Our global university: What might this mean for Berkeley Students?

J. Hannah Lee/File

As a college student, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend six months in India working on a senior thesis. My study abroad experience led to a life of scholarship and teaching that literally opened up a new world for me. That same world, however, has changed immeasurably, and global engagement will be necessary, if in different ways, for all college students. Leaders in the information technology sector, for example, are well aware that no product, application or idea will have a reasonable chance of gaining traction if it doesn’t have global resonance and applicability. Whether you seek careers in government, medicine, law, engineering, academia, community service or business or want to try building your own startup, a global dimension is now critical.

What we need now is a new model that better fits contemporary student needs and interestCs. A few weeks ago, I announced to the Academic Senate a plan for the development of a new campus in Richmond. We have the opportunity, I noted, to become the first American campus to establish an international “branch” campus here in the United States, in the East Bay. The project once known as the Richmond Bay Campus is now the Berkeley Global Campus, or BGC, at Richmond Bay, and it will have at least one Global College and many new research partnerships and collaborations.

The new campus will be an international hub where some of the world’s leading universities and high-tech companies will work side by side with us in a campus setting. The Global College will be designed and launched in collaboration with partner universities from abroad — universities that will help us build new facilities and support new educational programs related to global citizenship. And it will be a state-of-the-art living laboratory designed to support interdisciplinary, international and public and private solutions for 21st-century challenges in energy, computing, robotics, the environment, health and the global economy.

We are in the early stages of planning, but our intention is to establish new academic programs — first at the graduate but later at the undergraduate level — for international and domestic students. Our idea is that the Global College will prepare students to engage with and contribute to a world that is more interconnected and interdependent than ever in ways that will affect every part of UC Berkeley-alumni life in the 21st century. This college will provide students with the tools to tackle global challenges through a curriculum centered on global governance, ethics, political economy, cultural and international relations and practical engagement through participation in research, development and other modes of direct involvement in special projects that have global implications and applications.

The Global College will house international and local students, some of whom might be funded along the lines of the Rhodes Scholars program. This program will bring together top students with exceptional leadership potential from around the globe for a fully paid, two-year residential program based at the BGC. As an integral component of the BGC, it will be a significant draw for both academic and private partners and an important educational hub at the BGC. It will include recently graduated UC Berkeley student, and eventually may be integrated further into the life of UC Berkeley undergraduates.

Initially, each cohort of scholars would engage during their first year with leading faculty from multiple disciplines in a curriculum on global citizenship. In an important sense, this course of study would provide future leaders with a foundation in the primary challenges, intellectual models and approaches associated with global governance. In the program’s second year, each scholar would pursue a track within one of the BGC’s collaborative research arenas — for example, energy and sustainability, data science, global health, urban studies or medicine. This could take the form of research on a team at the BGC, an internship with a BGC corporate partner or even a year of research and studying abroad at a partner university.

Additionally, and supplementing our more traditional “year-abroad” models, the new Global Scholar Program for UC Berkeley undergraduates would involve at least one semester of study abroad at the overseas campus of the affiliated university, followed by completion of research-intensive studies at that university’s site at the BGC. This will give our students opportunities to combine “study abroad” programs and “internships” as well as provide global work that would be conducted here in Northern California. Our students would work side by side with other international students who will become part of an international network connected to the Global College.

Global understandings, experience and networks are about more than career preparation, important as that is. I believe worldly knowledge — knowledge that is both shaped by a broad set of cultural and national histories and conditions and attentive to its global social (and economic) effects — has the potential to create the possibility of more productive dialogue and exchange, necessary not just to contemplate a world with less conflict and inequality but global collaboration on the kinds of fundamental issues that will only become more critical in the years ahead. Worldliness, in this view, is a set of skills, dispositions and understandings that should be central to a UC Berkeley education.

The Global College will make worldliness a possibility for our students in ways that may set a new model for institutions of higher education both in the United States and internationally. I look forward to working with all of you as we think about what the BGC can do not just for the campus but for each of you. Let me know what you think.

Chancellor’s Corner is a monthly opinion piece by UC Berkeley Chancellor Nicholas Dirks.

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