Global studies program to launch Global Scholars Initiative

Julia Goldberg and Emily Zas

The global studies program will kickstart the Global Scholars Initiative this spring, encouraging a small cohort of students to develop greater international awareness by studying global issues and traveling together. Members of the class of 2026 will be invited to apply to the program in February, and the roughly 12 students selected will remain in the cohort throughout their time at the College, according to Magnús Bernhardsson, chair of global studies and co-chair of the Global Scholars Initiative. 

The Global Scholars will study abroad as a cohort during Winter Study of their sophomore year in a major city such as Istanbul, Paris, Mumbai, and Beijing. They will also have access to funding for summer research, internships, and travel abroad, as well as post-graduate stipends. “It’s really a nice, guided way — but also a flexible way — to experience the wider world, the globalized world, the kind of world we actually live in,” said Aparna Kapadia, associate professor of history and co-chair of the initiative.

Though some Global Scholars may pursue a concentration in global studies, it will not be mandated by the program, Bernhardsson said. Members of the cohort will be required to take GBST 111: “Global Perspectives” in the fall of their sophomore year and conduct an independent study their senior year, which may be substituted with an honors thesis in another department. Students must also either place out of or fulfill a language requirement of four to five semesters of study, depending on the language. “We really want to emphasize that if you want to consider yourself a global citizen, you shouldn’t be monolingual,” Bernhardsson said. 

Bernhardsson and Kapadia — both Division II professors — and two other professors representing Division I and Division III, who will be selected in the future, will compose the initiative’s selection committee. The committee will seek out students who hold a wide range of academic interests. “We think a global citizen is not in the purview of one discipline,” Bernhardsson said. “If we have very different academic backgrounds, we will work best together.”

The co-chairs did not base the initiative on programs offered by peer institutions. “I’m not saying no other program exists, but … we are not modeling it off of anything that exists elsewhere,” Bernhardsson said. “We’re modeling it on what we think makes sense for our campus, our needs, [the] interests of our faculty, and hopefully also our students.” 

On Nov. 15, Bernhardsson and Kapadia will host an informational meeting about the program in Hopkins Hall. The meeting will also function as a brainstorming session for ways to make the program more appealing to students and faculty, Bernhardsson said. “We want to get feedback: Does this make sense to you, to your generation? Is this something that you want to see?”

Even after suggestions from the session are taken into account, the initiative will continue to be a work in progress. The first cohort will be critical in defining the global scholars program, Bernhardsson said. 

Still, Bernhardsson said that faculty members have been discussing the implementation of a program of this kind for over a decade. In the 2021 strategic plan, the College discussed the benefits of the creation of a signature, multi-year global studies program. “Williams is not as widely known as we want to be for our extensive global educational offerings,” the plan states. “Nor have we in recent years had a comprehensive vision that could guide investments in further international programming.” This new initiative, in turn, would allow students to “fully explore the international dimensions of a Williams education.” 

“For us, becoming a global citizen is not just reading a book,” Bernhardsson said. “It’s a multi-year process. It’s something that you develop by doing, by learning how to be humble and listen and not just by go[ing] in[to other countries] and say[ing], ‘Oh, I have to tell you how to solve your problems.’”

Inviting students to join the program as early as their first year of college will allow them to have a sustained engagement in global issues of their choosing, Kapadia said. In addition, a first-year student may discover an interest in a language that their high school did not offer through the program, Bernhardsson said. By their senior year, that student could reach or approach fluency. 

However, Kapadia also noted that the long-term nature of the program may seem daunting to prospective students. “The challenge for students will really be to not be intimidated by the idea of the three years, because it feels like a commitment, but to instead try to see it as something that’s flexible, something that they can really shape on their own,” she said. The length of the program will have the added benefit of mentorship: Upperclass students will be able to provide younger ones with guidance. 

“We’re very hopeful that this will be not only valuable for the individuals in question but also … have a ripple effect on campus,” Berhardsson said. “Hopefully, [the program] will then benefit the non-Global Scholars as well, because [it] will enhance discussion here on campus.”