Navigating what’s different and new
This column originally appeared as the President’s Message in the fall 2016 edition of Centrepiece, the Centre College alumni magazine.
Study abroad is now firmly entrenched as a signature element of the Centre brand, and the College rightly deserves its place of national prominence for the unique form of educational adventure we offer.
But it wasn’t always the case.
Study abroad at Centre as we now know it began in 1990 with a fledgling residential program in London involving 22 students. A year later Strasbourg debuted. The fall 2016 issue of the Centrepiece celebrates a quarter-century of the College’s first residential program in a non-English-speaking country.
Like London, the Strasbourg program had modest beginnings. Twenty students traveled to France for the first fall semester. The following year we had a total of 41.
By contrast, fast forward to 2016-17.
A record 433 Centre students are scheduled to study abroad this year, according to Milton Reigelman, director of international programs, whose leadership I credit for our program’s national prominence. Twenty Centre faculty will direct programs abroad.
Many students will be in our semester programs, not just in Strasbourg and London, but also in China, Germany, Japan, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Spain. Others will be spread across the globe during January’s CentreTerm in Austria, Belgium, Cuba, England, France, Ghana, Israel, Italy, Jordan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, and Thailand. Centre professors will also direct summer programs in Borneo, Costa Rica, and France.
Over the decades, Reigelman likes to note, both our students and faculty have been internationalized in ways that we could not have foreseen.
Previously, it was hard work convincing students to leave Danville for part of their education. Today, students are attracted to Centre because of study abroad, and they matriculate already having decided which foreign programs they want to pursue.
Likewise, many on our faculty were somewhat ambivalent about study abroad at first, but today job candidates consider Centre because of our international programs. In fact, faculty competition to lead programs abroad is now sometimes intense.
And though we have not directly used our foreign programs to recruit international students, simply having them must be an attractive sign. In 1991, when Strasbourg launched, we had a total of four international students enrolled. We opened this academic year with 101, about 25 times as many as 25 years ago. This past May we graduated a record 19 international students.
It has been my privilege to visit not just Strasbourg, but all of our residential abroad programs with Susie—several more than once—during my 18 years as president. I come away with several observations.
First, beyond simply reading about distant lands in books, study abroad offers our students the opportunity to become global citizens firsthand. Second, this form of education is truly an adventure. Thousands of miles away from home, students become capable of navigating what is often different and new. Third, being abroad is helpful in eventually seeking employment and acceptance into programs of advanced study.
On this last point, I’m even more convinced that while it’s true that most students will never live abroad, their lives of work and service will be of global proportion regardless of their career choice.
So let me end by simply offering sincere thanks to those pioneers who first dared to go and to all those graduates who benefited from these powerful experiences and then went on to more extraordinary lives of work and service because of it, doing their part to make the world a better place for all people.
By John A. Roush, president of Centre College