the College has embarked upon as part of the plan to
increase participation. “The opportunity to welcome our new
students before they arrive on campus, and to discuss their programs
and answer their questions, helps demystify the experience awaiting
them,” said Kathryn Wittner, who participates in these programs
for the Student Affairs Office. “By the end of the summer,
we will have met with half of the incoming class.”
Bringing the Columbia community — alumni, students and parents
— together has proven to be a winning formula, in the United
States and abroad. “The trip is an important part of our participation
plan. We are extending its reach to a global one,” said Quigley.
Derek Wittner ’65 is dean of alumni
affairs and development for the College and deputy vice president
of University Development and Alumni Relations.