A closer look at the strategic planning report on International Initiatives

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On Feb. 21, the College released the drafts of 12 strategic planning reports, including a report on international initiatives, which had the goal of creating a “fuller integration of global learning into the academic experience at Williams.” To achieve this, the report acknowledged issues and proposed recommendations related to international programs, education and community at the College.

The international initiatives working group was made up of four faculty members and five staff members. The faculty members were Professor of History Magnús Bernhardsson, Professor of German and Comparative Studies Helga Druxes, Professor of Political Science and Global Studies Jim Mahon and Professor of German Gail Newman. Director of International Education and Study Away Christina Stoiciu, Dean of Admission and Financial Aid Liz Creighton, Director of Fellowships Katya King, Director of the Center for Development Economics (CDE) Tom Powers and Associate Dean of International Student Services Ninah Pretto were the staff members.

The report was not the first time a committee has addressed the state of international education at the College. “Some of us were part of a group that produced a report on international initiatives in 2012,” King said. “That report had some great ideas. It felt good to revisit those ideas and try to move them forward.”

In addition to King, Bernhardsson, Newman and Powers were also on the 2012 Committee on International Programs.

The proposals in the draft of the present working group were divided into four sections: integrated and transparent administration of international programs and opportunities, community building, signature programs and a more flexible academic model.

To allow students to take advantage of international programs and opportunities, the working group recommended a more “centralized system that provides and promotes information about all campus opportunities for travel and funding,” including the creation of a website compiled with resources for international learning. The group also suggested the adoption of the software Terra Dotta to make documentation and operations more efficient.

In addition to making opportunities for international learning more accessible, the report stated that the College  “would also provide a platform for international students to have more presence and recognition on campus than they feel they have at this time.”

The community building portion of the report focused on three internationally-focused communities in particular: the CDE, the Alumni and Williams Global Network and international students. 

The working group report advised integrating CDE students and alumni into the College’s community more extensively through promoting collaborations with the International Students Association, religious affinity groups and the Economics Students Advisory Committee. It also stated the goal of retaining the CDE alumni network through recommendations such as a designation of a CDE-affiliated staff in the Alumni Office. In addition, the report stressed the importance of developing more transparency and visibility around the College’s global network.

One of the more significant recommendations of the working group report included the reinstatement of need-blind admissions for international students. At a meeting with the International Students Association, the group discovered that Amherst was the only liberal arts school that was part of  “a small number of schools [that] are perceived as being financially accessible in the community of those international high school students who actively seek to study in the US.”

As 60% of international students receive financial aid compared to 50% of the overall student body, the working group argued that need-blind admissions would make the College more equitable and inclusive for a wider range of international applicants.  

“While in practice a larger percentage of international students receive financial aid than overall students, we recognize the symbolic value of need-blind admissions across the board as an equity issue,” Newman said.

“I think that reinstating need-blind admission would be a reflection of how much we value our international students,” King added. “Currently we adhere to the same policies as the majority of our peers, and there are reasons for that. We have to weigh what we want to do against what we are able to do now and what we can sustain going forward.”

As part of its signature programs recommendations, the working group proposed the establishment of The Global Scholars Program (GSP) and The International Language Fellows Program.

The GSP would be a multi-year program for a group of 12-15 students to develop more of a focus on international education through being based in “the Center for Foreign Languages, Literatures and Cultures, together with Global Studies.” 

The International Language Fellows Program would involve the College funding intensive language study abroad programs up to eight weeks long for students after their first year. This program could make summer language study more accessible and provide additional support for interdisciplinary language learning opportunities.

“It should be part of everybody’s education to know another language and another culture,” King said about the necessity and potential benefits of the program. “And there is nothing like language study to help you understand your own language. It can be hugely mind-expanding.”

“Immersion in another language and culture is probably the best way to broaden perspectives and open minds,” Newman said.

To help the College produce a more flexible academic model, the working group supported the idea of awarding academic credits to students involved in summer language programs and research and co-curricular activities that involve the use of a foreign language. 

Newman said of the report’s conclusions that the working group is “optimistic about the possibility of working across the college to help domestic students understand the world better, and international students to feel more included in the Williams community.”